Derbyshire fashion indie group Young Ideas swept the board at Draper’s recent inaugural Independent Fashion Awards – and for good reason. The long-standing boutique, which has been given a new lease of life in recent years after being taken over and redeveloped, was named both Womenswear Retailer of the Year and Independent Retailer of the Year. And the reason is undoubtedly thanks to the business nous of its relatively new owner Anne Wright and her husband Colin.
Young Ideas first opened 40 years ago in the small Derbyshire town of Ashbourne. For the past four decades it has been one of the area’s boutique stalwarts, selling quintessentially British brands and catering for fashion-conscious women that wanted big city labels without leaving town. But the store has never been as popular as it has been since the Wrights took over in 2008, despite it being just six months before the country’s economy “fell off a cliff.”
Previously Anne Wright had been working in the frozen food sector for 25 years and had made her way to the top of the career ladder. By the mid noughties, she felt she had gone as far as she could and was subconsciously looking for a new career challenge: “After graduating from university I very nearly went into fashion but I was persuaded to take another path,” she says. “But that interest never disappeared so when the opportunity arose to have a second career, I was obviously thrilled to take it.”
Young Ideas never actually went on the market. Wright simply asked the original owner, who was in her 70s at the time, if she wanted to sell. “I lived locally and had been a customer of
the shop for many years,” she says. “I was familiar with the business and its customers and I admired it very much. It was an outstanding retailer.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Since taking over, the business has been subject to many developments and changes. These include the opening of a second store in Derby city centre, a new e-commerce website, an expansion into the menswear arena and new premises for the original Ashbourne store.
For many, it may seem as though there is little of the original business left. But Wright would beg to differ. Two unique selling points that will always remain the same include its “strong customer service and great collection edits.” She explains: “This was always the core of the business and what it has a solid reputation for. It has always offered a unique and personal service and it fulfils a niche that isn’t offered elsewhere on the high street.”
The developments, however, that the Wrights decided to take were directly in-line with the changing tastes and shopping attitudes of consumers. “As soon as we took over the economy had a very serious and negative impact on the business,” she explains. “It was very difficult times to trade in, especially for someone new. So we had to look into how to develop and move things forward.”
For the past six years, Wright has submerged herself in the industry. Because for all she had in corporate business knowledge, she lacked in experience of the independent retail and fashion market. “I think coming from having the support of a big company to a small business and new industry has been the most difficult task,” she says. “I had to basically work blind and build up contacts gradually.”
But despite its challenges, Wright’s background has stood her in good stead. For one thing, she is absolutely clear about her target customer: “They’re ABC1s and aged over 40 years old. What we sell does appeal
to three or four generations – it’s just that younger people probably don’t have the disposable income to buy our selections.”
Indeed, the collections at Young Ideas are mid to high-end, with best selling labels including the likes of Paul Smith, MaxMara, Michael Kors and Diane Von Furstenberg. Although it has area exclusively on most brands, Wright says that this isn’t necessarily
a strong selling point for indies these days. “I know 10 to 15 years ago it was a big thing to travel from Derby to London for the day, but now people think nothing of it. The market has definitely changed. It definitely keeps us on our toes.”
While the store stocks “all wardrobe essentials”, best selling categories range from knitwear and dresses to bags, shoes and “all accessories in general.” During AW13 – and at the start of the cold snap in particular – Wright saw a surge in sales of winter coats.
Wright says she ensures the stores offer the best service possible by investing in proper training for her team of 15 staff, which will soon grow to 17. But the main thing for her is choosing the right people. “It’s all about team selection in the first place,” she explains. “You need to have the right calibre of person and then give them the appropriate training. We like people that have experience and a great skill set but the right personality is most important. We recruit like- minded people that share the same values and care about the business; managing people brings its challenges but if you get this fundamental part right then it makes the job altogether easier.”
In 2011 Wright decided to expand by opening a second store in Derby city centre. The decision came after the owner spotted a gap in the market following the closure of several of the area’s most respected indies. “There were a lot of established indies in Derby that had fallen by the wayside,” she says. “So that opened up the market for us. Limeys unfortunately got into trouble and it was taken over by Cruise, but they didn’t have enough focus or understanding of the local market. When they closed they left a huge gap.”
Luckily for Wright, she did know the local market. And what’s more, she knew the customers and the staff that had been left unemployed to boot. “It was a combination really
of knowing that we had staff with experience and also customers,” she says. “But the third factor, thanks to being in the midst of a recession, was an opportunity to negotiate a lower overhead infrastructure. This meant we were able to run it like a satellite store on a lower cost while all the head office costs were already covered.”
More recently, in September last year, the owner also decided to relocate its original Ashbourne flagship to new premises inside a former seventeenth- century coaching inn. The new location, which is set across 2,700sq ft, has increased its retail space by over a third. Taking over just part of the building, it includes unique features such as a personal shopping room where customers can receive one-to- one attention, an art space as well as a separate store area for menswear.
The move was partly in direct response to the failing high street. Wright’s vision is to fill the rest of the building with other complementary businesses to eventually offer a new concept that combines leisure activities and shopping. By summer it will include a café or brasserie. Later they’ll also be a range of other independents that complement the offer at Young Ideas as well as an upstairs boutique hotel. In essence, it will offer a more complete experience that Wright hopes will bring a more leisurely culture back to the town’s high street. “Ashbourne is a really attractive market town and this iconic building was the heart of the place,” she says. “I want to put that back into place and redevelop it in-line with what people want today. We’ve had to think differently about how people want to live and shop these days.”
Judging on the advancements the Wrights have made in the past five years, the future for Young Ideas looks incredibly bright: from its recent Drapers triumphs to the plans set to take shape over the coming months, it’s clear that 2014 is the right time for the Derbyshire indie to really shine.