When it comes to running a store on the streets of London, you’re guaranteed high footfall, but ever-increasing rents can make it challenging to turn over a profit. We meet five of the capital’s lingerie retailers to find out how business is fairing and how they’ve seen London’s high streets change over the years.

What Katie Did
Founder, Katie Thomas
Location: Portobello Road

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When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique in London?

I opened What Katie Did in October 2008. As a lingerie manufacturer, we did not have a good stockist in London and being a British brand, customers were confused as to why we could recommend a stockist in Helsinki, but not in our capital city. Not having an office in London also made it difficult to show collections to potential stockists and the press.

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What is it like running a boutique in London now versus when you launched?

For us, nothing much has changed. The vast majority of our customers are destination customers, not local. They generally shop with us online and visit our boutique when they are in London. We actually had a couple visit us straight off the plane from Norway a few weeks ago, suitcases and all!

How have you seen the high street change in that time?
Unfortunately, whatever Mary Portas would like us to believe, the high street as we know it is dead. Coffee shops seem to be doing amazingly well and breeding like rabbits, but for retail stores it’s a whole different story. Of the 28 shops in our arcade, there are now only seven that date back to 2008 or before. The other 21 have been let multiple times.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a lingerie boutique in London?
Eighty per cent of our business is online, but, for us, having a boutique in London is essential for our business. It allows customers to get the real What Katie Did experience and be pampered a little, as well as being fitted so they know their right size.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in London?
Alas, I fear the next decade will be very tough, with more and more shops closing. In Portobello Road there are several big names that have taken store fronts, not with the aim of making a profit, but so their storefront is viewed by thousands of people every weekend. What Katie Did has unintentionally followed this business model.
 

Coco de Mer
Managing director, Lucy Litwack
Location: Seven Dials, Covent Garden

How is business fairing at the moment?
Business is great. We have a really loyal following and these customers have been with us for years. They come to our boutique on a regular basis to see what’s new and catch up with our team.

What is it like running a boutique in London now versus when you launched?
Challenging. We face a lot of online competition and high property prices. But people are still looking for that personal service, particularly in our arena. It still feels incredibly special to have your brand come to life in bricks and mortar. Our flagship boutique has been in Seven Dials, Covent Garden, for 15 years and it is still a thriving independent.

How have you seen the high street change during that time?
Sadly, there are a lot less independent boutiques nowadays, which is why, as consumers, we must cherish them. The only way we can do that is by using them and, yes, paying a little extra for quality
on occasion.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a lingerie boutique in London?
The two biggest challenges are heightened competition and ever-increasing rent. The benefits are: a thriving city and high footfall with increasing numbers of international shoppers. London is the fashion capital of the world.

Property prices are high in London. How do you attract footfall to make up for this?
Coco de Mer is a destination, so we are lucky that people travel far and wide to visit us. We also use social media to inform our followers of any new products and events we have in the boutique. We also attract footfall by consistently being imaginative and enticing mailers to our database.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in London?
The new landscape is a combination of the traditional values of the high street with the innovation of the digital marketplace.

Tallulah Lingerie
Owner, Nicola Adams
Location: Cross Street, Islington

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique in London?
Tallulah opened in November 2003 due to my love of lingerie and the total lack of decent fitting lingerie stores.

How have you seen the high street change since you launched?
Islington high street has changed big time; the beautiful and quirky independents have been replaced by big chains that do not offer the sort of service that independents offer. This is mainly down to the rents and rates being
hacked up.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a lingerie boutique in London?
I literally pinch myself every day. I have the best job in the world because I get to be surrounded by beautiful lingerie. The challenges come down to competition from online and department stores.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in London?
The high street will always be there, but I strongly believe that people will shop online for high street brands because they don’t offer customer service in store. Independents will grow, as we all offer such a unique experience and customers appreciate that.

Heidi Klein
Co-founder, Penny Klein
Location: Chelsea and Westbourne Grove

When and why did you decide to open a swimwear boutique in London?
Heidi Gosman and I worked together in marketing and business before becoming business partners. We complemented each other’s strengths and weaknesses perfectly. When we were working together on a project for a client about airport spend and holiday mindset, we noticed there was a gap in the market for swimwear being sold all year round.

How have buying habits changed during that time?
In the swimwear market customers are looking for more structure and better-fitting pieces that will make them feel confident on holiday. They are more in tune with what works for them and what styles they should wear for their particular body shape.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a swimwear boutique in London?
Our two boutiques in London act as a commercial showroom to display our brand. Customers expect to see the latest styles and prints in beachwear and so the challenge is to keep it fresh and exciting each season.

Property prices are high in London. How do you attract footfall to make up for this?
Property prices are high, but our footfall has always been steady. Many customers prefer coming to the stores to try on their swimwear as they can then be assured of a perfect fit.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We have introduced a personal fit service for shoppers who need extra time when looking for that perfect fitting beachwear. Shoppers receive up to an hour of one-to-one personal service from a Heidi Klein swimwear expert, who will advise on style, fit and design.

Strip
Co-owners, Danielle and Maria-Louise Featherstone
Location: Talbot Road, Notting Hill (Strip has six other boutiques in London)

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique in London?
We opened our first boutique in May 2005 in Notting Hill. We wanted to offer something that would complement our waxing service and so we chose lingerie and swimwear.

How’s business fairing at the moment?
With lingerie, it can be a little tricky as there are so many different size and style options, so we regularly do surveys with our clients to see what the most popular sizes are, although we still offer some styles in cup sizes A-G. Knowing our clientele helps us with our sell-through rate and we are currently seeing growth in popular styles.

What is it like running a boutique in London now versus when you launched?
It’s very different, as there are beauty bars popping up all over the place. Competition is high so we have to keep on our toes with delivering the latest trends and ensure that we exceed expectations in all that we deliver.

How have you seen the high street change during that time?
The high street has changed dramatically since we began, particularly with so many consumers shopping online, and there is so much choice. Nowadays, a lot of the big high-street brands have launched lingerie lines – Topshop & H&M, for example – and are offering lingerie at a very cheap price point. The problem that faces the consumer is making sure they get the right fit – 80% of women are wearing the wrong size bra. Furthermore, investing a little more into your lingerie purchase will provide you with a longer life span and durability of the product.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in London?
We predict that it is going to be tougher than previous years as people are continually shopping online. However, we do believe there is still a desire for bricks-and-mortar shops to deliver the great customer service and retail experience that you don’t get when buying online.