Velvet and Rose’s Shirley Leader on offering a personal service and competing with online

 Former product scientist Shirley Leader opened Velvet and Rose in 2018. The Hampshire-based boutique offers stylish and glamorous womenswear from international and British brands such as Louche, Religion, Silvian Heach, Saint Tropez and Lizabella. Here the founder reveals what’s selling and how she’s navigating the cost of living crisis… 

How is business at the moment?

Last year was the best year that we had since opening in March 2018, so this has been good news for us. Footfall has been picking up steadily this year as our customers get ready to go on holiday and attend social occasions. We are hoping that the change in weather will bring more out to shop with us. We are, however, very thankful for all our new and regular customers. 

What are your customers buying most of currently?

We are well-known in the area for Mos Mosh jeans and spend a lot of time with our customers helping them find the right style and fit. Our dresses from Hope and Ivy and other brands are also popular as you can wear them to various occasions. We are also popular with jewellery as many customers like to buy them as gifts.

Have you introduced any new brands for SS23?

We have introduced Dress Addict and Zibi London this season – and so far, so good!

What are the biggest challenges you’re currently facing as a small business owner?

Online shopping. Many women, including the older ladies, now shop online. Many of the big companies offer free returns with lots of discounting, so it is hard to compete against this. We try to stand out by offering our ladies a more personal service as many customers do miss this from shopping online. Asides from this I’d say the rise in energy prices is a big challenge. Our bill went up 31 per cent from a year ago.  The rise in minimum wages, wholesale and shipping costs are also key issue areas. We can only absorb so much so we keep a close eye on cash-flow.

What more do you think could be done by government and local councils to support independent retailers?

The government could provide more help in reducing our energy costs.  They need to ensure that the energy companies do not continue to benefit at our expense. Furthermore, the local councils need to drive more customers into all parts of a town and not just focus on the centre. Having free parking, reducing the rates, running more localised events, investing in the town and working with the businesses would benefit everyone.  

Is there anything you think suppliers could do differently to support stockists?

Brands could have more in season stock, more sustainable pieces, reduce minimums and reduce the number of collections in a year to help stockists. While they too have sales targets, they need to think differently, be agile towards the retailer and current economy and work together to benefit everyone.

Do you have any events or promotions planned to increase summer footfall?

We will be showcasing Velvet and Rose in our town’s Spring festival. We are looking forward to increasing our customer base as many folks have yet to hear about us.

What did you buy into for AW23 and did you do anything differently for the season?

We have continued to focus on our core brands and remove brands which were not working. It is easy to get carried away in the current climate as customers are still worried about the current state of the economy.

How optimistic are you for the rest of 2023?

We’re always hoping that the retail world will pick up considerably. With many big names shutting shop, the indies could gain from this. However, retail is difficult and people need to show their support for local businesses or they stand losing them. So, we are feeling cautiously optimistic about the rest of the year.