As they celebrate their 10th year at Robinsons of Bawtry, Russell and Wendy Jones talk to Stephanie Smith about Mini Me designer togs and plans to level the playing field for all independent shops.
Like every good independent store, Robinsons of Bawtry is an institution, right at the heart of its community, with loyal customers and a modern outlook that keeps everything fresh and at least one step ahead of the rest.
High-end designer fashion boutique Robinsons was founded in 1986 by Tony Robinson, who sadly died last year. Russell and Wendy Jones were good friends. “When Tony decided he was hanging up his carrier bags and had done his time here, we thought, why not, let’s try our hand at this,” says Wendy, who used to sell new build property before stepping into the fashion game, while husband, Russell, sold land.
Celebrating 10 years since they took ownership, Russell and Wendy and their son James Jones have continued with Tony Robinson’s legacy, continuing to grow Robinsons of Bawtry and its reputation as one of the most popular designer fashion boutiques for men, women and now children in the North of England.
“A lot of it is keeping up-to-date with brands,” says Russell. “Introducing Balmain, and we’re a massive Mulberry supplier now – we do huge volumes. Ten years ago they were doing £30-35,000, and now over £300,000 a year. For a little independent, that’s fabulous. We stock pretty much all of their bags and purses.”
In terms of overall turnover, Russell says: “We’ll do about £1.5m net of that this year. It’s a nice little business.”
James works behind the scenes on social media for the store and with the Jones family’s other businesses, a claims management company and a property management company. Russell and Wendy, who have been married for 33 years and live in Doncaster, also have a daughter, Amy Mortimer, plus five grandchildren and another on the way.
James studied photography at Nottingham Trent University and it was he who took the pictures here especially for this feature, with new season collections modelled in store by Robinsons staff, friends and customers.
Anticipating customer wants and needs is key when it comes to buying for the store. Belstaff has made a massive resurgence on menswear, Russell says, and there’s lots of new Moschino womenswear coming in for autumn. New for SS19 is the British menswear collection from Hackett, sitting alongside favourites Hugo Boss, Armani, Ralph Lauren, Versace, Jacob Cohen, John Varvatos, True Religion, Eton and Jeffrey West. SS19 collections for women include Michael Kors, Versace, Ralph Lauren, Armani, Escada, Max Mara, Jacob Cohen and True Religion.
There has, Russell says, been something of a sea-change in customers in recent years. “There was a time when you could put your finger on it and say it’s 35-55 professionals, but now the market’s moved. It’s a lot less formal, so we can do 17-70.
“We used to have a lot of reasonably high net worth individuals who would shop local, but what we’re finding now, over the last four or five years, is that those customers are tending to shop everywhere, because they go to London or Manchester regularly, they go abroad, so we are seeing perhaps a lot less of their spend. But what we are seeing a high improvement of, because of Facebook and social media generally, is the aspirational customer. They don’t go to London, Manchester. Their trip to Harrods is coming to Robinsons.”
Russell isn’t being flippant or patronising; he knows his customers. “We’ve got around 40,000 followers on Facebook and they are all within 45 miles of the store.”
And many of those customers are prepared to splash out on fashion for their kids, too. This is the first season of childrenswear for Robinsons, where proud parents in search of “Mini Me” designer togs for their offspring can now find Polo Ralph Lauren and True Religion for girls and boys and Hackett and Hugo Boss for boys.
“As a standalone it doesn’t work, but as a Mini Me, an add-on, then it justifies it in our store,” Russell says. “We’ve always spoilt our kids. I can remember when mine were younger, we’d be at Harrods or wherever and we’d end up spending more money on them than we would on ourselves.”
Also new is the Junior Robinsons Club where registered members get 20 per cent discount, birthday vouchers and invitations to VIP event days.
However, the most important and exciting development, says Russell, is Robinsons’ exclusive partnership with AppToPay, a new app-based payment service that lets customers pay and spread the cost of purchases made in store between two and 12 months.
“That will win awards,” says Russell. “It will revolutionise the independent retailer people. Because we can offer interest free credit through our app, we get people from as far afield as Birmingham. Years ago we were looking to have our own store card and we couldn’t for the life of us find anybody who would talk to an independent. We storyboarded out what we would ideally like to see. It turned out that what we really wanted was a credit card facility but paid off a bit like a loan. We developed the app around that and it’s fabulous, the best thing that we have ever done. We’re looking at rolling the whole concept out nationwide after a four-month trial in Robinsons, so we’ll be able to level the playing field for the independent against the big nationals. You don’t have to buy any hardware. Millennials these days do everything on their phone.”
As they celebrate a decade at the helm of Robinsons of Bawtry, Russell says he doesn’t know where the time has gone. “Some of the highlights over the years have to be receiving the ultimate accolade of the Premium Fashion Independent of the Year 2015 by Drapers, plus helping to raise over £350,000 for Yorkshire Cancer Research from our annual fashion show, which now in its 27th year, was originally created by Tony Robinson in memory of his first wife.
Community is key, he says, but so is moving with the times.
Robinsons of Bawtry is at 2 South Parade, Bawtry, Doncaster, DN10 6JH, tel: 01302 711477, www.robinsonsofbawtry.com. Opening hours are Monday to Saturday 9.30am – 5.30pm; Sunday 11am – 4pm and late night opening by appointment. Check out the new app on App2pay.com