“Day and night I worked on all details and never told a lot of people about it. Otherwise, I believe, everyone would have dissuaded me from opening a fashion store,” explains Carolin Dunkel when thinking back. That was in June 2015, in 2016 she finally opened the doors of her own store in the German capital that will see the big fashion circus start next week with the beginning of Fashion Week and the fairs. Her cozy concept store April First carries a colorful mixture of clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, small interior items and cosmetics ranging from the premium to contemporary price segment. Key of the concept: she only buys every size once to ensure the exclusivity of the brand. In addition, her store is the first one in Germany that carries brands including Ulla Johnson, I Love Mr. Mittens and Coqui Coqui Parfums. Here, Carolin Dunkel explains why.
Why did you decide to open your store? Please tell us your story and your motivation!
For the past 10 years, I have worked in various companies throughout the media- and fashion industry. It all started with diverse print publications, MTV Networks, Universal Music, then in 2009 I made my way to New York to Hugo Boss. In 2012, I completed my masters degree at the TU Berlin in language and communication. In hindsight, the experience at MTV and Hugo Boss really shaped me the most, because they were a real challenge for me as a young person.
After my masters in 2013 I went back to New York and started working for Manon von Gerkan’s Fine Jewelry Label, the daughter of the architect Meinhard von Gerkan. Through my experience at Hugo Boss and through her I got into contact with different department stores and concept stores. I can say that I am a very attentive observer and absorb everything new like a sponge. That’s where my passion for new brands and products stems from.
The key moment to opening my own store was exactly one year ago. In June 2015 I quit my job – at that time I worked in a creative agency as project manager. That was basically the last piece of the puzzle to design the store myself. And then the day I finally was self-employed was suddenly there and it was such a huge relief for me! I mean, I basically grew up like this. For 30 years my parents now own a restaurant and hotel with a lot of animals and everything. The independence inside the family and in our circle of friends has always been my motor.
At the beginning, I have dedicated the most important people and started immediately. From this point on I was caught in tunnel vision. Day and night I worked on all details and never told a lot of people about it. Otherwise, I believe, everyone would have dissuaded me from opening a fashion store. First, I wrote a concept for the bank and the landlord, e-mailed my desired brands and applied for a founder credit.
What is most important to you when it comes to shopfitting and store design?
Overall, I looked at five retail spaces in Berlin Mitte and the store at Auguststraße – at the corner of Tucholskystraße, was finally it. The location is perfect since it is located at a frequented intersection surrounded by cafés, restaurants and galleries, only 10 minutes away by foot from Hackeschen Markt.
At the time I took over the store, nothing looked like it does now. My customers say: “You must have had a lot of phantasy at first.” The stucco, the oak floor with herringbone pattern, the entire electrics, the light and the heating, everything was installed completely new to my desires. In the end it looks like the stucco and the floor have always been there like that.
Furthermore, the store has a very symmetric space with two big shop windows and 4 meter high ceilings and it catches a lot of light and the midday sun. That was very important to me! It should be warm, modern and sincere, not too minimalistic, old-fashioned or dark.
It took me nine months of work for the entire project, from the idea to the store opening. Six months for the renovation and the shopfitting. There is a famous architect, Joseph Dierans, who I got my inspiration from. Besides the brands and products it was as important to me to be remembered by the look of the store. Everything was custom made, for example the brass racks or the marble counter and the marble staircase with brass details, the clothes hanger up to the hangtags and the bags.
Moreover, it was important to me that I am flexible with my furniture. I wanted to have a rack system with which I am able to completely rearrange the store whenever I want, so that the customer is surprised over and over again and doesn’t see the same products in the same place for ten years.
What does your product range look like? Which are your anchor brands? And which brands did you recently add to your selection?
The product range is basically a colorful mixture, whereby there is a common theme. In terms of price the brands are found in the premium to contemporary price segment. That means, the basics start at 70 € and the leather jackets end at about 1000€. But most products are roughly found in the 150-500€ range.
When it comes to the product range, we offer everything from clothing, shoes, bags, accessories, small interior items and cosmetics in our store, but only in a limited quantity. At the exclusive brands I only buy every size only once.
With some brands, at least for this and the upcoming season, I am the first one in Germany that carries those brands. Those brands include Ulla Johnson, I Love Mr. Mittens, Coqui Coqui Parfums and D’ESTRËE hats from Paris à la Maison Michel.
The other brands such as Hironae Paris, Mes Demoiselles, M.i.h., Mother, Equipment, Lost Property of London Bags, See by Chloe and many more complement this selection. Personally, I am a huge fan of French labels. Whereas, in the end everything should fit together and I wouldn’t carry anything in my store that I wouldn’t wear myself.
When it comes to turnover and merchandise, which role do accessories play?
Since the store has only been open for six weeks, I cannot say in which way accessories play a crucial role. But I can definitely say that products up to 50€ are generally a bestseller.
Please name five products you cannot go without at the moment.
The perfume Coco Coco by Coqui Coqui; embroidered dresses and blouses by Ulla Johnson; denim dresses by M.i.h.; gladiator sandals by See by Chloé and oversize knit pieces by I Love Mr. Mittens.
How important are trade shows for you? Where do you buy your products? Which trade shows do you attend?
Trade shows actually aren’t that relevant for me. I visit them to get an overview, but most of my brands aren’t represented on most fairs. But when I go to trade shows I visit Première Classe and Maison Object, both in Paris.
How important is e-commerce for you?
Right now, e-commerce isn’t a subject at all, but I do send products that I wore on Instagram or in blog posts upon request. Everything beyond that is not achievable at this point. Personally, I am not a big fan of online-shopping. I love to walk through the streets, discover small boutiques, feeling a product and taking it home with me immediately. Only this way I can convince myself of the quality and the look and feel. The whole ordering and returning is too complex for me.
What does your store have that other stores don’t? What’s your USP?
I think the USP for April First is the overall concept. I didn’t leave anything to chance, be it the shop interior, which surely is a crucial factor. That’s why I researched night after night to pick the exact wallpaper for the fitting rooms and the brass toggle switch to elegantly disguise the boring lighting tracks. And exactly that is what customers appreciate even now coming to the store. They see the attention to detail.
The other USP are the brands and the way I combined them with each other. At first glance one might think everything in the store corresponds to one label, because initially everything fits together. And I can say that more than half of the products can’t be found anywhere else in Berlin or Germany. I think that is a significant USP to begin with.
Are there role model stores for you? Any shop (worldwide) that inspires you?
Based on the architecture and design, it’s every store by Joseph Dirand. When it comes to product range, I adore Love Adorned and Warm in New York.
Right now, what are the biggest controversies and topics in retail?
In my opinion it’s the usual suffering of the stationary trading, that the sales were stronger in the past. But if I would’ve listened to that there shouldn’t be any new stores. I think if one can specifically persuade the customer with new products and a great overall concept, one will be able to succeed in the long run. I personally believe that there will always be women who rather choose the stationary retail than shop online. I personally am one of those women. And I know that there are more of them out there.
What are the greatest challenges in retail right now?
To act fast, be attentive, observe trends and other circumstances and always surprise the customer with something unique.
Which is the most important ingredient to successful retail?
The entire package has to be right. Starting with the product and the brands, attentive and alert staff up to the atmosphere. All three pillars have to be equally strong, then I think the trading will be successful in the future, too.
What would you do differently today?
Right now, I wouldn’t change anything. I am very happy with how my store started out. I already won customers in those six months that revisited the store and asked when new merchandise will arrive.