Let’s be independent together!

beach_johnSomething I have thought about for a long time is the fact Independents, although intrinsically are fantastic because they are unique from each other, there should be a way of them being able to work together to lower overheads and become stronger. This would allow them to allocate more budget to shout about what they are doing and stand up to the big boys on the block.

If you are a Multi-brand independent the web has been a double edged sword over the past 10 years. When I started www.julesb.co.uk back in 2005, we saw huge success very quickly. There were few of our competitors online at this time and we offered a better service than Harrods, Harvey Nichols or Selfridges as at this time they were either not selling goods online or had very limited stock available.

This allowed us to be on the first page of Google either just after, or sometimes in front of brands such as Hugo Boss, Paul Smith & Mulberry. This was made possible by a belief in the idea that people would buy expensive goods online without touching & feeling them because in the luxury market convenience always wins through. We offered free next day delivery and knowledgable customer service from day one with a fantastic website developed by North East independent Visualsoft and a great ‘cutting edge’ web-based stock control system for the time – Cybertill

The next few years were some-what of a bun-fight. Whilst in the past it was relatively easy to get up the rankings and effectively have the equivalent of a large store on Oxford or Regent Street for very little expenditure, the “rent & rate reviews” came shortly afterwards. Although Google genuinely battles to put the most relevant content number one, rather than the company that is spending the most money this is a bit of a farce as they will gladly take your money off you with PPC (Pay Per Click) advertising. This was an effective tool when I launched Jules B & allowed us to reach a turnover online in excess of 7 figures in not much more than a year.

With the rent reviews margins tightened and we were having to spend more online to hold our positioning, however due to being one of the first to our spot we were able to hold position. I have worked with some fantastic independents in the UK – some with one small shop, others with 10+ stores throughout the country. The principles remain the same but as ever in business the more budget you have the easier things are. The good thing about online though is actually if you are a small Indie, if you have the time to put in, writing on your blog, giving your products good descriptions etc you can compete.

It is all about unique content. Every day you need to show the search engines something new – new products, new blog entries, new posts on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and the plethora of other mediums that launch every day to make your life more complicated. They are important though. If you are small, get everyone you know who has a spare minute and a creative mind writing for you. Posts are often best if they are interesting & indirect. The public can smell the hard sell a mile off and they don’t like it. It is exactly the same if when a customer walks in a shop and they are attacked by a keen & over-eager sales assistant on commission trying desperately to sell as much as they can so they can buy some clothes for their friday night out, pay the rent or buy an iPad?!

It is tough out there – how many times do you hear those words when you speak to fellow shop keepers; if you do speak to them?

Well I think we should get together in groups and form mini Independent Cooperatives. You know as well as I do that if you go to a supplier as a group and are getting them to quote for 2, 3, or four websites at the same time, they will give you a better deal than if you just turn up alone. There are so many things you could do by working together from ordering carrier bags from the far east to mannequins and rails for your stores.

My father was chairman of a large Agricultural buying co-operative in the UK, which he merged with another to make it one of the biggest. Because of their size they now get rates from Vodafone for their members which you would not believe were possible. Farmers of course are happy to work together because they are not competing with each other & share a mutual ‘dislike’ for supermarkets. Well, you can still work together an maintain you individuality and competitiveness if you think of ways you could work together.

A choir is always louder than a single voice and although a solo artist may have a close following they can be trampled by the big boys and not heard above the noise of the storm when times are tough. Why don’t you call up the shop down the road, who you have been bitter rivals with for years and go for a pint or a glass of wine? They will probably be excited by the idea of teaming up to fight the battle, get a few more and you will win the war.

Large department stores and multiples are destroying the fashion industry. They adopt a ‘DFS Culture’ having a sale every weekend and then to top it off going on sale two weeks before Christmas – was that not when shops knew they would make some money?!

There is so much that could be accomplished and Boutique magazine would like to hear about it – so would I. If you want to do it locally great – if you think this fantastic publication could become the voice for independence where others have fallen short in recent years let us know. We could really make a difference and start something to really be proud of.

Now is not the time for Egos; now is the time to cast aside tiffs over little things that happened long ago and unite.

Is this not what being british is really about?

Written by: John Alston
Managing Director Collectif.co.uk Ltd