Doing it with style - interview with successful fashion retailer Anna Park
- Credit: Archant
Suffolk-born Anna Park has established herself as one of the country’s leading fashion business women.
With over 20 years in retail, her business called ANNA is one of the largest and most successful independent women’s wear retailers within the UK due to a winning combination of beautiful clothes and exemplary customer service. Anna also runs her own design label.
Her experience of rising to the top in this most competitive of sectors means Anna should make a fascinating keynote speaker when she takes to the podium at this year’s Anglia Business Exhibition, which is being held at the Ipswich Hotel at Copdock on May 10th.
Colour and prints
Anna Park founded ANNA in 1994 when she opened her first store in the Norfolk town of Burnham Market. This was followed three years later by the arrival of the business’ flagship store in London’s Primrose Hill. Due to their phenomenal success another four stores have since opened throughout East Anglia – in Bury St Edmunds, Woodbridge, Holt and Saffron Walden.
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Anna says her stores sell “a high end selection of clothing and accessories,” aimed at “women aged from 30 to 60 who have an element of style and have a love and passion for fashion”.
She continued: “We stock our own designs as well as lots of other national and international designers and are considered a brand store where customers will be styled by an Anna girl – that is a key reason why we are successful.
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“People come in and know they will find it very personable. All the girls make them feel comfortable and welcome.”
Anna’s own design label is called Primrose Park – a play on her surname and Primrose Hill, the area in London where she lives. Her clothes are sold wholesale to around 40 other stores in the UK and are known for their bold prints and bright colours.
“We don’t do much black,” she said.
Originally from Newmarket, Anna spends a lot of the time in London as her husband is based in the capital but she can also often be found driving around the region dropping in on her stores and serving customers.
She says she has been lucky in that she has been able to buy the properties where her stores are based - using the money from her business to finance the next outlet.
“I try and always operate in a profitable situation,” said Anna, who says she has carefully chosen the locations of her stores in areas where she felt there was a demand for her proposition.
“I knew Bury would be an ideal location for one of my shops.
“I know the town well - my brother has a business there and I’d always loved going there with my mum. It’s an affluent area but 15 years ago it was a fashion wasteland with very few nice places to go shopping.”
Saffron Walden was also a no-brainer.
“There was no point opening in Cambridge because that is already saturated with lots of clothes shops. In Saffron Walden there are not many fashion stores on offer but there is a captive audience.
“I saw the shop that I wanted for my store but at the time it wasn’t for sale. It was a kitchen shop – a lovely double-fronted town store. We approached the tenants and owner and eventually secured it.”
But while the shops are Anna’s key focus, she is in the process of developing a new website, although she admits she has embraced the virtual world reluctantly.
“We are online but it’s not something I relish,” she said.
“So far, it has been an advertising tool - I prefer bricks and mortar and want people to come and meet us. A lot of fashion websites are just about scrolling through images of clothes – it’s made too easy to spend money without thinking about it.
Anna says she hopes the new website she has in development will change this.
“The creative agency we are working with have met me and my staff and have understood what I want,” she said.
“I want to make the site like a shop and to offer people an experience. The idea is we are going use profiling to tell people what they need and how to buy it.
“I want them to buy it online but then come to the shop and try it on and be styled by me or one of my staff. What is the point of staying in our own houses and not going out?”
Anna says she fears online shopping is driving people off the high street and feels the recent hike in business rates for retailers will make the situation a lot worse.
She believes the new rates will hit one in three high street businesses hard.
She continued: “The problem is we are giving mixed messages: we are told we should get off the computer and get out and shop locally and then the business rates are put up and hit the same people we are trying to support.
“If you look to the Continent, most European cities and towns are based around the centre.
“I’ve been doing this for twenty years and I’ve never felt so passionate. I don’t know what is going to happen. There are small independent retailers who are likely to see their rent doubled.”
When it comes to business advice, Anna says her first rule is to never think you can save money by not doing monthly accounts or regular stocktaking.
“After the wage bill, my highest outgoing is the accountancy bill,” she said
“It’s so important that I know what’s going on in my shops each month – even down to how much each shop spends on stationary. It’s important to do monthly accounts for each branch because a business can change direction quickly and I need to be able to react.”
A recent example was the downturn in the value in pound after the Brexit vote.
Anna said: “In several shops we saw our sales go up and on the face of it they were doing well but when we looked beneath it we could see that our margins were shot because we were paying more for the stock because the pound was so weak.
“Because we have a constant view of our accounts we were able to recognise the problems straightaway. But had we only been looking at sales, we wouldn’t have identified it.
“We were able to adapt and bring in less expensive ranges and manufacture more of our own.”