Located inside a former pub, Javelin at the Anchor is far from an ordinary fashion Indie. Melissa Wheeler meets owner Jeremy Clayton to find out how he’s repositioned the store to meet the town’s new demographic
Repositioning is a term often used in relation to brand identity, styling, demographics and corporate image. But seldom is it employed as literally as it has been with the revolution of Javelin of Sudbury, sister store to the award-winning premium independent in Bury St Edmunds.
Having operated opposite the present store since 2003, Javelin moved across the road into the former Anchor pub – the oldest public house in Sudbury – in October 2013. Second-generation owner and founder Jeremy Clayton explains: “It was primarily a rebranding exercise, hence the name. We decided to keep Javelin with all the goodwill that goes with it while embracing the affection the town had for the Anchor. It was a balanced approach.”
But in a sector already experiencing dramatic flux and evolution, why did a store such as Javelin of Sudbury feel the need to change direction and reposition its brand? It’s a pertinent question, at a time when many independents are finding themselves at a crossroads. “We’d been trying run a version of our Bury St Edmunds shop in a town with a totally different demographic since 2008. Although the Sudbury store worked well pre-recession, it was hit a lot harder by the financial crisis than our Bury St Edmunds store was. We noticed our footfall reduce and found that customers were travelling to bigger towns and to Braintree Freeport to do their shopping.”
With just 17 miles between the stores, Clayton also found that using such similar business models meant they were often in direct competition: “We had the added challenge that our store in Bury St Edmunds was pulling business from the Sudbury store to the extent that we were sending stock from Sudbury to Bury to meet demand,” he explains. “We had two shops trying to do the same thing, which was unbalanced, unfair and nonsensical.”
Changes in the economy also saw the demographic in Bury St Edmunds become more upmarket than its Sudbury counterpart. Anticipating this shift, Clayton bought the then empty Anchor pub while continuing to trade in the building opposite. This was timed with a closing down sale followed by a headline-grabbing opening of a brand new store inside the former pub. The reasons for this were manifold: “In addition to the dearth of footfall and the altered demographic, Sudbury as a town had changed since 2003 when we had first opened there,” says Clayton. “In many respects we had been left isolated due to the fact that many of the upmarket shops around us had closed down.”
Meanwhile, Javelin was still being identified as “an expensive shop”, which the price conscious community avoided. For this reason, Clayton had to re-evaluate its target market proposition and entire branding structure. “Even though we introduced some cheaper items, those price conscious people still avoided us,” he says. “So the key thing with this newer model has been to remove high priced merchandise and generate fast turnover with lower priced lines.”
Some may wonder why the owner didn’t simply carry out the reposition and re-brand from its original location. After all, the stores are literally situated opposite each other. “I preferred the position of the newer building,” Clayton explains. “It’s visible from Market Hill and is more noticeable to drivers passing through. Also, it was naturally going to attract attention as we altered the frontage from an unattractive 1930’s façade to a traditional in-keeping shop-front, which the planners were delighted with.”
For the new model to work, Clayton also realised that the customers needed to view the launch store differently. “I think it would have been far more difficult to convince people that we were running a new model in the old store”, he says. “Ironically, the relocation across the road gave us the opportunity for a psychological change of image, plus the new building is a more workable retail space. The different levels make the floor interesting and the space is broken up by the beams,” which are very much a leitmotif in the Javelin merchandising style.
Moreover, faced with such challenging times, the owner wanted to inject something new and exciting back into the local area. “I asked myself ‘how can I adapt to the changing circumstances’? ‘What is fresh and new?’ I recalled an adage based on accepting the things you cannot change; having the courage to change the things you can and possessing the wisdom to know the difference. My thinking was that we couldn’t alter the reality of the financial crisis, but we could change our business model.”
The revised business model, moving from premium to value retail, has naturally led to a higher proportion of short-order brands at Javelin at the Anchor. This is in great contrast to the Bury St Edmonds store, which still stocks premium labels. “A lot of premium stores will never increase their short order proportion beyond a certain level because premium brands cannot turn out the high quality with the best materials at that speed and price,” says Clayton. “So Javelin in Bury St Edmunds will always carry more forward-order brands and Sudbury will stock more short-order.”
