Joanna Davis started her store Black White Denim located in Cheshire, UK in 2010, when her son was about to start school. She and her partner decided to set up a business to run instead of Davis going back to her old career. She had 17 years of sales and marketing experience selling big brands (e.g. PepsiCo) to big companies (e.g. Tesco) and she didn't want to return to the corporate grind. He was the CEO of a brand agency so they had a good combination of skills to throw into the pot. “We agreed the business needed to be something I would focus on day in day out, always enjoy thinking about and something that reflected my passion in life: clothes and shopping!” she says.
That was the birth of Black White Denim. The name says it all. It was based on the observation that black, white and denim constitute the foundation colors of any stylish woman’s wardrobe and Davis and her team have developed a particular skill in identifying up-and-coming brands and bringing them to customers in the North West before anyone else. Since Fall 2017 the boutique’s menswear department – known as Bloke White Denim - completes the company’s profile.
Here, Davis shares her recipe for success in retail.
I kind of stumbled across your store Black White Denim on Instagram where I read a posting of you in which you apologized to a customer. I really like that and I get directly in touch with you. Joanna, what happened with the post on Instagram? Any word from the customer?
A lady was asking whether our sale stock was returnable. It isn't, as with many stores, as the reason we discount is to move stock on to make space for the next season’s collections. When I said, "No, it isn't" I was quite abrupt (not rude or impolite) but I don't think she liked my tone. In my defense I had some stuff going on at home that was causing stress, it was a really hot day and I am currently menopausal. She rang the shop after she'd left to say that she felt she'd been spoken to very rudely. My store manager apologized unreservedly and we then put our message on Instagram to try and track her down so I could apologize personally. We never found her though.
Why do you think that a successful retailer must be active on Instagram in any case? And how should he or she record on the app? How do you use it?
I do if you’re targeting lovers of fashion between the age of 16 and 70. Customers are looking for inspiration and ideas more and more on social channels and you really have to have a presence and keep your content focused, relevant and entertaining. We use it to share our retail life and our love of clothes and shopping with our followers, show behind the scenes activity, dip into our personal lives on occasions and build long &and lasting friendships. If sales come as a result of that then great!
You have a great concept that fits the zeitgeist. How do you implement that in terms of store design and shopfitting?
We appreciate quality and longevity and our shopfit reflects this as well as our collections. Most of what we have in the store re fixtures and fittings is vintage, upcycled or antique. We try and buy one-off pieces that stand out and work hard in terms of functionality. I have some great chairs sourced off Instagram posts from a couple of antique traders in Brighton. They are talking points and add a whole new dimension to our shopfit as well as encouraging people to sit in them and stay a bit longer.
How important is digitization for you? How is it used in your stores and on the sales floor directly?
We use it as much as we can to communicate via social channels, e-mails, text etc. but we are a people business. We like to pick up the phone or talk face-to-face where we can.
What are the anchor brands of the assortment?
J Brand, Paige, Bella Freud, Equipment, Golden Goose Deluxe Brand and our own luxury Made in England jersey BWD Basics.
What are five products you couldn’t live without right now?
Great black jeans, a statement training shoe, Bella Freud knit, leather jacket and an Equipment silk shirt.
And what are the most promising newcomers this year?
Kule, Re/Done, Sundry.
You also operate an online shop. What percentage of your sales is from online business compared to your brick-and-mortar sales?
About 10% comes from online.
What is the biggest challenge for retailing right now?
Standing out and offering true personalization, not automated personalization. Offering great quality at affordable prices, keeping the customer relationship strong and loyal, retaining fabulous staff.
In 2017 the men’s boutique followed. Has the concept been multiplied for men? Or to what extent did it have to be modified?
Our men’s edit is a reflection of womenswear but on a much smaller scale. It’s on a separate floor, is about a 1/3 of the space of women’s and focuses on the must-have wardrobe pieces such as denim, shirts, tee shirts, jumpers and trainers. We do casualwear only for men and find that it’s the wives who are normally shopping for them.
To what extent do men and women actually differ in their purchasing behavior? Who can you sell jeans to better, faster or easier? Which arguments work best with whom?
Women treat shopping as a hobby, men see it as a chore. Women will take way longer to buy jeans as they'll try on loads of styles and colors. Men want either black or blue, straight or skinny. Boom!
Do you always follow a specific interview guide? Is this also obligatory for your employees?
No. I get a gut feel very early on. I admire and seek out energy, resourcefulness, passion, relentless pursuit of goals, teamwork and good old-fashioned manners and respect.
Do you attend sales training courses? If so, why and what do you learn there?
I attended so many when I worked in the corporate world I can't think of anything I'd like to do less!
What has been your most successful jeans sale so far?
It always great selling jeans to someone who has been through some kind of body transformation journey (fitness, illness, weight loss) who have been longing for the moment they can fit in to their dream jean. It's the most joyous time :)