Bespoke tailoring firm Norton & Townsend has secured a three-month lease in the centre of Birmingham for just £1 and claims to be pioneering a revolutionary retail model.
Austen Pickles, chief executive of Norton & Townsend, said rock-bottom prices enabled small independent businesses to finally get a foothold in the high street.
Although the recession has forced many familiar faces to close, such as Woolworths, The Pier and Borders, Pickles believes their failure and the subsequent slump in rents has paved the way for businesses like his to flourish.
Pickles is looking at more than a dozen sites across the country to do the same – and all for £1.
Pickles said his ability to open on the high street offered a wealth of opportunities for the business.
“We are travelling tailors in that we will go to wherever the customer is, whether that’s in the workplace or at home,” he said.
“However, the malaise in the high street opens up a whole new dimension – enabling us to raise the profile of our brand and giving us the opportunity to appeal to a hugely diverse demographic.
“We’ve only been open a matter of weeks and already we have been bowled over by the level of support we have received,” he said.
“It seems customers are tired of the mass-market offerings where service is bottom of the agenda. They come to us not only because they want something bespoke but also because they know they will get looked after from the minute they walk through the door.
“We may be old-fashioned in our approach but our customers have a real affection for the independents, particularly as this sector bore the brunt of the recession. Maybe the big boys should take a leaf out of our book for a change?”
Pickles said consumers will benefit from this power shift. As well as empty units being filled, a huge number of new brands will be brought to their attention.
“Five years ago the high street was full of the same faces. It didn’t matter where you went in the country, everywhere looked the same. But now, with the return of the independents, customers will have so much choice. It may change every three or six months but that’s part of the fun.”
Norton & Townsend already has showrooms in Salts Mill, Bradford; and London’s Spitalfields. Its store in Birmingham’s Great Western Arcade could be followed by openings in Manchester, Newcastle, Plymouth and Cardiff among others.
Pickles said: “We’re delighted to be in a beautifully historic part of Birmingham and indebted to the landlord for giving us an opportunity to see whether this is viable in the long term.
“But whether we have a store or not, Norton & Townsend will be in Birmingham for good, offering impeccable clothes and an unbeatable service to all our customers.”
Jonathan Cheetham, chair of Retail Birmingham, said: “Birmingham has justly gained an international reputation as a leading shopping destination, with over 1,000 retailers, of which one in 10 are independents. Retail Birmingham recognises the importance of the city’s independent offer and the part such retailers play in creating a unique and vibrant shopping experience for its visitors.
“As an organisation at the heart of nurturing and promoting the retail offer within the city, we will continue to support the valuable initiatives put in place to attract such retailers, while also encouraging shoppers and visitors alike to explore and enjoy the vast range of hidden gems we have to offer here. As such, we welcome Norton & Townsend as a valuable addition to our city and look forward to working with them moving forward to support their business wherever possible. ”