Domino Style owner Abigail Edmunds is having quite the year. As well as winning Drapers’ Best Use of Social Media trophy in September, her business was also named Fashion Independent of the Year at last month’s Boutique Star Awards.
The multi-channel group, which operates two physical stores in Stratford-upon-Avon and Leamington Spa, captured the judges’ attention thanks to its covetable products, impressive growth and fresh approach to retail. “I was just overjoyed to win,” says the owner, who took over the business from its previous owner in 2017. “My amazing team has worked so hard for so long and to be recognised by the industry is just incredible. It makes me feel even more confident that we’re doing the right job.”
If you follow Domino Style on Instagram, Facebook or Tiktok, you’d be hard pressed to believe that confidence is something Abigail ever lacks. The store’s outlandish videos and reels, usually featuring the owner alongside various glamorous team members, somehow manage to strike the perfect balance of being humorous and aspirational at the same time. As a viewer you are simply compelled to watch. Whether they’re twirly around in pop bright prints, taking part in synchronised dance routines or striking a pose among various local hotspots, their sparkling smiles can’t fail to brighten even the dreariest day.
And it’s probably for this reason that Domino Style’s star began to rapidly rise online during the deepest depths of the pandemic.
Having taken over 40-year-old Domino as a former employee just three years before the first lockdown announcement, Abigail had already begun to modernise the business by launching an e-commerce site and focusing on social media. “I think I posted our very first reel when the rest of the team was on furlough,” she says. “I went to the shop every day to collect four different outfits before styling them at home to post on Instagram. But with my very young daughter with me at home, it quickly descended into hilarious chaos.”
Her exuberant lockdown styling videos became such a hit among customers that she decided to host a weekly “Quarantinny” party every Friday, inviting viewers to sip cans of M&S cocktails with her and “get dressed up.” She says: “I think it helped ease people’s boredom while they were stuck indoors, and our audience began to grow quite quickly from there.”
During the second lockdown, Abigail enlisted the help of full-time team member Cathryn Greenwood (known as Kitty on Instagram) to help create more video content. This time the duo ventured out with their outfits to different local locations, filming “more professional-looking” reels. These included a post on “being the best-dressed person at the supermarket,” which saw Abigail flinging herself on top of a shopping trolly in the middle of a busy Tesco. The owner also fondly remembers the time she repeatedly strutted across a zebra crossing to get the right shots while a crowd of onlookers formed on the side-lines.
Post-pandemic, Kitty is still Abigail’s trusted “Instagram sidekick”, helping her create fresh content and appearing alongside her in many images and videos. The rest of the 10-strong Domino Style team also get involved in its social media channels: “They are all absolutely brilliant,” says the owner. “I couldn’t do it without them.”
Catapulting the business to new heights during the lockdowns is one of Abigail’s proudest achievements: “To emerge from the pandemic in the strong position we were in, simply because of our hard work and determination, was a truly fantastic feeling,” she says. “We were there for people in some of their darkest moments and they were there for us too. We’ve managed to keep up the momentum and we’re so grateful for our loyal customers.”
Shedding their inhibitions for the camera is clearly part of the Domino Style team’s social media charm: “It’s so important for our customers to know that we’re real and approachable people that they can come to for styling advice,” says Abigail. “We love talking to our customers and being involved in their lives. We also want to show that fashion is fun and wearing clothes that express your personality doesn’t have to be daunting. I hope we inspire people to find the joy in fashion.”
The success of this strategy is undeniable. In-store sales for Domino Style have soared this year while its online takings have also risen by 20 per cent. E-commerce now accounts for almost a third of the business, with thousands of customers making purchases via the retailer’s website, Instagram page and Trouva.
The bricks-and-mortar side of the business has also expanded. In March last year, Abigail opened the doors to Domino Style’s second physical shop in Leamington Spa. Set across one floor instead of its flagship’s two storeys, the latest addition features the same quirky interior design as the original but with a different product and brand selection. The strategic move meant the retailer could crucially increase its online offer as well as its customer base. “Stratford-upon-Avon will always be the mothership, but we were rapidly running out of space and wanted to grow the business,” says Abigail. “We split the brands across the two stores but sell our full product range online.”
Appearing in Grazia magazine’s list of best boutiques to visit once lockdown restrictions lifted helped widen its customer base further. Some shoppers now travel from far afield to visit the physical stores, staying overnight in local hotels. “When people love what you do so much that they’re willing to travel long distances, it’s extremely rewarding,” says Abigail. “It just makes us all the more confident that we’re doing something right!”
