Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

Name: Pamela Shiffer
Location: London
Owner: Pamela Shiffer
Established: 1989
Product categories: Womenswear, accessories, footwear
Brands: Rino + Pelle, Samsoe & Samsoe, Vilagallo, Just Female, Alpha, Silvian Heach, Baum & Pferdgarten, Twist & Tango, Liverpool Jeans, Marc Aurel, Ottodame, Oui, Alpe, Sacha London

Pamela Shiffer has been a stalwart of UK independent fashion retail for over three decades, having started out in the industry as a model in her teens and then working as a wholesale sales manager for designer Jeff Banks. She first made her retail foray working for the likes of Joseph, Nicole Farhi and various other independent boutiques before starting her own business in 1989, having recognised a gap in the market for stylish, affordable womenswear that appealed to women of all ages and sizes. This has remained the store’s ethos to today, despite an ever-changing marketplace and consumer trends. Pamela Shiffer tells FashionUnited how she has remained at the top of her game for three decades and the defining milestones of her career as well as the challenges and opportunities ahead.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

How would you describe your store’s DNA? What makes Pamela Shiffer unique?

I think independent retailers by their very definition are quite unique, and increasingly unique in the retail landscape, because so many have gone. I think at the heart of the Pamela Shiffer boutique is being fresh, being eclectic and always staying true to our roots. I have been in the business 30 years now, and nothing has changed as far as our DNA is concerned – it’s always been about outstanding service and about offering something different that we put together in our own way. We believe in offering and styling looks that are wearable, fashionable, a comfortable price point and can fit any age group. I love hearing from a customer: ‘Oh, I didn’t think that skirt would be this price, I thought it was much more’, because then I consider my job done. Offering value for money and giving our customer an experience that they wouldn’t get in, say, John Lewis or on the high street – that’s what defines the store and makes us who we are. There’s not just one aspect, it’s a real mix. I think, at the end of the day, it’s about recognising the lifestyle of your customers and providing something that fits into it.

What’s the concept behind your brand mix?

I like to have a good mix of brands. I’m always looking for something new; you have to keep it fresh, so I’m forever on the hunt. Whilst I have a pool of core labels, I’m always out and about at trade shows around the world to seek out those special finds, those labels that will get my customers excited. For me it’s all about keeping it new and enticing and responding to what my customers and the market wants. And you can’t do that sitting still and just buying what you’ve always bought.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

Last year your store underwent a major refit and rebranding. Has this had a positive impact on your business?

It was a big upheaval at the time, but it was definitely worth it. We needed that facelift. It was the first major refit on this scale that we had done, but I feel the store is more relevant now and it shows off our marketplace that bit better. The heart is still very much us, Pamela Shiffer, but the look is much fresher, upmarket and more current. We changed everything from the flooring, the lighting, the colour schemes to the layout, with a much more natural feel and lots of solid woods and plants and lovely little details. There is less product dotted around the shop, the merchandising is a lot simpler and tighter, less confusing in a way. We introduced bespoke copper rails which are a lot more delicate than previously, so the whole space looks bigger. And our fascia, branding, logo, hangers and bags also had an upgrade.

Your transactional website was also updated in the process. Has this boosted your e-commerce arm?

We relaunched the website in November with a much nicer looking design. It’s much more modern, more aligned with the new look of the bricks and mortar boutique and generally reflects better who we are. Our e-commerce site is steadily growing, and the relaunch has been really successful, probably more successful than I give it credit for. We also joined Trouva in September and Atterley in October, so we are moving down that road and the ‘everything’s online’ mentality. You’ve got to go with it.

30 years of Pamela Shiffer – what have been your biggest milestones?

I think this big push that we had last year of redesigning the store and rebranding ourselves was the biggest milestone, and of course the relaunch online. Last year really was a turning point. In today’s instant and very visual world, where everything you do is documented on social media, it’s very important how you present yourself, and I feel the developments of last year have enabled us to show ourselves in the best possible light and take us to that next level. The general climate is certainly not easy, but you have to keep going and keep reinventing yourself. In the 30 years since I’ve been running my store, we’ve been through our fair share or recessions, political turmoil and changes – and we’re still here. I know from experience, life goes on. We just have to adapt to every new circumstance and ride it out.

Who is your core customer?

Our core customer is the 45-plus age group, mostly professional women, or those who used to be, so traditionally the slightly more mature lady. However, a nice side effect of the recent refit has been that we’ve noticed a different type of customer come through the door, which is rather interesting. I think before, some people may have looked at the store and maybe made a judgment on the outside and decided that it wasn’t for them, whereas now we’re attracting a new, slightly different customer, which is great. I would say that we’re now also getting a younger clientele - slightly more fashion conscious, more discerning, a customer who can shop anywhere and for whom money is not an issue. They still want value for money, but they are more concerned about the products and the looks rather than price, and they appreciate our edit of fashion more.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

How important are social media in driving this new customer base, but also in staying engaged with your existing clientele?

