Location: Chorlton, Manchester
Owners: Kate Heaton, Laura Day and Tess Grindle
Product categories: Childrenswear, accessories, toys, lifestyle products Brands: Bloom And Blossom, Boys & Girls, Goodordering, Grass & Air, Little Green Radicals, Mama Design, Mere Soeur, Mutha.Hood, Organic Zoo, Scamp & Dude, Tiba and Marl
Childrenswear store Our Kid, based on the outskirts of Manchester, was established by three friends, Kate Heaton, Laura Day and Tess Grindle two and a half years ago, after they discovered a niche in their local market for a shop that would showcase not only an inspirational mix of brands and products for kids and their yummy mummies, but also become a community hub in its own right. It’s fair to say that Our Kid has managed to achieve just this, and in addition to having won a number of small business and newcomer accolades, the store is a thriving independent business with a loyal following on and off-line. FashionUnited spoke to Tess Grindle about the ethos and success of the store.
You’re all from different backgrounds. What made you open a kidswear store?
We met when we were on maternity leave with our first children around six years ago. I had just moved up to Manchester from London, where I had worked in PR for L’Oreal, and I had lived in East Dulwich, where at the time there were lots of independent kids clothing stores and a real yummy mummy culture. Kate and Laura were friends, and they had been talking about wanting to launch a business, but hadn’t decided on a concept. Laura’s background is marketing, and Kate’s is creative. We realised that where we were living, there was nowhere to buy the kind of stuff that we wanted for our own kids. So we decided to test the waters with a little pop-up stall, which was a great success and a lot of fun. So for the next year or so, we just did these types of pop-up stalls. It was more like a hobby, as we were all busy Mums. Then we had the opportunity to take a space within another retailer who was bringing local businesses and artists together. We were there for 18 months and it really was popular. It was obvious that there was demand for that kind of offer, and we all agreed at this point that we either have to go bigger with this business or we have to stop doing it. We found a little cafe that was available to let. It was opposite a school and a manageable size and manageable rent, so we decided to just go for it - Our Kid was born.
What is the concept of your store?
When we opened, we decided that we wanted to appeal to the kind of Mums that we were ourselves. It needed to have the cafe and an area to showcase the brands together, and to be a one-stop-shop where they can pop in with their kids, hang out for a bit, meet friends, and then get what they need. It was really popular straight away. It was immediately obvious that without the cafe, people wouldn’t be able to come in and spend an hour here, have a little look around and browse. We’ve got toys in the shop for the kids, an astro turf area outside, and we feel that we have created quite a welcoming spot. Over the last two and a half years we have refined the concept fur ther to make sure that it really does feel like a shop and it’s not just a cafe. It’s a shop, with the benefit of customers being able to get a drink or cake, too. We won a few newcomer awards in the first year and established ourselves in a trade capacity. There is no doubt about it though, it’s the retail side that brings the money in. And it’s clear that we have to keep the retail magic there, keep the newness and find the brands that are on the up, and not just ones that are completely established, so we have more of a story to tell.
How do you decide on your brand mix and how do you work with your brands?
We find we are more successful when we sell labels that we have either bought for our own kids and love, or we can see that they have a trend behind them or a big social media presence. People are shopping their feeds, and quite often we get customer in and you literally hear them say: ‘Oh my God, I follow this brand on Instagram’. There has been quite a shift over the last couple of years. When we first opened, Instagram was very much in its infancy - at least here in Manchester - whereas now, everyone is on it and it’s all about finding those buzzy labels with that social media fanbase. We have a very engaged following on our own Instagram site, too, which helps drive traffic, alongside Facebook, which also has a high level of engagement, but Instagram is definitely the strongest. We are lucky that we have a number of brands who fit that bill and have that buzz online, which then translates into the business.
With the likes of Scamp & Dude, for instance, we were one of the first boutiques the brand decided to work with after its launch in Liberty. From that point we were able to bring the shop to live on another level by being able to have Jo (Tutchener Sharp, the founder) come to us and present her label to our customers. On the back of that, live events in-store have become a winning formula for us, especially where we have those kinds of brands who have a big Instagram personality behind them, like Scamp and Dude, like Gemma from Mother.Hood or Carrie from Mere Soeur. They’re retail driven events - we’re not just putting on events because we like it, but it’s about the brands and products that we’re bringing into store and how we create a buzz.
Do you sell mostly childrenswear, or also adult clothing?
We do sell some adult clothing, mainly from the brands that we stock who also offer adult styles. We try to cater for grown ups with a Mum point of view in mind. For example, we’ve just taken on Goodordering bags; they do kids backpacks, but they have great adult bags, too. Our product mix perhaps isn’t the typical merchandise you would find in a kidswear shop, but we offer the kind of lifestyle products that our customers really like. Initially we built the store around kidswear, but increasingly we are looking at how that can diversify into other areas. We also sell a lot of our product as gifts - that’s a different mindset to your average customer. People are willing to spend a bit more money on gifts and come here for our expertise. But we also have a lot of customers with newborn or teething babies, and they want the teething necklaces, the dribble bibs etc. We don’t sell loads of that stuff, but we try to find the best pick of the basics. We’ve diversified into a wider selection of core products versus purely seasonal clothing, which, in the past year, has not been the biggest seller for us. I don’t know whether people are a bit more cautious in terms of how they are spending their money, but they like to invest more in pieces that aren’t going to date. We also sell toys, accessories, hair stuff - a real range of what we think Mums and kids need, but the best selection of those.
