Business is a winding road

the long and winding road-pi-192_800x600x0

I know that retail is a funny old game, a point compounded the other day by the news that a Peckham stalwart, Fenton Walsh, had closed down after 12 years of business on Bellenden Road. I was in the shop the week before, having a lovely chat with Maria, the founder and owner of the business, who was full of sage advice about being in the retail/fashion industry.

Aside from the fact that she told me not to invest any more money in the business at this stage, she was positive and helpful and I thought quite upbeat, despite having serious issues with the new tax computer system (I feel I should be more knowledgeable about this, considering that I am going to have to submit information to this same system soon, like, for example, its purpose….)

I went back a week later to find the door firmly shut and notice up saying she’d had to shut up shop and close down due to various issues including the tax system and shit weather. A real shame as it seemed to me that she had a lot to offer and contribute to the local area. This led to the question of price points and what people consider to be an appropriate amount of money for certain items.

I feel that I have a moderate attitude to the amounts I spend of items of clothing and am quite happy to do a cost per wear comparison. For example, I have been known to spend hundreds of pounds on jeans, because I literally live in them and feel that for items which you rely on so heavily to provide comfort and cover, you should be prepared to spend money on them. The same can’t be said for more seasonal clothes, like t-shirts or jumpers, because they are more prone to be trend led and so different from one season to another. I would love to be able to spend £500 on a classic cashmere jumper which would get handed down to the next generation of our family, but that isn’t going to happen. So I go to H&M and spend £20 on a jumper to wear with jeans in the knowledge that the following year I will be buying another, different jumper for the same purpose.

Shoes are difficult though, as, unless you are buying from New Look, they are going to be more expensive than other items of clothing, due to their very nature. It’s been difficult for me to price my shoes because I pay in dollars, which changes in value and I import them via various different carriers, the cost of which varies according to the shipment value, weight etc. I for one do not like wearing really cheap clothes or shoes. Things that do not cost much in monetary terms usually have a high human or environmental cost. I also find I don’t look after things very well if I have not paid anything for them. It’s like they are disposal. So they tend to get left on the floor in a heap, or be put on hot wash rather than a cool wash, as recommended on the label.

But – as demonstrated by the closure of Fenton Walsh, it’s tough out there in the retail world and people do not have money ( I know that’s a generalisation but in general I think it’s true) . So retailers have to get the balance right.  We have to demonstrate we are selling a valuable product that is worth what we’re charging, for an amount our customers are prepared to pay.

I think it’s a balance that is hard to strike. As a long term purchaser of larger than average shoes, I know that as a customer base we have to expect to pay more than average for our footwear. Paying upwards of £120 for a pair of leather heels and anything from £150 – £270 for a pair of leather knee high boots is pretty standard for us larger footed ladies. Obviously now, I don’t have to pay that, which is good, because I wasn’t able to buy more than a pair of those shoes every three years and I haven’t had a new pair of leather boots since my feet grew in size (strangely the Hobbs boots that I bought in 2003 still fit me now despite being two sizes too small, although I think that I have to accept they have finally reached the end of their particular line)

The business model I have adopted in the last few weeks for Shoes for Ruby, is designed to keep the cost of the shoes down as low as possible – in gathering enough orders to put a big order through to the States, I am paying much less for the shipping and it takes up less of my time – all things to take in to consideration when working out how much to sell the shoes for. When I set up SfR, I also knew that I wanted to keep the cost of my shoes to the customer below £100. This is possible as long as I’m not selling leather boots, which I will be in the autumn.

In an ideal world I would have a few loyal customers, who buy from me once or twice a year and could rely on me to provide them with the shoes they like to buy for the money they have to spend. One of the key bits of advice I was given at the beginning of this road, was that it’s better to have 10 loyal customers than 1000 fickle ones – and as an ethos, that agrees with me.

So I’m continuing along this rather bumpy track, keeping my eye on the horizon and trying not to get diverted from my purpose – to provide women in the UK who have larger feet with trendy, affordable shoes.

To anyone who hasn’t seen it, the shoes are up for purchase at http://www.shoesforruby.co.uk

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Thanks x