To coincide with Sandersons Department Store’s first birthday I (David Powell) caught up with store director Deborah Holmes for her thoughts one year on from the auspicious and frenetic launch on 1st September 2016.
DP: It’s been a whirlwind year for you and all at Sandersons – what’s your overall impression of how the year has gone?
DH: It’s been a great first year and I’ve learnt such a lot in the last 12 months - my overall impression is probably how hard but also how incredibly rewarding retail is. I have huge respect for my team and I have definitely got the retail bug now, I love nothing more than being out on the shop floor helping a customer chose the right pair of shoes or outfit for a special occasion.
DP: You designed and opened the store as a relative newcomer to retail – what has worked and what has been the biggest surprise?
DH: It was really daunting being an unknown in the retail world and asking some very big and well-known brands to take a chance on me and on Fox Valley as a new shopping destination. I think I had a good feel from the outset for what would work with womenswear and what mix of brands I wanted to achieve but one of the biggest surprises was the demand for more menswear. We’ve just extended our menswear range and added new brands including Tommy Hilfiger, Guide of London and Remus Uomo as well as Barbour footwear for men. We are also planning a special men’s shopping event later in the month.
I knew certain brands would be really popular with our shoppers but I’ve also been really pleased to see how our organic skincare and make-up range has been received – we’ve brought quite a few brands to this part of Yorkshire including Green People, Merumaya, SKN-RG and Make Up Atelier Paris as well as the vegan brand Inika. It is really important to us to involve the people behind the brands in the store and we’ve had some lovely “Meet the Maker” events this year.
DP: Your planned mix of brands, products and services has evolved during the year – what changes are you now making?
DH: We are expanding our menswear department and we’ve also just opened a new Hobbs concession. We’re always looking for uniquely Yorkshire touches to the store and we have just launched a pop up gallery for the Sheffield artist Pete McKee which is proving really popular. Pete’s artwork is featured around Fox Valley so we’re really proud to be selling his prints and products here. We want to continue that focus on the unique and local aspect to Sandersons. The biggest change for the year ahead is taking the Sandersons experience on line – we are launching our online store in October which is another challenge but something we are really looking forward to.
DP: Which stores and designers have been influential to your retail concept?
DH: One of my favourite department stores is Henry Bendel in New York, it is such a beautiful store and the staff are so knowledgeable and customer-focussed – definitely something we try to achieve here at Sandersons. I also have really fond memories of Selfridges in Leeds where we used to shop for birthdays and special occasions with my Mum when I was a teenager. It’s all about creating that welcoming feel and buzz you get when you go into a store – I hope our shoppers feel that when they come through the doors at Sandersons.
DP: Sandersons Department Store is part of the new Fox Valley retail development – do you envisage other similar developments in the future?
DH: The parent company of Fox Valley, Dransfield Properties, runs several successful shopping centres across the UK. Sandersons is my first foray into retail and I feel very proud that I have opened the store in my home town of Stocksbridge. The time was right for me to take on a new challenge and our first year has definitely exceeded my expectations. But who knows? I certainly wouldn’t rule out looking at other locations.
Department Store technology
Being involved with a department store from concept to grand store opening and beyond is a rare opportunity and special experience. Touchretail were selected to provide the store retail technology early on in the Sandersons project, so we’ve had the good fortune to contribute on many aspects of retail tech throughout the project.