How important is your transactional site?
It’s definitely important to have an online presence, and it does generate an incremental revenue for us, but it’s not where we do most of our business, the physical shop is the main driver of sales. We also sell via Trouva. If I’m being totally honest, we didn’t realise that it would be as successful as it has been for us. They obviously have a lot of money behind their marketing and SEO and of course we can’t do to the same degree on our own website. But it proves that our online edit works. People use our website to see what we have in-store, and then they come in. It’s more of a shop window which drives traffic into the bricks and mortar store, so in that respect, it’s a really important aspect of our overall business. People check online what we have, then they come in-store. And once they walk through the door, they tend to buy something. It’s very rare that people come in and walk out empty-handed. We can convert almost 90 percent of our customers to walk out with a product.
Who is your customer profile?
It’s really varied. I would say, if you were to put a mirror up to the three of us, that’s the kind of typical customer. It’s mostly Mummies, they probably have one or two children, they may be at work a couple of days a week, or have one or two days off with their kids as well. They’re into their labels, but they are also grounded and down to earth. We do love a grandparent, too, or a generous auntie. Again, in our community there are a lot of grandparents looking after children while parents are working, so we have many regulars.
How active are you in terms of marketing?
To be really honest, the amount of effort we’re putting into marketing our shop is staggering for the size of the business. We really put a lot of energy into maintaining the look and feel of it, the website, the events that are going on in the shop, thinking of things that are new and different. We’re constantly looking at new ways to either get customers or spread the word. Earlier this year we did something quite exciting and took the shop experience off-site to do a pop-up within an event called “Pregnant then Screwed Live”, which promotes flexible working, and it was incredible. We were selling Mother.hood, Scamp and Dude, Mere Soeur, Mama Designs and so on, and we had a book signing from high profile influencers Mother Pukka and Honest Mum. We really created a lot of buzz and an immersive shopping experience as part of that day. It was phenomenal. We find that when the brands, their founders and events like this align, it creates the most powerful sales momentum.
How have you divided different areas of responsibility between the three of you?
We all look after different elements of the business. So, Kate is our visual and creative and does the lion share of the buying. Because she works with her partner on the design side, they also take care of the website and oversee a lot of our visual identity. Laura is finance and does all the business administration, and I take care of marketing, PR, events. Collectively, we identify new labels that we like and make bigger business decisions together. But day to day we divide into our own areas of strength, and this works really well.
Have you considered opening another shop?
We see huge potential in trying to develop the website first, because that is, in theory, another shop with a lot of scope. With the current set-up, it’s more about finessing the concept and not losing sight of what makes it different. I wouldn’t say we’d ever rule out having a second store, but having one is quite a lot of effort as it is.
What do you consider your biggest challenge as an independent business?
Growth is an interesting issue, looking at things like VAT registration and how that impacts the business with a relatively low profit margin. We aren’t at a scale where we can just absorb thousands of pounds, whether it’s business rates, VAT payments etc. so we always have to look at the business as a whole and question what’s next. What do we do to keep it engaging for ourselves, and justify the amount of energy we put into it? You imagine that there is lots of help out there for small businesses, but when it comes down to it, where do you turn? Whom do you ask? We’ve had to do a lot of our own learning for that reason, so I guess, this is one of the most challenging aspects.
Would you do anything differently?
It’s a tricky one, because what’s made us also nearly breaks us. Having a cafe on-site is the hardest part of that business, but if we didn’t have that, it wouldn’t be the business it is. It wouldn’t be the part of the community that it is, with the vibe, the social aspect. Whilst it would be lovely to have a bit more space to display all of our products in all their glory, we are doing the best with what we have, and the intimacy of our shop is actually also our USP. We know people by names, we know what they’re doing, we know what their kids are called, what they like - it’s a real community shop, so it would be wrong to say that we would change anything, because we wouldn’t be who we are.
Where do you see the biggest opportunities for independent retailers, especially in the digital age?
I think independent retail is very much alive and kicking, and despite the convenience of e-commerce, bricks and mortar has its place. There has been a real resurgence towards independents, and in the North West, where we are, there are some really ‘wow’ indies, who are doing what they are doing really well, not just in clothing, but also florists, bike stores, interiors … People like to talk to an expert in a field and that’s where the bigger retailers have suffered because they can’t possibly provide that sense of expertise or community or experience; it’s all a lot less personal. Whereas what we do is very personal. I’m not saying it’s easy, but we are trying to do what we do to the best of our abilities, and it seems to be paying off, but the practicalities of a small business are always changing and you have to constantly adapt and evaluate.
What are your plans going forward?
We’re right in the middle of Christmas trading at the moment, with lots of pop-ups, and next year we will look to bring in one or two big new brands that we can use as a platform and integrate with bigger events and activities. We are also looking at diversifying beyond kids clothing, maybe into more gifts, maybe interiors. We do see opportunities, but we have to balance this with what we already do.
Photos courtesty of the brand