Why I’ve taken my e-commerce business to the British High Street

From ‘clicks’ to ‘bricks’ in seven steps, The Wool Room’s MD Chris Tattersall on how he’s bucking the retail trend – and winning

With new figures showing that 32 shops a day are closing on British high streets and many retailers taking their businesses online in an attempt to stay afloat, the bricks-and-mortar retail world is a scary one at the moment.

The steady stream of closing shops is enough to make any potential retailer think twice about investing in a high street branch, but The Wool Room has made the brave – some would say, foolhardy – decision to do just that.

After launching in 2008 to bring 100% wool products to a contemporary consumer, we’ve now opened four branches in the last quarter of 2012, with plans to open further stores next year. We were always very clear that we wanted to test our business proposal with an online presence, establish our site as an information tool and handle transactions before going ‘offline’.

And we’ve played our part in overhauling the fusty reputation of wool as an itchy, hand-wash fibre. Through FAQs and our ‘Woolipedia’ we have helped people to understand the little-known health benefits associated with wool, the multitude of uses, the fact that we have created a machine washable wool blend.

But while investing in high street property is not for the faint-hearted, I believe the current economic climate is actually the ideal time.

So here’s what we did:

Test the market at shows

We knew we had a particularly strong brand, and we knew we weren’t competing with anybody else on the high street which gave us confidence. We had tested the market with our online sales and we had also built a strong following at consumer shows such as Hampton Court and the Great Yorkshire Show where we showcased our products.

At the shows, people’s reaction to being able to touch and try the products before purchase convinced us that our instincts about needing a bricks and mortar store were absolutely right.

See the property dip as an opportunity

Rather than being put off by the current property market we saw it as an opportunity to get a great deal. Landlords are keen to have their units filled, so factoring in things like an agreeable break clause becomes a lot easier.

Talk to other shop owners in target areas

Other local retailers were also very happy to talk to us about the footfall, demographic and shopping patterns of consumers in the towns we earmarked as no shop owner wants to be surrounded by derelict shops. As a result we have been able to do a lot of on the ground research and get some good deals on the properties.

Focus on areas that are continuing to trade well

Locations were picked carefully – affluent market towns such as Harrogate, Morpeth and Stamford, where independent shops were doing well – and we focused heavily on our brand and shop ambience to ensure we stood out on the high street. 

Replicate key elements of the online brand experience

Our brand presentation (tone of voice, branding, store and web image) is consistent across both our retail and e-tail channels and our strategy is for both channels to complement each other as we know 85% of people research online before purchasing.

Often customers will come to the store to experience the tactile nature of the product for themselves, then go home and consider their purchase before buying online.

Enable consumers to do their research online first

Likewise, we ensure we provide full and detailed information on our website so customers can research a product before coming into a store to try and see the product in person. This approach is working with 9-10,000 visitors per month since our stores launched, and around 65% of these are new visitors.

Test, measure and track your progress

We’ve taken stores in very different areas to try and test the best locations for our unique proposition and we consistently measure sales, customer footfall and conversion rate every day, alongside our other channel sales, so that we can track growth and performance against budget.

We are proof that, with the right product proposition, high street and online retail needn’t be mutually exclusive and can certainly feed each other.

It may be a risky strategy, but with the right product I believe that having faith in the British high street is the right thing to do. We’re proving that the high street is not just alive and kicking, but a vital to a business like ours.

Chris Tattersall is the co-owner and managing director of wool products retailer The Wool Room

 

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