Located in the heart of one of Britain’s most famous cities, Melissa Wheeler visits Bath’s Grace and Ted to meet mother and daughter co-owners Sharon and Emma Savage
Judging by its impact on the Bath retail community and profile within the industry, it’s hard to believe that Grace and Ted has only been trading under its current fascia for three years. Indeed mother and daughter team Sharon and Emma Savage only took over the business in 2012 after it had been well established as a second hand boutique for some 37 years.
“My mother had always loved the shop and jumped at the opportunity to take over,” says Emma. “But we knew we would have to offer something different to have an impact in Bath. So rather than stocking mid-range premium lines such as Hobbs and Coast, we needed to make the effort to source top end designer items that would set us apart.”
Bath city is well furnished from a retail perspective and already enjoys a rich heritage in fashion. This makes Grace and Ted’s treasure trove is particularly well suited to the demographic of fashion fans and students in the city, which enjoys a variety of premium indies, iconic stores such as House of Fraser’s Jolly’s and top-notch eateries.
The concept of a fashion ecosystem is central to the philosophy at Grace and Ted and is one of the driving forces behind Emma’s “relentless” campaigning. And the idea of working towards producing more sustainable fashion and protecting the environment is a key focus for Savage. “I don’t think there is anything inherently wrong with buying something from Primark, for example, and wearing it a few times,” says Emma. “But I think it’s important that people broaden their perception of second hand shopping. At Pure, Zandra Rhodes suggested that as a nation we should be buying fewer but higher quality clothes, and we completely agree.”
She adds: “It would be great to see more people investing in quality items and teaming them with something inexpensive from the high street. The designer ‘forever pieces’, which customers find at Grace and Ted, can be accessorised with items from the high street for a unique style.”
Part of Grace and Ted’s mission is to encourage shoppers to become more adaptable. “We like to think that our products provide an entry point to designer fashion for customers who otherwise may not have considered designer labels,” Emma explains.
Taking the time to Tweet
As many independent retailers will no doubt agree, there is rarely enough time to engage in Twitter campaigns and make timely Facebook posts when there is a shop floor to be managed. In this sense, the mother-daughter team at Grace and Ted is an example of skills-based harmony. Sharon will often be confined to the shop and to the less-than-straightforward nature of the consignment business, while Emma is able to deploy her energy and passion by managing the business’s social media profile and strengthening its links with the local retail community.
However, Emma says that her social media epiphany only came after a reality check instigated by some disappointment recalling how the advertising campaign for the store’s initial opening was not as effective as they had hoped it would be. “I knew there was a big Facebook and Twitter community in Bath and wanted to tap into that. I’ve now been to meetings with local social media groups at the Bath Chronicle, where we have discussed strategies for taking the community forwards, such as the use of a #ShopBath hash tag.”
As with so many committee groups, achieving consensus and making things happen can be tough, “especially since some of the larger retailers on the BID committee and the social media groups don’t really need the help, so ideas can sometimes be shelved”. But the young retailer makes a sound point when she says that, despite their differences, the larger and smaller stores both need each other for the diversity and richness of the city. “I’m proud to say that we have a great relationship with the other independent businesses. Ultimately, we all have the same struggles, even though our business models may be different”.
On the subject of social media, Emma is clear: “The effect of social media on our sales has been enormous. Quite literally, we will post a photo of an item on Twitter and someone will come in and buy it. There is no better form of advertising for us and Bath has been particularly receptive to it.”
Bath in Fashion Week
Bath in Fashion has become a high profile event with history. It attracts important industry figures and speakers, celebrity contributors (such as blogger Susie Lau) and great retail mileage for the city. Crucially it’s a Bath BID initiative too, which has had practical and useful results both in terms of footfall and profile.
Of course, running an event like this is fantastic for one week, but Bath still suffers from the same obstacles as many other cities and towns when it comes to a dearth of council support and prohibitive parking charges. “We desperately need easier, more affordable parking,” says Emma. “The Council made a profit of over £6 million on parking fees last year. They use it as a source of revenue and it’s crippling to both business owners and shoppers. I spoke to a couple in the car park last week who said they won’t come back to Bath because the parking is so expensive.”
For this reason, events such as Bath in Fashion are a great way to promote small businesses while encouraging people to come into the city. “We got involved for the first time last year,” says Emma. “The first year was slow, but we learned how to maximise the effect in terms of sales.”
She adds: “We held a late night shopping evening on the Thursday and a special promotion on the Saturday. After our show last year, we had people queuing at the door to buy the items they had seen on the catwalk. These were items that had been in the shop for weeks, so to see them on the catwalk in all of their glory was wonderful”.
The most talked about addition to the campaign this year from the indies’ perspective was the Fashion Trail map. For 2015, the Bath BID produced a map featuring leading fashion brands in the city as well as top independents, which was distributed in shops, cafes, hotels and public spaces around the city. As practical, collaborative efforts go, this one was well received and made a noticeable difference to participating businesses.
And Grace and Ted has continued to push brand awareness through its own events. This year it held a Garden Party at the shop on the Thursday night of Bath in Fashion serving macaroons and cocktails made by Independent Spirit of Bath. Without too much pressure, Emma says they “just want people to come in and have a look around; get a feel for the experience here and what we sell”.
The evening also doubled as a birthday party for one of the founding members of the Grace and Ted, Charlie the grey Schnoodle, who has been a part of the shop since she was eight weeks old. Bath enjoys a strong line-up of in-shop dogs, such that it merits a category in the inaugural Independent Bath Awards. Unfortunately, Emma’s become a victim of her own success and has been asked to judge the awards, which means that Grace and Ted won’t be able to enter. It also means that Charlie cannot enter Bath’s Best Independent Shop Dog category either: “We can’t enter Charlie, but we’ll certainly be entering her next year.” So watch this space for the designer doggy in the window next year.
Sharon and Emma Savage are owners of Grace and Ted designer consignment boutique in Bath and members of the Fashion Association of Britain (FAB). For more information on joining visit Fashionassociationofbritain.co.uk