July is Independent Retailer Month Herve in the UK and we were delighted to have spoken to business journalist Maisha Frost of the Daily Express about our journey so far and share some of the trials and tribulations of running your very own independent boutique.
Fashion to last keeps indie high street star Form SE15 in top shape
"I made it happen!" declares Jo Johnson, the delighted owner of a bricks 'n' mortar independent store selling sustainable outfits and gifts who set up not long before lockdown with only half the funds she needed. Her "one stop dopamine hit of a shop", as she describes it, is Form SE15 in Peckham, south London, a name she chose that pays both homage to its roots (through its postcode) and the lasting allure of good design.
A local high street star backed by an online sales operation, it woos customers with dazzling colours, prints and stylish modern classics from cutting-edge labels such as Folk, LF Markey and Baum Und Pferdgarten. Consistent best-sellers like candles and socks have also helped build a £225,000 turnover this year, a figure Johnson, conscious that unpredictable times may lie ahead, is aiming for in 2023.
Having trained in fashion design and worked in creative retail roles, redundancy was the trigger for Johnson to open her own store in a place where she had lived for almost 20 years. “All roads led to the shop, support was there from the start,” she says.
Husband Paul, a graphic designer with his own creative agency Studio North & South handled the digital side, enabling her to simultaneously launch the online sales channel that subsequently provided the “security that proved its worth during the lockdowns,” she says.
“Our clientele is younger, professional, thoughtful and creative. Camberwell Arts College is close by and we benefit from new browsers attracted into the area by Peckham’s food scene. “I wear a lot of hats and did everything at first from sales to managing social media and invoicing. Now I have great support from two part-time members of staff and we are open seven days a week.
Brand choice makes Form stand out and keeps clients loyal.
“I select very carefully, really wearable pieces that work for customers throughout the day and into the evening. They know when and how they were made. They’re ones they will keep for a long time.
“We have increased our portfolio by 40 per cent. All our brands have a traceable supply and make sustainability a priority. If an outfit a customer wants is too big, I can alter it for them,” she adds.
“Whether it’s ordering special pieces or letting someone know when a delivery arrives, building special relationships with customers helped by technology are among the reasons why we are here. Our connections are personal.”
Crucial investment in the shape of a £19,000 government-backed Start Ups Loan and a mentor helped get Form off the ground along with support from a friend £10,000 and Johnson’s own £2,000 of savings.
“Doing a business plan is excellent for teaching discipline, but I had 35 percent less than what I calculated I needed. It was the right moment though so I went for it,” she recalls. “We pivoted like many during lockdown closures and I’m proud of how we survived by making changes, we worked on making our website more user-friendly and linking it to our stock room.
We had minimal out-of-stock issues compared to previous times. “We pivoted like many during lockdown closures and I’m proud of how we survived by making changes, we worked on making our website more user-friendly and linking it to our stock room. “I would unbox deliveries on Instagram and customers would collect orders from our doorway. “I had a plan for a fittings upgrade, but funds had to be diverted to help us keep going. Now the upgrade, how I imagined it, has happened. We use a local design company that is female-owned too.
“I’m now buying for next year and am making small changes to ensure no wastage. Keeping the business solid and future-proof are my top priorities and one area I’m looking into is collaboration with another label or indie brand. “The recent collabs between luxury labels and sportswear look exciting and a future for fashion. Online can unlock a wider customer base for us across the UK.
You can see the article in full here.