As many Indies restructure, evolve, adapt and diversify to survive in the changing marketplace – some sharing floor-space with other retailers, others running pop-up shops – it’s apposite to observe Javelin’s evolution since its rebrand in Sudbury. “The increase of short order brands does present a challenge for us in terms of carrying a far greater number of brands,” says Clayton. “It’s been a total change of working method for us. Initially we struggled with the method of buying short-order brands since we had been set on the forward order platform for a long time. The new strategy did take a lot of getting used to.” He adds: “We asked ourselves ‘will we be able to get the right stock at the right time?’ What we discovered was that if you want to buy some stock, and are prepared to go looking for it, you can find whatever you want.”
So how does lower value stock affect profit and turnover? “We hope to hook customers on the first visit,” he says. “We created a scenario where people would come in and their first reaction would be ‘wow, this is Javelin and I can pick up this top for £15-20’. I wanted this word of mouth to spread, so we also used social media and the Javelin loyalty card to support what we were doing on the shop floor.”
What is striking is the disparity between the styling and image inside the store and the affordability of many of the lines. “The idea behind the product mix is one inspired by my first visit to Zara, when they arrived in the UK,” says Clayton. “I remember walking into one of their stores and feeling that I was walking into a premium store. I then picked up an item and found it was a third of the price I expected it to be. I thought to myself, ‘can an independent do that’? We wanted to provide that same sense of elation a customer feels when the item they want to buy turns out to be far less expensive than they had anticipated.” However, there the comparison with the international high street store ends. Javelin at The Anchor is bespoke, high quality and – importantly – independent.
There is a definite style to a Javelin store, irrespective of the business model, and Clayton’s influence is manifested through every detail of a customer’s experience there. He was affected by the immaculate independent boutiques in Europe’s upmarket ski resorts, where every attention is paid to the smallest of detail. Merchandised alongside the clothing are lifestyle products and gifts; there is certain psychology at work in the space. “We try to engage the customer in a different way so that they linger for longer, relax and enjoy themselves,” he explains. “The hope is that they will wander around and ultimately spend. Many shops selling premium merchandise inadvertently create an atmosphere that leaves the customer’s defences up, so by relaxing them we hope they will behave differently. If a customer is uptight they are unlikely to consider a purchase, especially a premium product.”
Altering a business model and its requisite buying pattern is no mean feat, especially when you have two stores to consider as well as an active online platform. With this in mind, Clayton’s 12-month work schedule has disintegrated: “It used to be that from January through to March I was in London, placing forward orders, for a few days each week,” he says. “Now I am out buying virtually every week. Even during the sale there are still customers who don’t want discounted merchandise and so there is buying to be done in order to inject the store with fresh, transitional stock. We try to keep the sale as small and brief as possible and we find that we have to mark down the short-order lines far less than we do with forward-order lines. It doesn’t hang around and it moves fast, so it extends our full-price selling season.”
The turnover in the new Sudbury model exceeds the old shop even though the floor space is 30 per cent less and all the big-ticket items have gone. “Not only are sales up but margin has increased significantly,” says Clayton. “I find it’s far easier to take a punt on the short order brand.”
But regardless of brands, it’s clear that Javelin’s customer service and uniqueness are still frontrunners in setting the store apart: “When I was learning the trade on the shop floor as a teenager, I would do anything to please the customer and I think the modern way of retailing has decimated this heritage of customer service,” says Clayton. “I think France and Italy have managed to retain a lot of that warmth and the heritage of independent retailing”.
So what does the future hold for independent retailing in the UK? “I think that the consumer is now gaining so much control that customer service and a holistic shopping experience will naturally return to the forefront again and hopefully regain its rightful place,” concludes the owner. And with intelligent and inspired retailers such as Javelin leading the way, there is every reason to suspect that the future for the independent sector will be bright. That’s definitely something worth raising a glass to.
Javelin at the Anchor is a member of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB). For more information visit Fashionassociationofbritain.co.uk