Shop Local: Expanding fashion retailer predicts ‘massive growth’ in independents
- Credit: Archant
A regional clothes retailer believes there’s plenty of life left in the high street yet — even after her business entered a second lockdown.
Anna Park — who owns six Anna fashion boutiques across London and East Anglia — says she has no regrets about recent expansions in her business and is upbeat about the future.
That’s despite having to furlough most of her 40-strong workforce while a handful work part-time. One online specialist continues full-time, and Mrs Park is working away behind the scenes — even offering individual styling programmes via Zoom call to customers.
She has put her weight behind this newspaper’s ‘Shop Local’ campaign aimed at getting the public to continue to support local businesses through the pandemic. It’s important to shop locally, she says, and most retailers have set up online alternatives.
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Lockdown means her stores in Woodbridge, Holt, Saffron Walden, Bury St Edmunds, Burnham Market and Primrose Hill in London are closed but she says her ‘shopatanna’ online retail arm continues to do well.
When retail does reopen, she thinks shoppers will flock back to their local stores.
“People keep saying that we have moved on 10 years technologically during lockdown and everything will be different - but I’m not so sure,” she said.
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“I think people will eventually want to embrace the old style of shopping and it will all be about supporting your local stores and restaurants. I really believe that we will eventually see a massive growth in small independents when things get back to normal.”
Mrs Park was born in Exning in Suffolk and now lives in Burnham Market in Norfolk where she opened her first store in 1993. She recently set up her own fashion brand — Primrose Park — and has expanded her offering in Bury St Edmunds and Holt by moving to larger premises.
Despite all the challenges thrown at the retail trade in 2020, she is optimistic about the future.
“We’ve had to completely review the way we do things and the biggest challenge has been embracing change,” she said. “I’ve had to face up to all of the areas that I never wanted to face up to in terms of shopping online and social media - but it was the only way we could prosper.
“With our website, we’ve had a team working on our online presence this year and as a result of their efforts, we have grown this side of the business.
“In terms of social media, I’ve been very active. I’ve been modelling myself and as long as I can bring some humour into it, I’m happy to get involved. I embrace my age, my size, everything. It seems to make it real and people have engaged with it.”
Her customers had been “amazing”, as have her “incredible” staff with both groups showing loyalty, she said.
Inevitably, there have been fashion shifts associated with people spending more time at home.
“Luxury lounge wear and jeans have been selling really well — there has been a big surge — but I still think that we should make a real effort to dress up at least once a week. You can make an event of staying in,” she said.
She still believes her decision to move and expand her Holt and Bury St Edmunds operations was the right one — in spite of lockdown. Trading up until lockdown was “brilliant”, she said.
“It is still one of the best business decisions I’ve made in a long time,” she said of her Bury St Edmunds relaunch. “We’ve had new customers and our loyal supporters have stayed with us. Bury continues to be one of my best performing stores.”
She added: “I’d like people to be aware of local independent shops and what they can offer and what they can do for people. Shopping locally is really important as if you lose local community shops – you lose that sense of local community.
“We need to keep them (independent shops) going and the only way we can keep them going is to keep shopping with them. Most local shops have got click and collect and if you contact them they will accommodate you.”
Her move to larger premises in Holt was also paying off, she said. “We are more visible, we are in the centre of town and judging the first few weeks of trade were amazing. We can’t wait to reopen again.”