Retailer Q&A: The Pud Store founder Frances Bishop

Independent childrenswear retailer The Pud Store was founded by Frances Bishop in 2014 and specialises in past-season designer clothing for boys and girls.

The company currently operates four stores in the North of England, in Mansfield, Newark, Doncaster and Sheffield and also trades via a Facebook page with 17,000 members.

Entrepreneur Bishop is a working mother who says her target demographic is simply ‘mums’. She was a hotly-tipped contender on the BBC’s The Apprentice show in 2016 and won the Entrepreneur of the Year in the 2018 Nottingham Post Women in Business Awards, among a host of other business accolades. Retail Connections had the pleasure of catching up with her in May 2019: 

  • How easy is it to work with designer kids wear brands? Are they nervous about being over-exposed through your stores and social media channels? 

I used to take it really personally when I first started – some were particularly awful. They just saw me as a university dropout married to a footballer trying to do something to fill her time. Sometimes I would get dismissed before I would even start a pitch. That hurt. Now though as we get bigger, we have more influence where people are really listening to what I have to say. Brands now see us as a channel to a new customer base and we have the reports to show we create full price shopping with brands after a customer has bought via outlet. Because we respect our brands, customers then learn all the facts under the sun about them! I think the biggest surprise for brands is how aware our competitors are of us, and within hours of doing a deal they’ll be getting calls. But the fact is, we are ordering 18-50 of a size; we are only getting bigger and most now can really get on board with what we are doing. I suppose the biggest compliment has been iDo Minicof allowing us to stock all their outlet stock here in the UK – that was a massive deal for me and a sign that we are starting to “play with the big boys”.

  • As a discount children’s fashion outlet, do you feel The Pud Store offers a sustainable way to make the best use of existing stock, allowing for a ‘greener’ supply chain for designer kids wear?  

Absolutely. Sometimes we get offered stock which has been sitting in warehouses for a couple of years – that’s really alarming. In the past brands would rather over-produce to hit factory minimums and then sit on the stock in warehouses across the UK, or if an international brand delivered late into the UK, that stock would never see the light of day. TK Maxx has built a huge business based on this buying pattern alone. More and more though, brands are now coming to me saying the factory minimum is 500 units, can you take 100 for example without the labels.

I think the worrying factor is though the amount of plastics still used in fashion. Some suppliers will send us children socks individually wrapped in plastic per pair – we sell around 30,000 units of socks a year – so imagine that across the UK! Brands need to be looking into more sustainable ways to dispatch their garments into stores without so much plastic use. I’ll often tell brands not to bother sending plastic hangers as we reuse wooden across the business. Little changes like that can make a bigger impact in the long run. I have to say as well, two the shopping centres we trade in have a fantastic recycling programme and work hand-in-hand with their retailers – Four Seasons in Mansfield work tirelessly to limit waste. That’s got to be championed.

  • You talk a lot about offering a personal service for your customers, similar to the days of traditional retailing when shopkeepers really knew their customers. How do you achieve this, and what technology do you use to manage your customer database and cross-channel communications? 

Gosh – we are very simple from the core of the business right through to the shop floor – and you know what – it works. I’m dyslexic, and I struggle sometimes when things are unnecessarily over complicated for no such reason – and the way that we use technology is pretty simple to be honest! We use interactive spreadsheets which update across all the store computers so each store can see exactly what the other store is doing, and orders can easily then be transferred from store to store. It also keeps a record of 6 months history of what each customer has bought so it means we are knowledgeable about a client’s size they buy or who they are buying for. Don’t get me wrong, technology is great, but I’m really old fashioned and I like that personal element in stores where they remember your name, you aren’t talking to a self-service checkout screaming “ITS NOT IN THE BAGGING AREA!”. I rarely do any of my admin online, I’d rather pick up the phone and talk to someone. These are the principles which run through the DNA of the business.

  • What do you look for when deciding on a new location for a store? What criteria do you feel is essential before you commit to a store unit? 

For me it comes down to people. I love to get to know people and the team I would be working with and my colleagues. I don’t like faceless corporations as the real issues are never really then dealt with – I like to know who I’m talking to. The last 2 shops I was approached by the landlord, and something just clicks where I know it’s right for us. A suitable “pud” feels like home to me. I’m really superstitious and if I see a small sign when I’m visiting a potential unit like a green wall or a white feather – I know it’s right. I know that might make me sound crazy but that’s just me!! I also of course, make sure the deal is right and the rates etc are within our budget. We work on the old formula that we must be taking 10 times our overheads to be viable. Apart from that – we look at our neighbours. We seem to be close to Greggs a lot of the time! And then parking for my colleagues – that’s a big factor for me.

  • What has been the biggest challenge for you in driving sales growth for The Pud Store? 

I’m not sure really – it just comes naturally. I think if you have to force it too much then either the product or location aren’t quite right. Each of the stores are stronger on different lines and I rely upon my colleagues to make sure they’re always being honest and upfront with me. If we buy in something that’s not working – I usually get a call the same day! That’s the culture which ‘drives’ sales I guess.

  • Do you have plans to expand the business internationally – in particular would you open stores abroad?

Maybe – If I need some sunshine perhaps! I’ve been asked a lot to open in Scotland, but the business is still young and I like to be around a 90 min drive from any of my stores. I’m a Mum first and foremost so it’s really important I’m not always on the road and I can try and find a balance.

Frances Bishop is speaking at the BRC’s upcoming event, Reinvention Retail, which is taking place on 22 May, 2019 at Etc. Venues Monument, London

Find out more here.

Read our preview of the event here.





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