When you think of Shepherd’s Bush, your mind might automatically shift to the massive Westfield shopping centre.
However, a stone’s throw away sits Stuarts London, one of West London’s oldest independent retailers.
The menswear shop started off as a tailor in the mid 60s, making made to measure trousers and suits but has managed to adapt with the times.
Stuarts’ manager Harvey Singh didn’t mince his words when Retail Gazette asked how it felt to still in operation after 50 years.
“Independents have closed up shops and gone or they’ve been bought up by larger retailers like Mike Ashley (or the) Arcadia Group – so it’s good to still be here,” he said.
In the 70s and 80s Stuarts evolved into football casual wear retailer, then moved into Italian-inspired fashion when it was popular in the 90s.
“Fashion goes in one big circle, the shop adapts with that rather than just focusing on one particular thing,” Singh reflected.
“As trends change, you’ve got to change with the environment, with fashion.”
There’s no doubting that Stuarts has evolved from its earlier years. In the video below, founder Stuart Murray is seen discussing the retailer back in the 80s.
Singh said there was never any hesitation to change and evolve with the times.
“You just have to embrace it,” he said.
“Those who didn’t, you know where they are now, those stores are long gone.”
Singh said Stuarts’ strong base of loyal customers has also boosted the business overtime. So much so, that some who have been coming into the store for 30 years and are now bringing in their children.
It’s no secret that the retail climate has become increasingly difficult in recent years, and for independent retailers this can be keenly felt with rise of fast fashion chains and online shopping.
While Stuarts initially raked in more profits from its own online store, Singh said the store has now become a more integral part of the business, as “people are being more wise with their money and how they spend it”.
Singh also believes one of the key differences between independent and chain retailers is the unique customer service the former can offer, an aspect in which he believes Stuarts excels.
“You don’t get that type of one-to-one service,” he told Retail Gazette, pointing to the priority of profits in many chains as an example.
“There could be 300 employees working the floor but that one-to-one that you get where someone takes you round the store, kits you out in a nice outfit and gives you a good opinion – that’s what’s lacking in a lot of these bigger stores.
Singh went on to highlight how larger department stores were undercutting independent retailers by taking on brands that they can’t sell.
He said they buy in bulk, but because they don’t always have the appropriate clientele they “put it on sale before its even sold”.
“In that sense, it ends up destroying the brand as there’s so much stock and it always ends up in an outlet,” he said.
One might think having a shopping centre so close to Stuarts would have an adverse impact the business, but Singh insists on opposite – pointing to how it has helped revitalise the area and attract more shoppers.
“Shepherd’s Bush is a lot more affluent than what it used to be so there’s better customers in the area,” he explained.
“I don’t think the store would be doing as well if it wasn’t for Westfield, a lot of businesses actually rely on those customers coming in here and on the shopping centre today.”
As part of Stuarts’s 50th anniversary two years ago, the retailer collaborated with some of the world’s most recognisable brands – including Barbour and Fred Perry – to create exclusive products.
While Singh was proud of reaching the milestone, for him the better highlights are his customers and their feedback.
“If it wasn’t for the customers we have I don’t think we’d be in the position that we are today,” he reflected.
“It is due to all the loyal and the new customers that we have as well.
“For an independent it’s all down to word of mouth.
“Customers who get a good service and go tell their friends and family really helps the business.”