As part of a local retail dynasty in Norwich, Ginger is an independent retailer with family heritage. Melissa Wheeler meets manager Beckie Kingsley and finds out how retail therapy is about more than just fashion
There’s a poetic justice to the fact that Beckie Kingsley has now effectively lost every January to February and July to August to a frantic buying schedule. As a child, the manager of Norwich boutique Ginger remembers how her parents would always be away sourcing collections during these times. And so her commitment to the family business was inculcated from a very early age.
The store is located at the top of Timber Hill in an area of Norwich bursting with indies and entrepreneurial zeal. In a sector that increasingly suffers the curse of discounting and disposable fashion, Ginger certainly stands out from the high street. The downstairs floor of the beautiful Tudor building houses smart casual collections including Armani Jeans, Paul Smith, Second Female, Sand and Silvian Heach alongside accessories such as Elia B footwear and Tom Ford sunglasses. The first floor, meanwhile, is dedicated to occasion wear. And among the brands that perform particularly well are Marella, which Ginger has stocked virtually since opening, as well as DVF, D. Exterior and Tara Jarmon.
Ginger is the younger member of a family of retail outfits. Beckie Kingsley’s grandfather, great uncle, father and uncle were entrepreneurs, opening several shops over the years including Kingsley Brothers tailoring and menswear in Ipswich as well as Trumbull and Hatters in Norwich. “My father and uncle opened Ginger in 1978 on Hatters’ first floor to deliver the womenswear equivalent of the menswear”, she explains. “Much like the menswear side of the business, Ginger carries a lot of French and Italian collections that generally complement the menswear lines, even though we now occupy a separate building.”
Although she would work with her father as a teenager and help on the shop floor during the holidays, Kingsley was mindful to explore other career paths before joining the family business: “I lived in London and did some temping for a while,” she says. “I guess I didn’t want to ‘sleepwalk’ into this role without looking around. Of course, now I can’t imagine anything else and I live and breath the business. It’s probably because I was immersed in retail as a young girl.”
Her father, David Kingsley, oversees Trumbull and Hatters while his father, John Kingsley, continues to manage another of the family’s menswear businesses: Chadds on Bedford Street. Ginger, however, has very much been Beckie’s project since she became the store’s full-time manager in 2002.
Head over heart
Buying is an integral part of Kingsley’s role. But with the change in consumers’ attitudes to prices, the rise of fast fashion and the online market, she now has a lot more to consider when placing an order. “When I first joined Ginger there was the option to take more buying risks as customers appeared to have more money to spend,” she says. “We could buy passionately with the heart. However now I have no other choice than to apply a great deal of reason and sharp thinking. And while this important for the bottom line, it is something of a shame.”
She adds: “Having said that, I think it’s important that I buy with gut instinct on occasion otherwise the shop would lose the idiosyncrasies and character that make it unique. Those quirks and points of difference are aspects indies must hold on to.”
Beyond the sales figures and sell-through, the manager knows that the shopping experience and full-service nature of the business is the best antidote to the price wars culture on the high street. “We are not about the quick sale,” she says. “Some of our customers don’t have the time to shop around for the best price and many don’t need to. So by having shoes, accessories and the best, most carefully selected collections available to them under one roof is a gift.”
Ginger also places great importance on product knowledge and the synergy between the manager and staff. “It’s critical that the girls know why I bought what I did, what it’s made from and whether it’s reversible, for instance,” she explains. “We try everything on when it’s delivered as it’s helpful to know whether a style comes up small before the customer tries it on.”
The charm of Ginger is in part fuelled by the city’s well-noted record in promoting the shopping experience on Norwich Lanes. Standing as a united front against the opening of mainstream shopping mall Chappelfield, the city’s indies are a force to be reckoned with. “It’s truly a great city to be located,” says Kingsley. “We have the summer entertainment, the Norwich BID and Visit Norwich all on our side. The space opposite us is being redeveloped into a lovely restaurant quarter too, which will be fantastic for us.”
The energy from Norwich University of the Arts (NUA) is also beneficial, raising the interest in grass roots fashion and retail campaigns while forming a creative bubble where retailers can thrive. Ginger has two former NUA students working in the shop, which adds great value to Ginger’s creativity both in store and on social media.
In the style of her parents, Kingsley will be visiting showrooms in London this summer alongside trade shows such as Pure London and Scoop. Having recently refreshed its downstairs offering to include a broader mix of smart casual brands, Ginger now includes some lower-priced quality labels among its staple collections from the likes of Armani and Paul Smith. “We have more regular deliveries from brands such as Silvian Heach and Second female, which, together with their entry price points, have been fantastic for the product mix and flow of the store,” she says. “It’s also created a clear distinction between the premium collections upstairs and the more traditionally casual collections downstairs.”
It’s clear that Kingsley is passionate about the industry. But what is the best part of her role as manager? “My favourite aspect of retail is having a customer who isn’t that confident or happy and transforming the way they feel,” she says. “It’s that scenario where we return that confidence to them by encouraging them to try on something completely out of their comfort zone. It’s empowering and mood changing and they leave the shop thanking us.”
Indeed at Ginger retail therapy really does exist: “It’s surprising how many women really don’t have all that much confidence in how to dress nor how to use clothes to change the way they feel about themselves,” she says.
The manager of Ginger evidently draws a buzz from serving the customers on the shop floor and providing an experience that cannot be delivered online: “You can see it in their body language; they walk taller,” she says. “That’s the best bit. It’s not the money that goes in the till; it’s the joy that comes from having them visit us.”
Beckie Kingsley is the manager of Ginger womenswear boutique in Norwich and is a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB) Fashionassociationofbritain.co.uk