Ahead of the curve
What’s absolutely apparent when speaking to Abigail is her desire to remain one step ahead, whether that’s with the eclectic product mix she chooses or the store’s customer experience. Just last month Domino Style launched its own shopping app, which, as far we’re aware, is one of the first (if not the first) introduced by an independent fashion retailer. “I really wanted to launch an app because no one else has done it yet,” she says. “It’s super clean and so easy to use – I’m really pleased with the results.”
The launch has been a big hit with customers so far, largely thanks to retailer’s active promotions and 15 per cent discount offer to everyone who downloads it. “Shoppers can sign up for our loyalty scheme and collect Domino Dots for every pound they spend,” says Abigail. “We can also send targeted promotions, exclusives and tailor-made offers for our customers. It means we can a more personalised experience.”
The app was created by Abigail’s “phenomenal” sister-in-law Kelly Edmunds, who is also the designer behind the store’s sleek website. Working closely with her on its navigation and overall aesthetic, the owner says her main aim was to ensure it “speaks the same language” as the physical stores and website: “It’s super clean and easy to use, so I think we’ve hit the mark. It’s really exciting to be able to keep up with bigger retailers and enhance the Domino shopping experience in this way.”
While the business has enjoyed an undeniably standout year, Domino Style hasn’t been completely immune to the cost of living crisis. “It’s been tough – neither of our stores are in particularly affluent areas,” says Abigail. “That’s why it’s so important to offer an experience and give shoppers a reason to leave their keyboards. You can’t offer the best possible experience online no matter how hard you try; nothing can ever replicate visiting a physical store.”
To keep up with changing customer demand, Abigail says her buying is moving towards more trans-seasonal styles. Knitwear, she says, has been a strong category in particular this autumn as shoppers switch up their wardrobes for the cooler weather: “We’ve pulled back from buying lots of winter coats and high summer dresses – I honestly don’t think many people have completely separate seasonal wardrobes anymore,” she says. “Shoppers also want more value from the pieces they buy.” This has also meant carrying fewer expensive occasionwear brands: “I tend to go for styles that can be pared back and worn a few times in different ways. Our customers are now looking for considered pieces that offer flexible styling options.”
The retailer’s core fashion brands include Essential Antwept, American Vintage, Bash, Day Birger, Halebob, Stella Nova, Samsøe Samsøe, Stina Goya, Paige and Frame. Abigail says she tries to offer a mix of price points that appeal to a broad range of shoppers, with entry level brands such as Second Female providing more affordable options.
The retailer is also well-known for its footwear and carries products from Shoe the Bear, Wushu Ruyi, Woden and D.A.T.E. Shoppers can also purchase quirky on-trend jewellery by Anna Beck, Carter Gore, Big Metal London, Mishky and Enamel Copenhagen.
Abigail has also been moving the business towards a greener product line-up for several seasons. For AW23, the retailer has introduced trans-seasonal organic cotton dresses by Pink City Prints following the brand’s popularity over summer: “It’s a lovely sustainable label, which is very important to us,” she says. “Most of the brands we stock are sustainable and that’s been a key focus for us for a long time. It’s so important that we steer customers away from fast fashion.”
As well as its environmental efforts, Domino Style is also committed to bringing value to the local community. This year it hosted a charity fashion show at a nearby school, raising £2,500 for a new sensory-friendly space for children with additional needs. Abigail also believes in sharing knowledge and collaborating with fellow independent business owners to benefit the entire industry. This year she joined Mary Portas on the AIS Conference’s keynote speaker line-up to discuss the importance of social media in retail. The founder also appeared on Pure London’s stage with other indie owners to discuss how small businesses can thrive in the current climate. “I think it’s so important to collaborate and share information in this industry,” she says. “We should all have each other’s backs, especially when things are as tough as they are now.”
As she navigates the latest challenges, Abigail is currently focused on growing her online customer base through investing in the store’s website and app. For the business owner, there’s rarely time to stand still – and that’s true whether the tills are ringing or sales are slow: “There will always be busy times and quiet times in business,” she says. “But instead of panicking when things are tough, I use that time wisely to reflect and put plans in place to grow. You never know what’s around the corner as a retailer and staying positive is so important in this business.”