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By Hannah Karpel
n just taking a stroll during a lunch break , it is clear to see how repeated lockdowns have impacted on our beloved independent high street stores. Piles of letters clutter entrances; shutters remain locked; and noise is to an eerie minimum.
Thankfully, this is all set to change on 12 April as coronavirus restrictions are lifted and businesses can legally reopen – but the reality is far more complex. For non-essential retailers, many of which are independently owned, the cost in lost sales due to multiple forced closures has been estimated at around £22 billion, according to Save the Street, the campaign now calling on urgent government support for the retail industry.
“A street without independent retailers and beauty businesses is a street without passion, culture and life”
“We are not in this together,” as Ross Bailey, founder of Save the Street and CEO of Appear Here, puts it simply. With its reputation for employing a diverse range of employees from different socioeconomic backgrounds, the beauty retail industry, with an annual turnover of more than £5.3 billion, has been completely sidelined.
As the world market leader for retail space rentals, Bailey’s company, Appear Here, has more than 250,000 entrepreneurs on its platform, 70% of whom are women and 5% of which include beauty businesses. Seeing first hand how these entrepreneurs have been left to fall through the cracks became Bailey’s motivation for the campaign.
“I know family businesses and small businesses are the backbone of this country and it's disappointing to see them not receive support because they've not had a voice,” he said.
“Independent businesses are often the most innovative and creative because they have to be.”
Backed by industry experts including retail guru Mary Portas, beauty entrepreneur Charlotte Tilbury MBE and Caroline Rush CBE, chief executive of the British Fashion Council, the ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ proposal – much like the restaurant scheme ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ – would see the Government cover 50% of the cost of goods at independent retailers, capped at £10.
The scheme aims to run for one month this summer with consumer discounts available from Monday to Wednesday only, and would be limited to independent enterprises, with fewer than 10 employees, that sell through physical stores. In order to pay for the package, the campaign says the Treasury could draw on the £1.8 billion in business rates relief, which has been returned by supermarkets, including Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Morrisons.
A street without independent retailers and beauty businesses is a street without passion, culture and life. In Bailey’s words, “we want more voices, not less. We've experienced moving from screen to screen and seeing how technology and misinformation affects all facets of our daily lives. Do we want to live in a hugely efficient world that lacks soul? Or would we prefer a world with true inspiration and connection?”
Below, four London-based entrepreneurs in beauty retail talk about the challenges they have faced and how the proposed ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme could help.
Built on the principles of beauty, self-care and wellness, Sasha Sabapathy launched Glow Bar out of a desire to revolutionise the way in which women tackle everyday stress.
What has it been like trying to maintain your business during the lockdown?
The main struggle has been cashflow; we still have bills to pay while we've been closed. We've had no help up until very recently but we just received our first grant, which will help with two months rent – but that's it. A lot of our team had to be made redundant, as we knew we wouldn't be able to pay salaries upon reopening.
Why do you think independent businesses need support?
Supporting independent businesses is something I'm hugely passionate about. It's important to remember when shopping independently, every sale, no matter how small, is valued and appreciated so much more than from a huge global chain. At Glow Bar, every single sale is significant for us and a lot of love goes into every product.
Independent businesses are self-funded, so we don't have a back-up plan or financiers to soothe the worry. Every day keeps us alive and helps us to keep giving you the products and experiences you want.
These businesses are often the most innovative and creative because they have to be. Giving consumers something unique and different to enjoy requires support. It would be really sad if all we are left with is massive chains and high street brands.
How would the ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme help your business?
Hugely! Having a physical space for beauty is vital as it’s best experienced in real life, so in order to keep afloat we really need people to come in. The sensual, tactile nature of our industry relies on touching something tangible before you buy.
With Glow Bar, a lot of people are still confused by ayurveda, adaptogens and healing herbs, so it's important for us to provide a service that educates and informs about the type of thing we do.
Dedicated to celebrating the art of perfumery, Les Senteurs is an independent specialist perfumery in London’s Belgravia founded in 1984 by husband and wife duo Michael and Betty Hawksley. We caught up with their son and Managing Director, Chris Hawksley on how the family-owned store has stayed afloat.
What has it been like for your business during the lockdown?
It was extremely difficult, especially at the start due to the speed at which it unfolded and the fact that circumstances were changing daily. There were many challenges, but we focused on trying to make the online experience as enjoyable as possible by updating our website, sending regular informative newsletters, sharing educational blogs, and offering sampling and free delivery where possible.
Why is the bricks-and-mortar beauty retail experience so vital?
The very nature of niche fragrance retail requires input and consultation, allowing the customers to explore and smell fragrance directly. We recognise that ecommerce will remain a key aspect of the business, but a visit to the boutique takes the experience to another level. Tucked away from the bustling crowds and fast pace of high street department stores, Les Senteurs is an oasis of beauty and refinement for the fragrance lover to be transported into the evocative world of perfume. They can savour a fragrance consultation in person and discover a signature scent. We often describe it as an Aladdin’s cave of scent and have become famous for our seasonal window displays, which are often referred to as one of the most Instagrammable locations in London.
