Things British takes a new approach to retail

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Carnaby Street shop allows jewellery designers to rent shelf space.

Things British is a gift store that takes an alternative approach to retail: it rents shelf space to designer-makers who want their products to be seen on the high street. Andrew Seymour visited the shop a fortnight into its launch to see what it’s all about.

Darrell Boland is a happy man — and he has every reason to be. In the past four weeks he has gained the keys to the unit that now houses Things British, fitted out the store interior and ushered in the first set of brands eager to try out his new approach to retail sales.

“We are just buzzing from the activity and the interest. This is something people want and everybody who has walked in the shop and had a look has been delighted,” says Boland, as he takes Professional Jeweller around the Kingly Court store located in the heart of London’s busy Carnaby Street.

You wouldn’t necessarily know it from walking into the shop, but Things British is a retailer with a difference. Rather than seeking out products to resell with a mark-up, it invites designer-makers to rent spaces on its shelves for a fixed period, from one month up to a year. The more prominent the shelf position, the higher the cost. But Things British doesn’t take any commission, its earnings are based purely on the amount of shelf or wall space it rents out. Each brand sets its own retail prices and receives all the net profit.

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The idea is that designers who don’t have the time or capital to open their own shop —or who want to get their products sold through a bricks-and-mortar store — now have a platform to physically get their work in front of customers. With shelf space costing as little as £18 per week — less than £2.60 a day — Things British arguably represents one of the most affordable ways to secure a high street presence.

So far, almost 30 brands have signed up and more are on their way, says Boland. “You can book today and then you have a two-week buffer to get your stock ready, so it is not like we are saying ‘book today, stock tomorrow’. Some people are in that state where they can do that, but the majority go off and get stock ready for us.”

Things British asks all companies to supply at least two weeks’ worth of stock to ensure that their shelf space can be replenished as the products sell. There is no Things British logo on any fixtures or fittings, so brands are free to display and merchandise their wares exactly how they like.

Some have been popping in regularly to check on their shelves, while others have been content to let Boland and the store’s brand manager, Lennie Kwan, sort it out. “One lady even sends us a photograph of how her products need to be laid out and we clone it,” reveals Boland.

It is clear from speaking to the pair that their philosophy is all about making sure things are never over-complicated. They realise that if it is not simple for the brands — most of which are sole traders or very small businesses — to be part of then the model loses its value. They deliberately don’t use barcodes, weekly stock status reports are emailed out each Monday and suppliers are paid on the seventh day of every month for the previous month’s sales.

Initial stockists include makers of jewellery, textiles, candles, mugs, dolls and greetings cards, with quirky products proving most popular so far, according to Boland. Prices in the store start at £2 for a birthday card all the way up to £175 for a piece of handcrafted wooden tableware. A £700 scarf is said to be coming soon.

Irrespective of price point, the product must be able to generate enough volume to cover the churn and the rent, although the most important factor — as its name suggests — is that it’s handcrafted in Great Britain.

But while British products remain at the heart of the retailer’s business, the inspiration for the concept originated from the other side of the world. Boland lived in Singapore for 10 years and visited many other parts of Asia while working as a retail consultant. It was during this time he encountered so-called cube shops, which offer suppliers the chance to rent shelf space for a small fee and commission on sales.

The cube shops in Asia are generally packed with mobile phone accessories and gadgets, but Boland and Kwan felt the concept would work perfectly in the craft and design market, which they both shared a passion for. If things take off then their business plan involves rolling out the concept in other parts of the UK, including Scotland and Wales, further down the line.

For the immediate future, though, the priority is to drive foot traffic to the Carnaby Street store so that the brands start seeing some return on their rent. “It is a two way thing,” says Boland. “We tell our customers that they now have to tell people their products are here. That is the magic bit — people can come here and pick it up, which you can’t do online.”

The concept might be a new one for the retail market to digest, but somehow you get the feeling it won’t be long before the remaining empty shelves at Things British fill up.

 

This article was taken from the November issue of Professional Jeweller magazine. To read the issue online click here.

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