We’re pushing that side of things a lot more, and Instagram in particular is developing into an important channel for us; we’re getting quite a few enquiries through Instagram. It’s a really good, cost effective way of engaging with our existing and prospective customers, and it’s a direct channel that represents our brand well, if you curate it right. We’ve built up a very nice momentum with it. Our customers love it when we feature them on our account, in our outfits and brands. It reinforces loyalty, though I use the word ‘loyalty’ in the loosest sense. There isn’t that much loyalty anymore, because people can shop anywhere, at any time, but people do feel like they are part of our family, or tribe. Instagram just reaches so many people, all the time – and it’s fun.

Do you feel there are advantages to being an independent in today’s economic climate?

Yes, I would say so. While things are definitely not easy out there and it is a constant challenge to stay ahead, there are still lots of great independents who are well placed to continue to thrive. As independents we definitely have a certain agility. I think not too far in the distant future, people will return to wanting to shop more locally, and if independents – be that a fashion shop, or a flower shop, a bakery or an artisan business – can survive these challenging times, consumers will start to gravitate towards them again. They don’t want to go to these monolithic department stores and have no service, no advice and no product knowledge, and walk out again without having bought anything. Of course they will still go to Selfridges, Harrods, Harvey Nichols, that kind of thing, but that’s a whole different market in a way. In the same vein, online is online, but it’s never going to replace bricks and mortar. It’s a wonderful platform if you have the scale and the scope to develop that, but as far as bricks and mortar go, if you’re in the right position at the right time, and push the business as far as you can, there will be a revival of indies and shrinking of the high street. But you have to have something about your store that gives people a reason to shop with you, there’s no question about that.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

What is currently your biggest challenge to navigate?

I would say the buying for next season is the biggest challenge. You are only as good as your collections, and it’s always imperative to find the labels and products that your customers will want to spend their money on, so it’s an ongoing, ever evolving process. We want to bring in something that’s fresh and exciting. A lot of brands are playing it very safe these days and doing the same old, same old – it’s very boring. Whilst every shop needs a core product, you also need that eye candy, something that will set you apart from everyone else. So with that said, I think getting next season right will be my biggest challenge. And offering the right product at the right time. We’ve had that really hot summer, it didn’t really start getting cold quite late into winter – so, how do we pitch it? Are we now saying that the a/w season doesn’t really start until October? Because brands want to deliver a/w in July and August. The same for s/s – when do you put your nice floaty dresses out? In January / February when it’s freezing and customer want to buy warm jumpers? Getting the seasons in tune with consumer demand is becoming increasingly an issue. The high street and fast fashion have conditioned consumers to want products in the moment – it’s cold, I need a jumper, it’s hot, I need a T-shirt. So it’s trying to pitch your product, in store, at the right time. It’s about timing – our whole industry is about timing.

So, in your three decades as a retailer – what are the key lessons you have learned about running an independent boutique?

Oh, there have been many lessons along the way, but in truth, I don’t think I would do anything differently. I think if you want to open a shop now, you have a passion for what you do, you love clothes, you love people – go for it. You have to love dealing with the public though - you have to be willing to get to know your customer. The experience teaches you that you’re not buying for yourself, you’re buying for your customer, with a smidge of you in there. But ultimately you’ll have to learn to follow your gut feeling, and you will have to go with it. If I had to give one word of advice: keep everything, your stock and your buying and outgoings as tight as you can until you find your feet, start to put roots down, and then you can grow. And that’s how we all got where we are. The beauty about being an independent is that you can move a lot more quickly, you are agile, and you can make decisions – and even mistakes - and move on.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

Where do you see the biggest opportunities for independents in the future?

I think online is obviously the biggest opportunity, that’s where the biggest growth will come from. The website will be a greater focus for us this year as we’re looking to develop that side of the business. I’ve recently taken on an e-commerce manager who deals with all of this for me, as I just can’t do everything myself, and hopefully it will continue to grow.

Spotlight on independent retailers: Pamela Shiffer

What are your plans going forward?

We’re going to have a party in the summer to celebrate our 30th anniversary, but in terms of other developments – I think I’ve done it all last year! I don’t have any other, imminent big plans. It will be all about staying calm amidst the current economic and political storm, staying focused and marching on – and hopefully still having a good few successful years of retailing ahead.

Photos courtesy of the comapny


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