Northampton forward-thinking business sees trader numbers and sales soar
Vintage Guru took a gamble and almost 18 months later the business is thriving
Sixty traders started selling their wares at Vintage Guru in St Giles Street in August 2018, in a bold move many questioned would work.
After 18 months in business owners, Matthew Lewis and Julie Teckman have defied all odds and have made a success of their shop amid endless store closures deemed to be a high street emergency.
The shop promotes itself as a vintage and retro emporium made up of a variety of second-hand clothing, accessories, vinyl records, and homeware. But what is it that makes them different?
Owners say they have weekday London opening hours from 11am to 7pm, work tirelessly to increase their social media presence and they now have 125 traders, 90 of whom rent a space in the store, each with different products that has made the shop into a treasure chest of unique gems.
They are not denying how hard it has been to set up a retail business, though.
They still face obstacles like high business rates, increased parking charges and the town's reputation has been tough.
But it's more than possible to overcome.
Julie said: "We took a gamble and almost 18 months later we are thriving with a loyal and regular customer base that grows every week as people discover us.
"We have an innovative approach to selling that has enabled more than 150 small traders to establish and develop their own businesses within the emporium, and flexible opening hours allow shoppers to visit outside of their own work time. We open until 7pm on weekdays.
"We accept that things have to be done differently in the modern retail business so we have extended our shopping experience to workshops and events in the evening."
Matthew, who once managed The Most Marvellous Place shop, opposite the Jaguar garage, is a trained window dresser while Julie was head of art at Northampton College.
It was their love for vintage clothes that kickstarted Vintage Guru, which at Christmas, saw its sales increase by 20 per cent. In just one week they sold £400 worth of Northampton memorabilia magnets and tea towels alone.
Seventy-five per cent of customers who mooch around their store buy something, according to monthly average figures calculated by their till customer count in 2019.
"There's no point in denying that there are difficulties in setting up a retail business in the current climate, business rates are the equivalent of a full-time member of staff, parking rates that keep increasing and putting people off into coming into town and restrictions on what can be done with the building which prevents us advertising the shop we we would like,” Julie added.
"When we opened Vintage Guru we assumed that our main customer base would be the students who were moving into the town centre with the University of Northampton, but, in reality, our biggest demographic is the over 50s.
”It’s those people who used to shop in Marks & Spencer, BHS and don't want to travel to Milton Keynes or Rushden Lakes to shop and socialise.”
They say footfall isn’t an issue for them though as they see between 120 and 200 visitors a day.
Matthew said: "Sixty per cent of our products are sourced in Northampton or locally made. All of our traders are based in Northamptonshire and the surrounding towns and villages.
“For people who say that everyone is going shopping at Rushden Lakes, well they are not.
“It reflects on the sales we have on a Saturday and Sunday, you can't move in here on a weekend.”