We meet four independent lingerie retailers based in the North West of England to find out how business is fairing and how the high streets in their local areas have changed over the years.

Foundations Lingerie
Owners, Kate Hinton and Karen Flannery
Location: Nantwich, Cheshire

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When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
It was fate. We were looking for new careers after leaving the teaching profession last year and longed to be self-employed, to be flexible around our young families. We came across this business for sale and it all just seemed to fit into place.

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How’s business fairing?
We are definitely busier in the warmer months and are currently doing a great trade in swimwear.

What is it like running a boutique in Cheshire now, versus when you took over the store?
Now that we have been trading for a year, we are getting more of an idea of what our customers want and when they want it. We’re trying to make the most of our new EPOS system so that we’re getting enough of what we need. Cheshire ladies want a great service and a great choice of quality items.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
More and more people seem to ask for the matching knickers when buying lingerie, or matching kaftans when buying swimwear. Maybe it’s the way we’ve merchandised our stock.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
To be fitted by experts and have that wonderful one-on-one buying experience that you can’t get in department stores is a great selling point. We love that we get the time to get to know our customers and that they feel safe, secure and have confidence in our business.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
In an ideal world, the town would be full of independent retailers. With the changes that are upon us, let’s just hope that we’re given a fighting and  fair chance.

See-Saw Lingerie
Current owner, Penny English. Incoming owner, Johanna Bolhoven
Location: Hale, Greater Manchester

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
Penny: I moved to Hale village with my parents when I was 18 years-old and they opened the shop with my sister in 1991. It had previously been a traditional corsetiere shop for nearly 50 years, but after a major refurbishment we began selling bespoke bridal wear and new brands of lingerie. A few years later, we decided to introduce swimwear and nightwear to replace the bridal wear. Fourteen years ago, I decided to move back to the village to be near my parents and took over the family business. See-Saw Lingerie is now about to celebrate 25 years in business. I have loved the lingerie business, but have decided it is time for a change. I am delighted to be handing over the reins to a member of staff and good friend, which will allow me to embark on my next adventure when I move to Dorset early next year.

Johanna: I have been fortunate to work for See-Saw and with Penny for the last few years and I have got to know the business very well. I have worked in various areas of the fashion industry for over 20 years and this has included fashion PR and marketing for large department stores and small independent boutiques. I’m also a personal stylist and regularly talk to my clients about the importance of well-fitting lingerie.

How’s business fairing at the moment?
Penny: The high street has changed a lot over the past eight years and the recession, as well as increasing popularity and competition from the internet, definitely took its toll on business. Despite all the doom and gloom, See-Saw has continued to be a destination shop for a wonderfully loyal customer base and we are now seeing an increase in new customers who want the personal service we are known for.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
Johanna: Small businesses need to adapt to survive. We will stay ahead of the competition by maintaining detailed market knowledge, implementing a marketing strategy, developing customer relationships and providing a highly personalised and connected customer experience.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?

Johanna: The Portas Report came up with the recommendation that if traditional high streets were to survive in this multi-channel retail age, then they need not just shops and food outlets, but community hubs. Hale is fortunate to have a passionate and active group called The Hale Community Trust, which is working closely with the local authority to ensure the build of a new 6,000ft2 community hub on the site of the current bowling green.

Pandora’s Box
Company director, Jackie Wood
Location: Ormskirk, Lancashire

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
Pandora’s Box opened 22 years ago. The current store in Ormskirk opened after we successfully sold lingerie on the market stalls in Liverpool. We found that women wanted to be fitted in their bras on the market stall (which was impractical), so an indoor premise was a must.

How’s business fairing at the moment?
Business is good. We decided to downsize three years ago, after we expanded our premises in 2010. After working very hard through the credit crunch on marketing, social media, in-store events, stock management and cutting other costs, we’ve got through the other side stronger.

How have you seen the high street change in that time?
It’s tougher. You are constantly competing. We are aware of this, and do not rest on our laurels, which makes us stronger.

What is it like running a boutique in Ormskirk now, versus when you launched?
The high street is declining and has been for over five years now. My marketing manager and ex business partner, Katie Givens, set up a company called Love Ormskirk in a bid to market the town we were trading from, to help our business and others around us. This helped raise awareness and footfall. We still have a lot of the customers we had when we first set out in business, and their daughters, and even their granddaughters!

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We decided to stock swimwear all year-round three years ago, and it really works. We work with Pour Moi?, which offers a concession in our store, which means we can hold more stock.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
As long as retailers like us stay strong, focussed and ahead of the game, a high street can survive with a good mix of shops and services.

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
I opened a lingerie store in 1984 after an independent lingerie boutique and department store had recently closed in town, creating an opportunity. I had previously worked for the independent store so I had knowledge of bra fitting and corsets, which were big business at that time.

Chantilly
Managing director, Marjorie Thompson
Location: Rochdale, Greater Manchester

How is business fairing at the moment?
Despite all the political and economic uncertainties, we’ve have had a very good season this year and trade has been well above expectations.

What is it like running a boutique in Rochdale now, versus when you launched?
The trade has changed in so many ways that I would need several pages to explain how and why. The products on offer now are much more sophisticated and have improved so much in terms of design and materials being used. When I first started, we sold lots of nightwear and corsetry and sales of these have diminished over the years and been replaced by swimwear and lots more lingerie. The size options for bras have more than doubled since 1985. Back then, you were lucky to find something in a G cup and we often had to alter bras for customers to make them fit correctly if they were very large in the cup. The biggest change to running the store is the addition of our online business, which has basically doubled the workload but enabled us to invest in a fully integrated stock control system that has made the business operate much more efficiently.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
Before the financial crises in 2008, people would often stock up on bras and buy several from a range. This is more unusual now. I have traded through recessions before, but there has been nothing like the 2008 experience and it has definitely made people more cautious about spending. Customers are also much more savvy than they used to be and it is so
easy to make price and product comparisons online.

What are the benefits and challenges of running a lingerie boutique in your area?
Despite Rochdale being quite a deprived area, the town has had £250 million of inward investment over the last few years. I love my town and the people are lovely, warm hearted and have a good sense of humour, which we all need.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
I think quality is more important than price and our focus has always been to provide an outstanding level of customer service. I think that good staff are worth their weight in gold and I have been so fortunate to have brilliant staff who have stayed with me over the years. I listen to my customers and always try to give them the best product for their needs, with comfort being the number one priority.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
High streets are in danger across the UK and since the Brexit vote all bets are off as to what will happen in the future as no one, including ‘experts’ and government, knows truly what the fallout from this will be. It is very daunting to think we are possibly heading for another recession when we really haven’t pulled away from the previous one.