Retail

Published: November 19, 2021 | Updated: November 20, 2021

Still standing: How the pandemic gave Nicola time to re-evaluate and change her business

Nicola Sheppard, Owner, CC of Wimborne: “Fashion is in my blood.” Picture: Dorset Biz News.
By Andrew Diprose, editor

Nicola Sheppard believes fashion runs through her veins.

She said: “My mother was a tailoress and I used to make clothes for my dolls.

“Fashion is in my blood.

“I love dressing ladies to help make them look and feel amazingly confident.”

As the owner of ladies clothing boutique, Classy Collections in Wimborne, that’s exactly what she does.

Day in, day out.

But the world of retail in 2021 is very different from 28 years ago when Nicola established the now rebranded CC of Wimborne in East Street.

She said: “We had seven boutiques in the town – three in this street, alone.

“I’m now the last one in Wimborne still standing.

“I’ve had to take a long hard look at the business and make changes.

“Without those changes I think the business would have slowly died.”

As with so many, it was the pandemic which acted as the catalyst for a total rethink.

Nicola – known to many of her customers as Nikki – said: “I’m very fortunate to have a large and very loyal customer base.

“But many were ladies of a certain age and, like all of us, they were getting older.

“To survive we really had to lower our age profile while, of course, retaining the goodwill and loyalty of our existing customers, some of whom have been with us for nearly 30 years.

“You can get stuck in a rut and, in normal times, be too busy working on the business rather than thinking about it.

“The pandemic gave me time to re-evaluate the business.”

And the result of her deliberations?

Nicola decided to adopt a trendier approach.

The shop was rebuilt with a new front and logo while some labels were dropped in favour of others, such as Canadian clothing label Joseph Ribkoff, with huge followings.

A minimalist window display, changed every week, succeeded in attracting more passing custom while new Facebook and Instagram accounts started bringing the business to the attention of an online audience.

Underpinning the changes, though, has been the unwavering devotion of Nicola, and her colleagues Heather, Sarah, Lisa and Tracie, to customer service.

She said: “I want my customers to feel totally comfortable with their purchases.

“I’d rather they walk out of the shop with nothing than be unhappy.

“I’m always very honest if I’m asked for my opinion and I try to go out of my way to help people.

“It is the customer service that brings people back time and again.

“I think we also help women achieve that difficult balance of dressing in an age-appropriate way but not looking old before their time.”

Within two years of establishing the business, Nicola won the Drapers Record (now known as just Drapers) award for Independent Retailer of the Year.

The trophy, pictured with Nicola, still occupies pride of place in the shop which also offers full alteration services.

Twenty-six years after winning the award and Nicola said the changes brought in this year had succeeded in bringing in a lower age profile customer while also retaining her existing client base.

She said: “The changes have paid off.

“They could have gone the other way but I had to do something.

“The business is my life and I do work really hard.

“But I get a lot of satisfaction and feel I’m doing something right.”

As for the future, Nicola said: “Wimborne – and East Street in particular – is looking better than ever.

“I feel very positive.

“There’s still a place for businesses like mine.

“I hope to be here for many more years to come.”