Anna Grotkamp, founder of specialist resort and swimwear boutique and e-commerce business, B London Boutique shares her experiences and advice on finding a niche, finding a location and finding the right brands as well as branching out into new areas and new geographies.
Tell us a bit about your background and what led to you to opening B London Boutique?
I used to work in events management but always had a passion for travel; I would travel a lot for leisure as I have family all over the world and often struggled to find good quality, and flattering, resort and swimwear all year round so B London was born.
When did you set up the store and what was your vision for it? You have a very particular niche?
I founded B London Boutique, initially a one stop boutique of spa, luxury swim and resort wear, four years ago. The vision was to offer beauty & resort wear all under one roof so you could get completely holiday ready in one place. As time has gone on, the boutique gained its own following as a beauty salon, but now we have expanded into homeware, accessories and are soon to be launching our own label brand.
You are in Barnes, which is an affluent, area. Did you look at other locations and what was it about this one that appealed?
I initially looked in Wimbledon and Richmond, but my sister went to school in Barnes and it had a much more personal feel and smaller community. It is so close to Hammersmith but still has a sense of being a Village, which appealed. Also, having two very well-known Private Schools there with long school holidays and parents that travelled a lot, which meant we already had our target audience on the doorstep.
How did you go about getting the brands on board – was that a challenge?
Yes, getting brands on board at first was a challenge. No luxury brand wanted to be stocked in an unknown boutique and take the risk. As my business was brand new, it was difficult to secure established brands that were already stocked in successful boutiques and also had their brand name to protect. A lot of brands said no in the beginning but I would persevere and try to contact the designers and founders directly to try and meet with them. I would never take the first ‘No’ as a final answer, but it took a lot of tears and thick skin to pursue.
What about your e-commerce offer, was that set up at the same time as the store?
Our e-commerce site launched around 6 months after the store opened. There were a lot of delays and a lot to learn with software and content management. I had very little knowledge of websites at the time so it was a massive learning curve.
You have an outpost in Ibiza; that seems like a smart move. Tell us about that and when and how you set that up.
We wanted to expand but were more or less unable to in London due to selling restrictions; most luxury brands won’t allow independent boutiques to sell the same brand within a two-mile radius, so it meant we couldn’t go to Hampstead, Notting Hill or Chelsea, so we started looking further afield.
I have been going to Ibiza since I was a small child and always had a dream of living there so it seemed like a natural decision. We opened there three years ago, but again, it was a massive learning curve as there is a lot of red tape in Spain and different rules and regulations – aside from finding a suitable space – so it took 18 months to plan and execute.
How long did it take for the business to really gain traction and how did you go about raising awareness and sales?
It probably took a good two years; we were very active on social media from the start so that definitely helped us build brand awareness and generate sales.
We understand that you have something of a keen celebrity following, how did you attract that?
Again, it was probably through social media, as well as the brand mix we had on offer. Alongside that, a few of our celebrity clients live in Barnes.
What has been your biggest success/your most rewarding moment as an entrepreneur?
Seeing Ibiza open every summer still excites me and is rewarding as so many people were initially very negative towards the idea; as Ibiza was deemed very ‘hippy’ and we had a lot of people voice their doubt that our brands would sell there, given the price and style. I think one of the most memorable moments is still traveling to New York and seeing someone with a ‘B London’ tote in the Meatpacking District.
Independent retail is tough (as is all retail in fact), would you advise others with an idea to give it a go still and what advice would you offer them?
It can be very tough, and continues to change all the time. Social media is still rapidly growing and a lot of people nowadays are using that to make purchases rather than the traditional magazines, so being on top of all those changes are vital. I would suggest anyone wanting to go into it, to invest heavily in online and social media strategies and steer towards that rather than Brick and Mortar as your market is the world and you’re not reliant on footfall.