Regional focus: Yorkshire lingerie boutiques

Nicola Silcock, owner of The Lingerie Room in Harrogate.

We meet six independent lingerie retailers based in Yorkshire to find out how business is faring and how the high streets in their local areas have changed over the years.

Barbara Ashton
Owner, Jenny Bennett,
Location:
Driffield

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
Barbara Ashton, our founder, opened the shop in May 1986. She found there was a gap in the market for bigger cups beyond a DD. Barbara retired in 1999 when my mum, Janet Megginson, bought the shop. Mum saw the shop as something we could work on together and continue providing a great service. Sadly, in July last year, my mum lost her battle to Motor Neurone Disease. I took over running the shop two years ago. We continue to run the shop now with a dedicated team of five.

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How’s business faring at the moment?
Business is faring well; we have a strong customer base for repeat orders, and having swimwear in stock all year round is a great advantage, together with a good selection of nightwear. We look forward to each new season and planning our window displays. Christmas is just around the corner and preparation is key.

What is it like running a boutique in Driffield now, versus when your store was opened?
The approach to running the shop has changed very little. We always set out to specialize in bigger cups, but the range of sizes has grown and we now stock 30-46 backs and cups in A-K. Girdles have been replaced with smoothing shapewear and new brands have come on the market to accommodate this.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
Customer buying habits have changed in the sense that they now research new products online and then choose to either buy online or come into their local store and try something on. It’s our job to have lots of styles in stock or the ability to order the product in for them quickly.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We all have such busy lives now and customers really appreciate any time and leg work we can save them. We keep
them up to date with new lines and order products bespoke to each individual customer.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
Driffield is a pretty market town that has a good selection of independent shops, cafés and restaurants. Having a good selection of quality shops benefits everyone and is good for the local economy.

Anon Lingerie
Co-owner, Rebecca Sedgewick
Location: Elland

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
I opened my boutique on October 22, 2010 because I was tired of struggling to find beautiful underwear in my size (34G), which made me feel special and fitted well. I realised that if I was struggling then a lot of other people would also be struggling and I wanted to help them to feel special.

How’s business faring at the moment?
Business is excellent, we are in our sixth year of business now, and are going from strength to strength. We have managed to keep our loyal customers and are gaining new ones daily.

What is it like running a boutique in Elland now, versus when your store was opened?
I’m not going to pretend that it’s been an easy ride; there have been ups and downs throughout the years, with large stores opening and closing and other local businesses in the town struggling. All of us have been a little worried at times, but we are a tight-knit community, which is always happy to recommend and support our neighbours.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
We started with a very small amount of stock because I started the business with my own savings at a very young age and I couldn’t invest as much as some new businesses. We started with key sizes and have since added new sizes every few months to suit our market. We have also started to stock more expensive and luxurious brands alongside our other price points.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We love to be real and honest with our customers and I guess it’s this customer service which keeps our customers coming back. We listen to what they have to say and take their opinions and needs on
board and try to act on them.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
I’m not really sure where the future of any high street is going, let alone ours. Hopefully we will continue to see more independent retailers and less large chain stores. Our high street is too small to be polluted with large stores.

Swanky Pants
Director, Sandra Morgan
Location: Harrogate

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
Swanky Pants was established in 2005. I joined as a manager in January 2013 and bought the shop with a partner in May 2013. In April 2015 I took full ownership of the business. I previously worked in Harvey Nichols in Leeds, where I had been a manager on perfumery and accessories for eight years. Coming from a department store to a small independent shop was quite scary, but I loved the idea of spending time with my customers and really getting to know them.

How’s business faring at the moment?
It has its ups and downs. Being situated outside the town centre has its downfalls, such as a lower footfall. However, stocking the appropriate products and promoting the business enables me to increase sales and in turn results in repeat customers.

How have buying habits changed since you bought the shop?
Buying habits have changed remarkably in the past three years. Swanky Pants was always known for high-end lingerie, but I now have a range of products priced from £25 to attract a wider audience.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
I offer the very best shopping experience with a friendly, warm, personal service.
I spend time getting to know my customers, finding out what they are looking for and finding the right fit
for them. This has, in turn, affected my purchasing of stock. I now need to be more selective, stocking products that are both practical and fashionable.

Following this interview, Lingerie Insight learned that Swanky Pants will be relocating to Leeds in the New Year.

The Lingerie Room
Owner, Nicola Silcock
Location: Harrogate

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
I bought the business in September 2007, when it was located in Settle in the Yorkshire Dales. We then moved, as a family, to Harrogate in 2010, but I continued to travel 40 miles to Settle as there was more to achieve in the business and relocating didn’t seem like an option. However, four years later, I decided I couldn’t face another winter travelling and finally relocated the business after finding the right location. The Harrogate store has been open since September 2015.