How do you feel about reopening after lockdown?
We are hugely excited to reopen our doors and welcome customers back to our boutique. Les Senteurs is more than just a business to me – it is a symbol of our family history. Perfume and the shop were always part of our family conversations, so the boutique is extremely close to my heart. As we navigate reopening and the new retail landscape, there will certainly be more challenges ahead. We don’t believe we will see an instant bounce back to pre-COVID numbers, so hope that landlords will continue to recognise and price their rents accordingly. We are also having to deal with the added problem of Brexit which has resulted in a number of small niche fragrance brands no longer being able to export to the UK.
How would the Save the Street campaign help your business?
Any initiative that raises awareness of small independent businesses and incentives that encourage the public to visit their local high street will have a huge impact. I hope initiatives like this will tempt anyone who is curious about perfume to visit the boutique and, as a result, Les Senteurs will continue to delight and inspire, creating magical fragrance memories for years to come.
Located in Willesden Green, textured hair retailer Hairitage caters for curly, coily and wavy hair types. Founded by cousins Jo Ferrage and Catia J Pinto in June 2019, they also offer bespoke hair consultations and educational workshops to empower and equip young Black women on their hair.
What has it been like for your business during lockdown?
It’s been tough and we’ve constantly been in fire-fighting mode, trying to assess changing consumer shopping habits and see how they interact with the business via our burgeoning digital channel. It’s been unpredictable and we’ve had to readjust so quickly. The first lockdown, I was constantly crying about money because we lost an incredible amount of revenue and we had to try to earn enough to pay rent.
Why is the bricks-and-mortar beauty retail experience so vital?
Our core values are centered on the in-store experience. The beauty retail landscape for Black women offers a sub-par service and even when visiting well-known Afro-hair retailers, we are served by staff who don’t have the knowledge to cater to us. At Hairitage, we are the experts and actively listen to our customers’ hair concerns to never compromise on a client’s hair journey.
Why do independent beauty retailers need support?
Willesden Green is such a hub of music, food and culture and we’ve tapped into the Black culture with our African and Portuguese roots. Independent businesses create a reciprocal ecosystem with community at the core.
We want our clients to feel wanted, seen and heard in the same way that we do and that’s what makes us stronger in terms of understanding and respecting each other. We know that by giving someone a great experience, they’ll tell their friends and family, or we’ll say hello when we see them in the street – it’s a sense of belonging that transcends profits and margins.
How would the campaign help you?
It would dramatically help in terms of visibility, brand awareness and communicating our message to a mass audience. As two normal women with an innate passion for hair, we created Hairitage for people like us who didn’t feel seen by the beauty industry and we want the community to be a part of this journey with us.
Based in Marylebone, Content was the first destination store in the UK and Europe dedicated to the new breed of natural and organic beauty brands. Launched in 2008 by Imelda Burke, she has been a pioneer for beauty lovers who wanted a shop to match their broader lifestyle ethos by supporting the new natural independent brands that were primarily female founded.
What have been the biggest challenges to business during lockdown?
There have been many, from standing by brands as they have issues with supply chains (from ingredients to packaging) to reducing the team while we pivot to a digital-only business for the past year. Also navigating shifting customer buying patterns has been something we've been very considerate of; categories such as bath and body and homeware have grown significantly. Managing the expectations of our customers who are used to having products literally at their fingertips in store has been difficult. Products are a tactile experience and our customers miss visiting the store, actually seeing the products and chatting to people. We were early to launch the digital consultation service shifting our store manager and lead make-up artist into a role that is still customer facing, albeit digital, and created sample sets which bring 'all the fun of the store delivered to your door' so that people still have the opportunity to see and try products.
Community is at the core of independent retailers – what does it mean for you?
When I started Content, it was very much with the neighbourhood store in mind. The type of store where people remembered your name and your favourite products – where people felt comfortable to answer questions and discover new things. There’s a sense of community that comes from shopping somewhere, and with others, that you know share your lifestyle ethos. The UK High Street is often filled with chains, I specifically found the smallest (most affordable) store in Marylebone, as it still maintained a high number of independent stores, to recreate the type of neighbourhood store that people love to visit. With the West End suffering tremendously in the pandemic, stores with community and a personalised experience are the ones that people will 'leave local' to visit.
How would ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ help your business?
We are still navigating how and when to reopen. Rents in the West End are high and we are predicting that footfall and traffic won’t bounce back to pre-pandemic levels for some time. We require a mix of tourists, people working in the area and those willing to travel to us to maintain sales – this is a very unknown quantity at the moment. As an independent, it is difficult to carry a store while the world (and sales) bounce back to a 'new normal'. Raising awareness about independents and the challenges we have been facing especially with delays to government support for non-essential retail would help us massively.
To support the #Savethestreet campaign, CLICK HERE
Header image via Appear Here
Beauty retail has disproportionately felt the brunt of lockdowns caused by the pandemic. Now industry experts are campaigning for a new ‘Shop Out to Help Out’ scheme that might just save them.
By Hannah Karpel