Felicity Holding opened her first store 20 years ago – and today, manages 14 boutiques nationally.
What are some of the major changes you’ve seen in the boutique market?
Our customers are travelling overseas more so previously unattainable international labels have become more accessible. Some of the big players such as David Jones and international brands like COS are moving to high street shopping strips and taking on a more boutique approach to retailing. Technology has certainly changed the market, not only with the introduction of online shopping but also in the areas of customer service/experience and marketing.
What are your three key strategies for surviving (and thriving!) in business?
- Investing in and empowering the people you employee. Listening to the people you have entrusted to run your company. Before entering the ragtrade 40 years ago, I was a PE teacher and always enjoyed coaching a team and encouraging them achieve their best. Some of our boutique managers have been with the company for 15 years
- Understanding who your customer is and being able to buy directly for individuals. Listening and taking on feedback from customers on brands, styles, colours.
- Continuously evolving, remaining flexible and able to react quickly to the market.
How have you managed to expand the business to 13 stores?
Developing a strong relationship directly with your landlords is really important. If the market shifts, open up the lines of communication and negotiate. In relation to expanding our boutique network, location is key! You need to know where your customers are, and if you find a great store in the right location you need to act quickly and make it happen.
Do you think there is still a strong market for boutiques stocking beautifully sourced designer labels?
Definitely, if you know exactly who your customers are and what you mean to them. We offer seasonally curated capsules in accessible locations. Customer service and in store experience is also integral.
What are some of the brands you stock?
Australian labels include Assembly Label, Camilla and Marc, Cable Melbourne, Elka Collective, Jac + Jack, KitX, Life with Bird, Oneseaosn, Steele, Victoria and Woods + more. International brands include Agolde, American Vintage, AMO, Hunkydory, J Brand, Odd Molly, Scotch & Soda, Spiritual Gangster, Superga + more.
What do you look for when recruiting a new label?
Firstly, the label needs to be in line with the ECO D. aesthetic. We also look for brands that do not have a big (if any) presence in the Australian market already. We like to see integrity and passion in the people behind the brands we are taking onboard. Ethically manufactured brands are attractive to us as well as natural fibres and quality clothes that will last. We have always bought quality not quantity. A good relationship with the brand is really important to us we are often working together for a long time. We have been buying from Life with Bird for close to 10 years now.
You also stock lesser known, artisan labels. How important is this to the mix?
We believe this is very important as it is one of the things that differentiates us in the market. We have never wanted to join the price war with David Jones and Myer so it has pushed us to discover more eclectic labels. It’s really all about the mix, we offer our customers a ‘best of’ selection including pieces they won’t find elsewhere. For example, we have printed cotton shirt from a lesser know label, JAK Shirting, that we might offer it to our customers, with a pair of J Brand jeans from NYC, Superga sneakers from Italy and a Cable Melbourne Cashmere Cardigan.
What have been some challenges and how did you overcome them?
The introduction of online shopping was a challenge. Some customers were using our boutiques to try on international brands and then sourcing them elsewhere online. This forced us to shift our buying model slightly so we are in line with overseas. We now buy 6 months in advance of delivery as opposed to the traditional 12 month lead time. This means we are purchasing more transeasnoal clothing that can be layered up and down depending on the weather (which is actually prefect for Melbourne where most of our boutiques are located).
What’s ahead for the business here in Australia?
We are so thrilled to have recently launched our 14th boutique in Church Street Brighton. It has an updated look which we are looking forward to incorporating into some of our existing boutiques in the near future. We also have a few exciting new brands available exclusively at our Brighton boutique, as part of our always evolving product mix we hope to introduce some of these new brands into our other locations.