Fashion retail is probably one of the last businesses I ever thought I would get into. Don't get me wrong, it was something I had been thinking about for at least three years or so before I actually sat down and conceived Stranger as a store, but it just never felt like something that could become real.
But now, here I am writing a short retrospective on the year that has gone by. This post is both to serve as a chronicle of the things I have learned and seen over the past year and also as a loose guide for anybody looking to do something similar in Lagos and possibly the rest of the country.
A tighter focus on the store
The retail space in Nigeria is still in its infancy and as a result, most consumers are not exposed to the multitude of possiblities retail has to offer.
This means that communicating what exactly we are about has been a very tricky process of trial and error.
If I had a thousand naira for every time I had received an email or being asked in person "What exactly do you people do here?", I would be pretty happy.
By focusing on communicating a mood and ambience both in the store and on our various media channels, we ended up sending a pretty muddled message to anyone except those who already had a firm grip on the type of thing we were attempting to do. This is terrible of course as it means now we have to fight to re-educate people about what we do here, which is of course, selling clothes with the added bonus of being able to enjoy the services of a micro-café while you shop. The fact that the store is also available for rent and has played host to a few exhibitions and our semi-regular brew day only further complicates matters in the issue of "what exactly do you people do here?".
If I could start over again, I think a lot of our focus would have gone on creating a compelling retail experience first and foremost, maximising the amount of space available for commerce as opposed to having a lot of solely experiential elements.
The brands we stock are already an unknown quantity in the retail landscape here, so providing as low a barrier to entry as possible is something that I think would have helped us a bit more in the first year of operation.
What people want
People want to blend in, in a special way.
This is something that I understood in a vague sense, but it is extremely important when it comes to actually making purchases for sale.
Stranger was never conceived as being a mainstream store and I don't think anybody comes to shop at Stranger expecting to get clothing they can find anywhere else.
Another thing that I think may have been working against us was the volume of clothing and the variety of items that we have in the store. From a business perspective, we need to have more stock so that we can sell enough to make a profit and from a consumer psychology angle, we also need more stock in order to provide our customers with enough choice.
When it is possible to have a look at all the stock in the store in one or two visits, a potential customer has less of an incentive to come back to the store. Our stock does not refresh as often as it does in a fast fashion retail outlet and so it is easier to "bore" people. We aim to address this, without hopefully affecting our philosophical approach to slowing down the typical consumption habits associated with the high street in the near future. More stock is number one on this list.
The second on the list is more of a range in the prices of the goods we stock. We never set up Stranger to be a typical luxury goods store, even though a lot of our product is priced accordingly. I would personally love it if people would come into our store curious about what they could find and not with preconceptions about the pricing. Having more of a variety in the price points should help with this I hope.
One of the problems with fulfilling this item on the list is the paucity of brands that are interesting to me from a design and thematic angle within what I would consider a reasonable price range ($50 - $350). I am still keeping an eye out though and also exploring other options including starting our own in-house brand.
The Magenta Room
The Magenta Room has so far been pretty successful and is arguably even more famous than the store itself. This is an interesting side effect of the way we had been marketing Stranger. For the coming year, we have decided to augment the services available in the café in order to provide more reasons to stay in the space itself.
We are also looking at being able to separate the two entities. The Magenta Room and Stranger so that people do not think of the former as being the main function of the store itself. We will probably approach this via branding and communications first before anything material.
Overheads and opening times
We are revising our opening times. We have been tweaking this over the year, and I think I have reached a compromise that will work both for reducing our overheads in terms of staffing costs, energy consumption and general wear and tear on the electrical and mechanical components in the store space itself.
The original plan was to only be open by appointment. This way I could control the way people encountered the clothing and ensure that one-on-one time could be had with all of the clients that come in.
However, after some consultations with various business owners, I was advised that Nigerians would not respond favourably to this and so we began opening from 12noon to 6pm. Not too long after this, it turned out that a lot of people only showed up on the weekends or later in the day. Work, traffic and the location of the store - far from any major commercial centres in the city close to the work hubs - made it difficult for people to just "pop in" to either browse, have tea, coffee or have a chat. In order to better address this we moved ur opeing times forward to 3pm and closing at 9pm. Not only was this new opening time more trouble for the staff, who lived on the mainland of Lagos, it turned out it was taking a toll on me. I still had to get up early in the morning due to having other work to attend to before the store opened for the day.
However, more customers found they could pop in which was nice.
The new opening times are going to be a reflection of further customer feedback and with an aim to reduce our overheads a bit more.
We will be opening from Thursday to Saturday generally from 3pm - 9pm and Sunday from 1pm - 6pm. From Monday - Wednesday we will only be open by appointment.
I feel this allows us to still cater to customers that really know what they want and reduce the amount of deadtime in the week when to be honest, our numbers are not that great.
I am pretty excited about the feedback we have gotten to the store and the space itself. Getting emails, whatsapp messages and more from various satisfied customers - some of whom I now consider my friends - has been a great source of happiness and makes me believe that there is definitely a market for something in this vein.