How’s business faring at the moment?
We are experiencing the usual seasonal low at the moment, but business has been good throughout the summer, with new customers coming in every day and, now that I have been here over a year, I am seeing lots of repeat custom.

What is it like running a boutique in Harrogate now, versus when your store was opened?
Running the boutique in Harrogate is quite different to how it was in Settle. I have noticed more people here want the basic colours, whereas in Settle I used to sell far more seasonal colours.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
I took over the business just a year before we went into the recession and, in that time, I was building the business up and it was growing rapidly. However, things slowed down during the recession and business plateaued, and it is pretty much the same now. The growth in online retailing has definitely affected buying habits. Once they know what size they are in a certain style it is so easy for them to just order it online.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We do this by offering a high level of customer service, loyalty rewards and, above all else, a great range of stock from many different suppliers.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
I’m sure Harrogate will always have a great high street, as it is a beautiful spa town that attracts many visitors all year round and is well supported by local shoppers. In addition, an independent boutique cinema has recently opened, as well as lots of new restaurants, which are sure to attract even more visitors.

Kathryn Rolfe
Co-owner, Kate Rolfe
Location: York

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
I was the manager of Rigby & Peller in Knightsbridge for four years. I loved working for the Kentons, but I was tired of the commute in London and wanted to return North. So, in 2006, there was an opportunity to open my own shop in York and to work with my Mum, which has been amazing.

What is it like running a boutique in York now, versus when your store was opened?
York is expensive and rents and rates are on a par with London. We’ve had to move our shop twice because of this.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
Women are becoming more adventurous, especially with colours.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
By stocking good brands, having a point of difference from other stores and offering great customer service,

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
It’s hard to say except there are many more chain restaurants and bars opening as they are the only ones able to afford the rent and rates in this area. There will be a backlash against shopping purely on the internet too, but with a higher expectation on quality and customer service than before.

Frillies Boutique
Owner, Rebecca Barnett
Location: Sheffield

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
I worked for myself as a massage and reflexology therapist for eight years, running my business from home, until four years ago. Since then I have thought about different ideas of how I could work for myself again and lingerie came about due to many things – I turned 50 this year, my children are older and I put myself first for the first time in 17 years. Plus, I had had a couple of bad bra fitting experiences following weight loss. Add to that, I couldn’t find a nice pair of tights locally and I just wanted to run a boutique full of beautiful things that I would love to wear. The shop opened on October 13, 2016.

What is it like running a boutique in Sheffield?
Frillies is based in Penistone, a small market town which is about 15 miles north of Sheffield. The boutique is on a busy road with a car park, which is perfect for the nature of the business. I am promoting Frillies to a wider audience outside of Penistone.

How do you plan to stay ahead of the competition?
I plan to be careful with my product selection, trying to offer something a little different to the others. I offer a personal fitting service and have so far carefully listened to my customers to make sure that I reflect their needs.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
Penistone is a growing town with inward investment and therefore I believe that the high street is here to stay, with new retail outlets starting up.

The Fitting Room
Owner, Debbie Heeley
Location: Ilkley

When and why did you decide to open a lingerie boutique?
The shop has been established in the town of Ilkley for nearly 40 years. I took over the business in 2003, having chosen to pursue a complete change of career from banking. I had and always had an interest in the industry and while initially this was certainly a challenge, it was an opportunity I could not pass up.

How is business faring at the moment?
At present, business is still good despite a level of uncertainty. We pride ourselves on our personal service and knowledge and this is reflected in our reputation and long-standing presence in the town, together with the many personal recommendations from existing clients to their friends and family.

What is it like running a boutique in Ilkley now, versus when your store was opened?
Whereas many years ago the town was dominated by independent, bespoke shops, the high street is now home to many chain fashion houses. Our shop has evolved both in its appearance and in the brands and styles we stock. It is vital we keep up to date with fashion trends worldwide as our clients now have access to the web and expect much more from their shopping experience.

How have buying habits changed in that time?
Customers are perhaps a little more discerning, expect more from their shopping experience and are more likely to look for a lingerie `outfit’ than just an individual item. We find that we do not have to compete with online shops, but be comparable with them as customers increasingly expect a quicker delivery service.

How do you stay ahead of the competition?
We regularly visit trade shows, both here in the UK and in Europe, researching fashion trends and sourcing new lines in an effort to offer something a little different whilst maintaining the quality of our lingerie. Having experienced and trained staff also puts us ahead of the competition.

Where do you see the future of the high street heading in your local area?
The future of the high street in Ilkley is strong. However, it could be eroded if the larger high street chains continue to move in. They can also inadvertently push up the cost of rents, which independents are less likely to afford.

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