After we set up our store display, we went into some shops selling hats
The stuff in the chains was all much of a muchness. Fairly uninspiring and dull concoctions with sinamay and pointy feathers (pointy in an unthought out way, not in a Rachel T-M way).
Coast had some pretty colours, but the shapes were as uninspired as the rest of the shops (I should add that William Chambers' collection for Coast wasn't in the small store (in fact I haven't seen it yet, other than in pictures)).
One thing we did pick up on was that the headbands all had 'hygiene strips', or tape on the inside, and labels stating that pieces couldn't be returned (statutory rights excepted), if the strip had been removed. Something that's worth remembering for R-T-W pieces that might be sold at fairs, or sent out online, especially if you can work out a way to attach it so that the piece can't be worn without the tape being removed (it'd have to have tailor's adhesive, of course).
On to a shop that only sells hats... it's quite a big shop - double fronted - but the overriding impression that I'm left with of the place is that it's incredibly small. That can only be down to the sheer amount of stuff in the place (several of our group nearly sent things flying from the stands, because there wasn't enough space to get by). It doesn't convey to me the impression of somewhere that I'd want to go to spend a lot of money. It gave me the impression very much of 'pile it high and sell it cheap'. Clearly the retail theories to which most high end stores (particularly expensive designer stores in places like Bond Street and Paris) subscribe have passed them by (i.e. that people are willing to pay more for pieces that have lots of space around them, as though they're in an art gallery (that a gallery-like setting conveys a worth over and above a simple piece of clothing or a simple accessory)).
I know that this shop is making a decent go of it (it's recently been put up for sale, because the owner is retiring, and the published (on the internet) figures estimate a turnover of £100 - £200k per annum, although the net profit is undeclared), so it's hard to argue against the model, (unless the t/o is right at the bottom of the bracket given, it's working for them), but everything about it screamed 'cheap' to me when I walked in the door. Which is a shame, because they had some really nice pieces crammed into the place - some (I think) gorgeous tweed caps, for example, that I could barely see (and certainly couldn't get to), because of the hat racks in front of them, and some really nice big sinamay races hats (but different from the usual dreadful kind), that again, you could barely see because of the mounds of other stuff crammed onto the shelves around them. While I understand the idea that 'if people can't see it they don't know you have it' (although that's never been a problem for me), there is an equal and opposite argument that 'if people can't see it because of the amount of stuff, then it amounts to the same thing as not having it out in the first place'. There is also something to be said for the idea that in trying to sell to everyone, you can drive away the most lucrative potential clients (that old 'you can't please everyone' thing).
The more showy hats, as well as the ones with more detail on them, that looked as though they may be hand made (what appeared to be rolled edges on the trimmings that I couldn't really see properly, etc), were kept well behind the counter, so you had to ask about pricing, presumably, as well as to try them on. That's fair enough, as from a selling point of view, it's better to start a conversation with somebody, as it will increase their spend, as well as their likelihood of buying (based on my experience), and plus it keeps then out of the way of people who will treat them roughly and cause damage (most people don't know how to handle a hat at the best of times).
I found off-putting the repeated large signs strewn along the counter (at least four) stating that 'occasion hats' could not be returned. Maybe they've had trouble with this in the past, (the outrageous idea that you can buy something, wear it once, then return it, is fairly common, as is the erroneous idea that you can return something for a full refund for any reason), but since you actually have no legal right of return in a face to face transaction, (faults excluded), and since presumably the staff will be talking to the customer (and so can explain the store policies to them), surely one sign, or maybe two, discretely placed, would have been enough??!! I have to admit that had I been there to actually buy something, the number of signs that there were would be very likely to make me walk straight out of the shop, (I've walked out of furniture shops that have had similar signage in the past, because in those cases I felt it to be indicative of a certain attitude towards their customers, with which I did not wish to be faced). I've since talked to a handful of people who've been into this shop, thinking of buying a piece, and two of them have walked out based on those signs, and a lack of engagement.
On that engagement thing - I found it odd that nobody said hello to us, or even made eye contact or smiled. We were in there for quite a while. While it is possible that they may have clocked that we were unlikely to be buying hats, or they may have been busy with other things (it was a weekday at about lunch time) I'd expect any smaller shop to take every opportunity to greet anybody who comes through the door, at least with a nod or a smile, because the truth is that you never know. There's a reason that one of the subheadings in Mary Portas's column for the Telegraph magazine is 'was I being served'. (Although to be absolutely fair, it may be that they did and I simply missed it.)
As I said, with the turnover that the shop has, it's hard to argue against the formula, or the set-up, because it clearly seems to be working, and they do have in stock just about every kind of hat you could possibly want to buy, other than a few more obscure / less traditional types - it just feels to me that in order to do them justice they should be in premises twice the size. I also can't help wondering how much of that is built upon the sales talent of the current owner / staff, and / or the loyalty of existing clientele over the years. Or, for that matter, the fact that there is no real competition in the town (many of the chain stores / department stores do not carry any head wear at all, beyond woolly hats in winter and floppy beach hats in summer).
A comment was left by somebody who was apparently upset by my comments in this post. I chose not to publish that comment because I could not verify from whom it came - it may have been somebody at one of the shops of which I've written, it may have been somebody from a different shop entirely, but thinking it was about them, or it may have been a competitor or rival deliberately leaving a message that could have been detrimental to one of the shops.
I felt that given the above, it wouldn't be fair to post the comment, as it did make some very negative statements regarding a large percentage of the customers of one of the shops I wrote about, so I deleted it, although I have edited my original reviews to address some of the points raised.
As a courtesy I have also removed any details regarding the location of the shops, thus making the identification of the places more difficult.