Post-quake women want dresses
Women's fashion is arguably the most competitive sector in retail, and survival requires a mix of savvy and steel. Christchurch fashion retailer Lynn Woods has both. TAMLYN STEWART reports.
Lynn Woods started her career 35 years ago, selling Auckland label Trish Gregory from a studio attached to her home.
Woods says it was her mother who instilled in her a love for fashion, and her father her head for business.
"I have always had a love for fashion, a love of beautiful fabrics; natural fabrics like silks and cottons."
Suddenly widowed at 42, Woods found herself in what she describes as a "not great financial situation", with two teenage daughters to support.
"So what happened was I decided I probably needed to branch out."
She opened a "tiny little store" in Victoria St and remembers being worried about how she was going to pay the $300 weekly rent.
However, loyal customers followed her and that customer base is the key to her success, Woods says.
For the first year she ran the business alone, working six days a week.
She "had to cope", she says. Anything less was simply out of the question, but her worries were short-lived. The business was a hit.
"In those days I used to go to France and bring in quite a lot of French clothing,'' she says.
''I used to bring in these beautiful white French shirts and things like that."
Daughter Loryn Kazianis remembers Saturdays in the store being "completely crazy". It was "cash and wrap".
Those were good years for retail.
The business outgrew its original store and moved into her current Lynn Woods store in Victoria St 19 years ago. It went from strength to strength.
In 2007 she opened a second boutique, Aria, in High St, which became her flagship Trelise Cooper store in 2009. She lost that store in the February 2011 earthquake.
"I was devastated to lose that because it was a beautiful shop. I really put a lot into the fitout of that store and I loved High St. I thought it was a fun street," she says.
When she was able to reopen in Victoria St on April 18, 2011, Woods shifted her Trelise Cooper brand into her Victoria St store, which was "hugely successful", until she set up a Trelise Cooper store in the Re:Start container mall in October last year. But trading there has been difficult.
"When it's a beautiful sunny day and people are out and about it's fantastic, but I certainly found the winter hard in there," she says.
"Really, sales-wise it's very difficult. If you get a wet, cold day you actually don't get anybody."
Kazianis puts it more bluntly. "Winter was terrible."
When Re:Start winds up this year, Woods will bring the Trelise Cooper brand back to her Victoria St store and consider her options before committing to a new site.
Kazianis, who has a degree in marketing and recently returned to Christchurch from Taranaki, remastered the Lynn Woods website and launched its online store in July last year, along with the most aggressive marketing campaign the business has carried out.
That was how the business had held its own in 2012, Woods said.
Online retailing has taken off, with most orders coming from Australia and rural New Zealand.
Sales average about $1500 a week and about 80 per cent of visitors to its website are using it as an appro service, or looking at items before coming in to the store to try them on.
"We did realise if we didn't go online we would be left behind," Woods says.
"You have to be out there marketing yourself all the time."
One of the challenges is a misperception that Christchurch does not have a wide selection of high-end fashion, leading shoppers to go overseas or to Auckland and Wellington to shop instead.
That poses a risk for local businesses, Woods says.
"They've got to support local retailers. If they don't, they won't have them."
December sales were above year-ago levels but overall sales were still slightly below pre-quake levels.
There is a definite attitude in Christchurch of "Hey, we're living for today", and Woods can see that in what women want to wear.
So what do women want?
"In general, I feel people are more positive; the women are a lot happier,'' she says.
"We've been averaging selling about 30 to 40 dresses a week. People want dresses, they want to feel good. I could have done with a shop full of dresses. And they want colour."
Having both daughters, Amanda and Loryn, work in the business with her has been special.
Loryn heads the online sales, while Amanda works part-time on the shop floor.
"Having my two daughters working in the business ... I quite love. I don't think they ever want to take it over, but I've enjoyed having them here."
Woods, who has four grandchildren, is now serving the daughters and granddaughters of her first customers.
"My favourite customer is 92 years old, a woman who lives in the Russley Retirement Village who I've looked after for years. I just love her and she still comes in shopping with me. She's gorgeous."
The year after the February 2011 quake was the toughest in Woods' career because of the decisions that had to be made and the sense of "sink or swim".
Looking back, Woods says, perhaps she could have done with a mentor.
Even after 35 years in the game there are still things she can learn, she says.
For a while after the quakes people had felt there was nowhere special to go in Christchurch and they had nothing to dress up for or didn't want to dress up.
But that has changed. "There are things going on;new bars, things happening."
The business has picked up a lot of new customers in the past year, Woods says; women with young families whose husbands are part of the rebuild of the city.
Sales are picking up, but getting the buying right is key.
The business has just employed a new buyer and will concentrate on buying next year, staying competitive by stocking exclusive labels in 2013.