A new era for Norwich retailer

Another Store is the latest independent shop to close in Norwich. Emma Harrowing meets owner Sean Ward and discovers that the future of independent retail could be online.

Increasing rents and rates and a decreasing footfall are responsible for the latest independent shop closure in Norwich, says retailer Sean Ward.

The 29-year-old from Norwich opened Bespoke Boutique, an independent fashion shop on Lower Goat Lane in the heart of Norwich Lanes, five years ago. Then, in a bold move, he bought homeware shop The Perfect Pad opposite and expanded his business into fashion and homewares under the name Another Store.

It is this store that is set to close next week.

'When I first opened a shop in Norwich Lanes it was really busy, but lately the number of people shopping here has fallen,' says Sean.

'Combine this with paying higher rent, rates and bills and it just doesn't make economic sense to continue trading in a shop.'

Like many retailers, Sean has an online shop, which in contrast to his shop has seen increased sales. It is this online business that Sean intends to expand.

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'I would save about �40,000 a year if I didn't have to pay for the shop,' says Sean. 'Online we are doing really well and this is where all of my energy is going. With that in mind all I have here is a glorified and very expensive office space.'

Sean works with emerging designers worldwide, including a few fashion designers from Norwich. His website acts as a platform for young designers to showcase and sell their work through his online shop.

'Many independent shops in New York have closed their doors in favour of nurturing online stores,' says Sean. 'If people do not shop in independent shops and rent and rates remain high in 20 years' time Norwich will be like any other city with high street stores but no independent shops. The high street can offer people what they want – cheaper prices and year round sales as they have the investment to do this. There should be more financial help available for independents so they can compete – starting with lower rents.'

Having a boutique which people can come and browse and feel the products before they buy is the ideal. A shop window display is a great opportunity to showcase and sell your products, a lesson Sean learned when he entered the Retail Skills Academy at City College Norwich window display competition as part of Norwich Fashion Week in March.

'The competition involved working with a student from City College Norwich to create an innovative shop window display that promoted Norwich Fashion Week and showcased the variety of products we have in store,' says Sean. 'Taking part in the competition was a great experience as working with a student brought fresh ideas to the shop. There should be more competitions like this where students interested in a career in retail can really get involved with a live shop experience. Having an eye-catching window display is like an advertisement for your shop and this is one of the downsides to only having an online presence. The other downside of an online shop is that you don't have the same level of interaction with your customers so it's important to offer a different personal experience. We follow up all our online sales with an email to check that everything is all right and we sometimes add extra items to orders – it's our way of saying thank you for shopping with us.' It is not all doom and gloom among the independent businesses in Norwich. Biddy's tearoom, situated next door to Another Store, will be expanding into Sean's boutique with a homemade cake and chocolate shop to complement the tearoom upstairs. It seems that for some, the traditional way of earning a living is not dead. 'Biddy's is doing really well and it is great that they can expand and offer more to Norwich shoppers,' says Sean. 'It certainly beats the shop laying empty.'

Sean is optimistic about his future online. His website has been rebranded with new name Unconventional and he has a wealth of fashion talent on board enabling customers to buy from emerging designers.

Sean will close Another Store on Friday and to celebrate the opening of his new online shop he is holding an exhibition and pop-up shop in store of some of the up- and-coming designers who will feature in his new boutique.

Sean says: 'It's kind of like a hello and goodbye. Another Store may be closing down, but another store will be opening online.'

A private view of the exhibition and pop-up shop of emerging designers and artists will be held at Another Store on Friday between 5pm and 9pm. The exhibition and shop will run until Monday April 30.