FASHION BOUTIQUE ENTREPRENEURS: WE’LL GET THROUGH THIS…. IN STYLE
At Seladex, we’re focused on helping apparel and accessory showrooms succeed by helping them stay organized, better manage their showrooms and increase sales through the use of our Apparel Industry CRM (Customer Relationship Manager).
However, we go beyond the use of technology as a means to help entrepreneurs in the fashion industry grow. We’re big believers in education, so from time to time we bring in fashion experts from around the world to help educate you, our blog readers, about the various ways you can grow your fashion empire.
Today, Seladex had the opportunity to speak with Sarah Murray, the owner of Jane Davidson fashion boutique, located in Edinburgh, Scotland. We have an exciting interview planned for you today, so without further ado, let’s jump in!
The Interview Hi Sarah and thanks for taking the time today to chat with our blog readers about your shop, Jane Davidson. First, can you kick this interview off by telling us a little bit more about the story behind the boutique? How did you get started in the world of fashion and how does your store fit into this story?
Jane Davidson was founded in 1969 by my Mum Jane. My dad was an antique dealer and his showroom was in an old church. Next to the church there was an empty retail unit. My mum borrowed my Dad's van and drove it to London and brought back these amazing British designer labels to sell. Jean Muir, Ozzie Clark and many more... I took over the business 20 years ago now when I was 25. I added on another floor to the store and made it a Sex in the City room, selling DVF, La Perla and Jimmy Choo. Since then I have introduced many designer brands to Scotland, Roland Mouret, Victoria Beckham, Erdem, Roksanda, Dries van Noten....
Can you run us through a typical day running the shop?
At the moment during lockdown days are really quite different. Our physical shop is closed but my team and I are working hard behind the scenes on our website and social media. We are taking it in terms to fulfil web orders and sharing positive messages for social media. A few of my team members are isolated and alone so it's important we stay in contact. I have been filming video content from my bedroom on topics such as How to declutter your wardrobe. Most importantly we have been touching base with our most regular customers and checking in with them.
Many people romanticize the idea of running a fashion boutique. In your experience, what are some of the oversights of yet-to-be fashion entrepreneurs when it comes to what it's really like in the trenches on a day to day basis?
I have always said that if running a boutique was easy, everyone would do it! The reality is a LOT of hard work, 24/7 pretty much. You are responsible for a team and their concerns and well being. You are responsible financially for all your stock, wages and VAT etc. On any given day I have to turn my head to legal issues, financial issues, staff problems, IT failures and general upkeep issues. It's not just all shopping on a really big scale! I spend little time on the shop floor now which I used to love. The general running of the business takes up most of my time.
What are some of your favorite parts of running a fashion boutique? What parts of your day keep your heart pounding?
Definitely the buying side of it. I attend London fashion week and Paris and visit those two cities at least 4 times a year. I love editing from what is on offer down to what I think my clients will want to wear. I love to discover a new and exciting brand or see an existing brand I stock take a new direction.
I also do love seeing the clients that I can manage on an appointment basis. I've got to know them very well over the years and they have become great friends too. I shop directly from the runway with them in mind.
As you mentioned, your boutique is actually a family run business. You're the second generation to run the show. What were some of the biggest challenges when it came time to "pass the torch" to you? How did things change once you started running the show?
I think in my 20's I made a lot of mistakes. I probably didn't think of my customer quite enough and went with what I loved. I soon learned! I have also struggled with the preconception of Jane Davidson that a lot of people had which is that it was "where your mum would shop." Hopefully I have managed to change this with the contemporary offering we have now. It's also been really important to retain the existing and very loyal clients who have supported the business over the years and make them feel valued.
The store was passed down to you from your mother. What are some of the biggest mentoring takeaways your mom passed down to you with regards to what it takes to run a successful shop?
I don't think my Mum mentored me as such, I just spent a lot of time in showrooms as a child and in the shop and I kind of soaked it up. I do remember we played a game. In those days in a showroom you would be given plastic rings in a colour to choose the clothes you wanted to buy. She would let me choose first and then walk through it with me and explain things like....this dress is difficult because most women like a sleeve, this is tricky because in Scotland people won't wear green to a wedding....and so on.
A saying that I remember her telling me was "You catch more flies with sugar than with salt" and I always try and remember that when dealing with a tricky situation. Also a happy customer will tell no-one but a disgruntled one will tell everyone.
Jane Davidson existed as a retail store before the internet became popular. How early of an adopter was the boutique in terms of putting your brands online? Can you tell us a little bit more about how this transition looked?
Our first online site was launched in 2008 so we were I suppose an earlyish adopter. We have also worked very hard on our social media since then. We used to write daily blogs which seems quite antiquated now.
The difficulty of being a small business and trading online is to gain traction and we do this through selling on the marketplace site www.atterley.com. The idea being if all the small indies sell on the one site together then we can have a voice amongst the bigger players.
The difficulty of online is that it's hard to replicate the boutique experience we give online. I guess we try to bridge that gap through our social media.
Today, how much business do you do through your website vs. physical store?
Probably only 20% online versus 80% instore at the moment but obviously this will change with recent events. People are going to learn to live differently and shop differently through these challenging times.
How do you see the role of technology impacting Jane Davidson in the coming years? What are some things you're doing today to prepare for those changes?
I think definitely more selling online. Our team is changing and I look more for team members with a wider skill set. I think perhaps we will do more personal appointments. One client at a time in-store perhaps? That's not a technology issue it's a social distancing one.
VR will certainly become even bigger in fashion. We are already seeing many clever search facilities on online sites.
Can you tell us a little bit more about the process behind sourcing for brands to bring into the store? What are the hardest parts about this process?
I get so many emails and brochures in the post....it's a lot to wade through and I rarely see anything that catches my attention. I'm more likely to find a brand in a magazine or a newspaper or on Instagram. Often I have several potential brands that I mulling over at any one time. Then I make an appointment to see the brand. Key questions here are exclusivity, minimum quantity required and can I sell online. If I can imagine several of my top 10 customers in the brand then it's a go-er,
Lastly, can you tell us more about some of the plans you have for your shop that you're most excited about for this coming year?
Gosh everything is a bit up in the air right now...I would like to get through this year supporting my customers with interesting content and cheery check ins whilst they are at home. I hope my team stays strong and focussed and most of all let's stay safe and well. We'll get through this....in style. Thank you for taking the time to chat with Seladex blog readers today about your experience in the fashion boutique space. It’s been inspiring learning about your history and ups and downs. To our fashion blog readers, if you’d like to learn more about Jane Davidson you can follow them on Instagram or head over to their website here.