Be independent, not alone

pure3The Fashion Association of Britain (FAB) exists solely to help fashion indies prosper. Consultant Eric Musgrave unravels the benefits of joining its national network of like-minded retailers

“For any fashion store owner, locating a new winning brand is a major aim of any buying season. Finding a new label to work with can transform a business, making it more popular, more successful and more profitable. But one of the best connections you can make in the upcoming buying season is not with a fashion supplier, but with a reliable partner backed with many years’ experience of supporting independent fashion retailing. That partner is the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB).

“FAB will be present on its own stand at Pure (Stand S54, Olympia, February 10-12) and Moda (Stand K44 NEC, February 17-19), where experienced staff will be eager to explain the plus-points of membership to anyone who has not yet signed up for its extensive range of benefits. More than 1,000 independent fashion businesses are already FAB members – and they in turn are part of an amazing 6,500 independent retailers who have come together to enjoy the advantages of collective activity.

“FAB is a division of the British Independent Retail Association (bira), which was formed after the merger in 2009 of the British Shops and Stores Association (BSSA) and the British Hardware Federation Group (BHF). The BSSA itself came into existence when the Menswear Association of Britain (MAB) and the Drapers Chamber of Trade of Great Britain and Ireland (DCT) joined forces in the early ‘90s, so FAB draws on a long and distinguished heritage of working for the independent sector.

“Just over a year old in its current format, FAB has caught the imagination of enterprising and progressive independent retailers. For a very modest annual subscription, which can be made by monthly standing order, small and medium-sized businesses can draw on the sort of financial advantages and expert advice services that are usually thought to be the preserve only of major companies.

“Every small fashion retailer is looking to save running costs in the current climate. Through the collective power of bira, members of the FAB division enjoy what are probably the lowest rates around for credit and debit card transaction charges, as well as marvellous deals on bank charges, utility and telephone costs. Switching to FAB’s rates is easy and it can easily save fashion businesses thousands of pounds a year. Samantha Carr, who opened her own shop, The Wardrobe in Tarporley, Cheshire in March last year, was recommended by her previous employers to join FAB. She says: “What’s been most impressive so far are the rates for credit and debit card transactions. The FAB deal was half what I had been offered on my own.”

“Another huge benefit – and welcome source of reassurance – for FAB members is its free legal helpline. Experts in retailing matters such as employment law, consumer law, property issues, relationships with suppliers and insurance claims are available at the end of a telephone to give informed, up-to-the minute relevant advice. Natalie Peters, the owner of Amabo Boutique, in Lytham St Annes, is very grateful for FAB’s assistance in helping her recover from inappropriate advice from elsewhere. “I had received bad advice from my solicitor, my bank and my accountant,” she says. “It took me about 18 months of trading to discover it was all going wrong. I wish I had joined FAB in my early days because of the specialist services it provides just for fashion retailers. It can be lonely running a small shop on your own.”

“Membership of FAB also offers boutique owners access to training courses for themselves and their staff, including the renowned Oxford Summer School. A place at the school is part of the prize for FAB’s Young Retailer of the Year Award. Last year’s recipient was Melissa Wheeler, who works with her mother Vicky in the family business, Ambience of Colchester. “Just taking the time to examine why your business should impress someone else is really useful,” she recalls. “We are always looking to improve and we understand that it is a never-ending task.”

“Thankfully that task is made easier by being part of the Fashion Association of Britain. For more information, visit Fashionassociationofbritain.co.uk and pass by the FAB stands at Pure and Moda for a warm and friendly welcome by people that really understand your business.”