CWB catches up with Anna Swift, director of Cooshoo in Birmingham, and winner of the Best Footwear Store category in the CWB Independent Retail Awards 2016.
What’s an average day in your job?
We still feel pretty new to this business; we’re learning all the time and pushing forward to make it the best that it can be while meeting customers’ needs, so I wouldn’t say there is an average day. I could be fitting shoes, researching and crafting the next marketing campaign, analysing figures, reviewing new products or designing next season’s window display. Recently, I’ve been focused on rebranding Cooshoo, developing a new website and EPOS system and visiting schools to showcase our range of school shoes.
How did you get into retailing?
I’ve worked for myself previously in children’s health, but when I set out on my career path, I never thought I’d be in retail. I’ve trained in interior design, so I appreciate good quality and well designed products, and basically wanted to bring a better offer of children’s footwear to the West Midlands.
What do you love most about your job?
The children, who can be fascinating and hilarious even when they are grumpy. And the challenge of growing a business.
And your least favourite?
Doing the accounts.
What motivates your work?
Moving things forward to build our brand is what drives us. We see customer experience, good products, marketing and networking as the core elements of the business and there is always something new to learn and try in these areas. From the moment we decided to set up as an independent we really believed in what we were offering people and we’re continually striving to improve each element of the company. Setting up a new business in an area we’ve never worked in and where there has been no history of shopping for footwear anywhere other than Clarks, has been pretty difficult. It’s taken time to build a true customer base. There’s been so much to learn, but it is interesting how you can draw on previous experience, apply it to a new profession and see the results.
How did you decide on the shop name?
It took us months to name our children and the shop was no different. We created a huge list and narrowed it down to Nushoo or Cooshoo. Nushoo would have used the first syllables of our eldest daughter’s name (Nuala) but we didn’t want our youngest (Doris) to feel left out. So we liked that Coo, as in you ‘coo’ over something, rhymes nicely with shoo.
Do you have a business mentor?
Six months ago I applied for and was accepted to the Entrepreneurial Spark Programme, which supports new businesses to accelerate growth. As part of the programme, you have a dedicated coach who challenges your thinking about your business and capabilities. The programme has been invaluable in helping us reflect on Cooshoo’s model and as a result, we’ve clarified and driven forward a number of areas of the business.
Which independents do you admire?
Katie Fisher, owner of Honest Skincare. She’s not only made her own brand but her own natural skincare products from scratch, she has a beautiful store and sells worldwide. We often meet up to discuss current challenges.
If you launched a brand, what would it be?
I’ve not thought that far ahead, yet…
What would your dream store include?
There’s now clearly a real role for interactive games, both in-store and online – for all ages groups. We have ideas around that, which are in development, but as yet it’s pretty costly.
What’s your strangest customer request?
Not really a request, but we have one toddler and the only way we get him to test his shoes is to let him have the sweeping brush, which he pushes around the store quite happily.
What makes a great customer?
One that accepts there isn’t a standard sizing of shoes, makes decisions based on fit (not just how the shoes look), and those that buy four pairs of footwear and then come back the next quarter and do the same.
Best piece of business advice?
You have to try it to know whether it works.
And the worst?
I don’t know – whatever advice you’re given, ultimately it’s up to you to take it.
Anything you wish you’d known before opening?
The brands that would work for our prospective customers and those that wouldn’t.
What is your greatest career achievement?
Being adaptable and staying positive. When I left university, a stable career for life was still the norm but it’s definitely not nowadays. I meet more people with several hats now, like Tom from Moozi Digital who is currently redeveloping our website. He lives round the corner from me and is one of our customers. He’s a stay at home dad most days, digital guru of an evening and the rest of the time a musician playing all over the world. My career’s not quite as glamorous, I started life as a youth worker – useful for toddler tantrums – then worked for the Department of Health and Regional Government on child health issues before training as an interior designer and starting Cooshoo.
Where do you find inspiration?
My husband, music, art, design – particularly architecture – and there’s just no shortage of inspiration around us from nature, from the back garden to trips abroad. Kings Heath, where we live, is pretty diverse so there’s always something going on to trigger the imagination. We’re really not that embedded in fashion, but we know good design, we have a keen radar for what our customers like, and on the whole, that’s working for us so far.
Where do you see Cooshoo in five years’ time?
With a thriving online presence and expanded to at least another two physical stores.
What difference has being a CWB Independent Retail Award winner made?
To be the winner of the Best Footwear category really strengthens our brand. We’re so proud of the award.