INTERVIEW: Sheffield’s Perfect Fit owner Jill Axe

Perfect Fit, a lingerie boutique based in the outskirts of Sheffield, is the perfect example of how independent retailers are still thriving on today’s high street. Eighteen years after it first opened, the store has weathered the recession, survived the explosion of online retail and is still flourishing post Brexit. During a store visit from Lingerie Insight reporter Joe Peskett, owner Jill Axe shares the secrets of her success.

What is it like running a lingerie boutique In Sheffield?
It’s all I know because I’m from Sheffield. We’ve been going for 18 years now so we must be doing something right. We’ve weathered the recession.

How is business fairing at the moment?
It’s good. [With the run up to Christmas] a lot of men will come and buy for women, and they’re last minute, men, aren’t they? They won’t have started yet. There will be ladies coming in saying ‘I’m going on a Christmas do and I need a special bra’. In summer we sell lots of swimwear, manufactured by bra manufacturers, so they fit properly.

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How would you measure the level of footfall in this area?
We’re located a few miles from town, so we do have a few people come past the window and think ‘I like that’, and will come in, but, generally, we’re a destination. If they visit us, they’re generally coming especially to see us.

What kind of customers do you have coming through the door?
They’re not always local – people travel. We have a lady that lives in France and every time she comes to the UK she comes here to have bras fitted – she doesn’t buy them anywhere else. We’ve also got a client who lives in Spain and a lady from Australia who had a friend tell her to visit us whilst she was in the UK. We also have a lot of people visit from the surrounding area – from Barnsley for example – because people don’t have many shops there.

Do you have an online operation?
We do, but it’s small. We want our customers to come and see us because our job is to put them in the right bra and not just any bra. It’s not about making money from selling the bra – it’s about the experience we offer.

Studies show that the future of retail is online. Do you agree?
I think a lot of people do buy online, but about 80% of people are wearing the wrong size bra and that statistic hasn’t changed since we started. What happens is that people will buy the same size bra for years and years before they realise it’s wrong. Then they’ll come in and get fitted and then they might carry on buying that size for years, but women’s bodies change. To us, it’s about the fit. We’ll still operate online, but we really want our customers to come into store.

How has the high street changed since you opened Perfect Fit?
People seem to have fewer staff on the shop floor. You can go into a high street shop, walk up and down and not find any staff. We do things that big shops can’t do. We will do special orders and if the customer wants something obscure, we can order it for them. We’re here to serve all the time, and that’s the difference. I think retail is changing. Yes, people are looking online, but I think they also need good service. If people want to take money, they’ve got to look after their customers.

What are the main challenges you face as an independent retailer?
There are always challenges in retail. You read about it in the news all the time; everybody’s struggling and people are going online. But if you think about what we do and why people come here, it’s because they want us to fit them. Brexit hasn’t been a problem to us at all – it’s not affected us.

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