New Year reflections

New Year reflections

It’s the middle of February and we’re taking a few days break… it’s always good to do this at the start of the year as it’s a time to look back and a time to look forward…

So what’s the view from planet Bijouled at the start of the year? Well firstly we’ve had an unusual and extraordinary start following the Channel 5 programme: Harrogate: a great Yorkshire Christmas. Hundreds of visitors came to take a look at the shop and visit Harrogate and the other shops featured throughout January and into February. It didn’t stop after Christmas – we have had an amazing response. We thought, mistakenly, that we would have received more online business from the programme and so were taken aback by the fact that people both wanted and preferred to physically come and see the shop windows. Indeed, people travelled from all over the UK and abroad to do so. On Christmas Day, Nev and I went out for a lovely late lunch at the White Hart Hotel. Our route home brought us opposite the shop but on the other side of the road. We were amazed to see a little crowd of people outside our shop windows. It made us feel a little emotional and very proud – the rollercoaster of the programme and the lead up to Christmas had somehow not given us time to take in and appreciate what we had done. It was Christmas Day and there were still people taking the time to stop, look and take photographs of our windows. As so much of our window was based around Christmas memories, this Christmas Day memory will always be one of mine.

In my last blog I talked about the good, the bad and the ugly fallout from the television programme. A “So you know you’re a Harrogatonian when” facebook post of an image of the Furnish and Fettle Christmas window asking for views caused the Bijouled team some upset and disappointment. Posted by a local photographer, this post soon became about who should have won the competition with much negative feedback about our window and the judging. We would not in any way want to diminish the Furnish and Fettle Christmas window, but it was obvious from the feedback that many people were unaware of the judging criteria or the different categories of winners. Most people had no idea that Furnish and Fettle could not have won the competition as Jillian Welch won their category – a local business which sadly failed to receive as much publicity and attention from the programme or the competition as we and other shops received. Many people called for a public vote – so how would that work fairly and professionally (?) – and the local photographer-  despite his so-called lack of vested interest – continued to comment well into January when anyone criticised the Furnish and Fettle window. Well so much for local businesses uniting and having a value system which supports and congratulates the achievement of another business working in the same community. With hindsight we should have asked our local photographer friend to come and spend a day with us and listen to the views of people visiting the shop. Or the views of the ex CEO of All Saints, who also paid a visit to our shop. However, like Mary Beard, we have tried to rise above the social media negatives, remain positive and fight back.  Also, on a positive note, the television programme drew attention to the Harrogate Christmas shop window competition – a competition that has been going for years and years. I hope that this heightened publicity and awareness will be taken forward positively this year to encourage more businesses to enter the competition and to make people more aware of the competition details and judging system, which may need to change to cope with more entries. More people will undoubtedly come to Harrogate this year to look at the Christmas shop windows on the back of the programme and so this provides such a great marketing opportunity for the town.

Winning the competition, has made us, amongst other things, reflect on our window strategy. We have decided to move to more statement seasonal windows, like department stores, and assess how this impacts on custom. There was a lot of pressure on us to create a good Winter window after the Christmas window. However, this one was just about us – no judging criteria – and we went for a very different approach with polar bears, peacocks and owls taking centre stage. It is a striking monochrome window that we have been very proud of and which has attracted a lot of positive attention and feedback. Doing windows like this with a small team takes lots of planning and resource but we are so looking forward to developing our creativity in visual merchandising this year. This weekend we will start to install our next window for Spring. The Bijouled team are all very excited and we have even found some quirky props on holiday to bring home with us. Did I mention ducks with pink wellington boots? You need to see them…!

Well so much for our windows. It will be interesting to report what happens in our next blog…

Lots of people say to us in the shop that we must be quiet after Christmas. Far from it! The sale starts on Boxing Day – a busy day for us in the shop and online – and we have to get this ready in store and on our website before we take a day’s holiday on Christmas Day. Buying starts straight after the Christmas holidays – no rest for us – and so we have to start the New Year with a buying plan for the next six months, which is based on how our existing brands have performed and finding some new and exciting brands. No mean feat when we have seventy brands in total. At this point in February we have already visited trade fairs in Harrogate, London and Paris as well as approached suppliers direct and bought jewellery, bags and scarves at Vivienne Westwood for Christmas! Scary but true. The sale has now finished and new stock has started to arrive, so the shop is changing and being continually remerchandised for the new season. There are also lots of financial and administrative tasks to complete by the beginning of February – the stocktake, the VAT and the end of year accounts. We’ve certainly not been quiet but we have certainly needed a holiday…

The scary factor in all of this is we don’t know, despite all our best attempts to plan and project, how this year will pan out for us. On one hand there is the big political and economic picture and then on the other hand there is the local picture. There has been lots of talk about the Harrogate retail economy in the last few weeks. Exit, a fabulous and long-standing business on our beloved Parliament Street, has gone. Many restaurants are about to close and big retail names such as Top Shop and H&M have also gone, leaving behind big, expensive and empty retail spaces. The town feels different when you walk around it and we have to keep asking ourselves what we need to do, and do differently, particularly as an independent small business. Footfall is definitely changing, and our business, in our location, is very dependent on locals choosing to shop and support an independent that prides itself on its different brands and customer service, and visitors coming to and staying in Harrogate as well as visiting the Convention Centre and other events and venues. We have to analyse how we market ourselves to attract and retain shop customers whilst paying significant attention to the online market – one that has changed and increased considerably over the last few years. If you throw google and social media into the mix, then our online business and presence alone becomes more than a full-time job. But keep trying we will and hopefully within this current situation local businesses and media will come together to understand and effectively support each other. This isn’t about being in a competition any more but about being part of a strong community.

So we will come back to Harrogate with renewed energy and bringing with us a positive strategy to keep the Bijouled flag flying. And also not forgetting those ducks with pink wellies…!

PS: Our customer photographs, which made up the Christmas window memory tree, have now been framed and are on permanent display in the shop for everyone to enjoy.

 

Georgina, February 2018.

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