Laura Pipes brought country fashion into the heart of the city when she opened Wild & Westbrooke in October 2018.
But the business wasn’t much more than a year old when Covid struck and plunged retailers into a cycle of lockdowns and reopenings.
Fortunately, Laura had a couple of useful things going for her. A family steeped in retailing experience, and a canny way with social media.
She told us how the pandemic has affected the shop on Lendal, her transition from in store to online sales, and how social media has tripled her customer base.
How did you business start?
I was helping my Dad’s shop, Humphrey & Tilly in Thirsk, with his social media. I noticed a gap in the market for country clothing and footwear in York so I started planning an idea to open a shop during my final year of university.
We opened in October 2018 once I had finished uni and then my partner Ollie Stirk joined me after he finished in the RAF.
Before we took the shop over it used be a suit shop. When my Dad was younger, before he became a tailor, he used to be the manager there whilst my Mum was pregnant with me.
When we bought it, my Dad already knew the ins and outs of the shop’s location and interior, so the building has slowly worked its way back into our family.
We had to renovate the entire building when we bought it as it was really dark and dusty. From July to September we worked non-stop to create space, light and make sure the design was perfect.
How do you describe Wild & Westbrooke?
We are definitely more of country lifestyle shop. We target people who love good quality, classic country clothing rather than catering for country sports.
For example, there is a big increase of people wanting good quality wellies at the moment as everyone is going on walks with their dogs and wanting that tailored fashion that showcases the country lifestyle.
Recently, people are more conscious about sustainability and we sell all country trends such as tweed which can be kept for a lifetime.
What impact did Covid have?
When opened, we had a brilliant first year and in January 2020 we started working on our new website. Unfortunately, we then had to close the shop due to Covid-19 but with our website launched in May of the same year we maintained customer base and gained a lot of following.
When the shop could open, we were working half in store and half online. We opened up our market massively to the whole of the UK. Now our audience isn’t just people visiting York or the locals it’s the entire country.
Is social media important to you?
Instagram and Facebook are great marketing tools. Our growth on social media last year was crazy, I think people are looking to support independents and small businesses.
Also, because of the problems caused by Covid-19 a lot of the big suppliers struggled with stock whereas we had some stock available that perhaps others didn’t. We would then promote this on social media for the customers to buy their favourite items through us.
Our giveaways are also great! We’re lucky to work with brands that have such amazing marketing ideas. Quite often brands will run a competition for the best window display and repost our entry, this will then open us up to customers who live local that may not know about our shop presence.
How have the restrictions affected stock buying?
All of our stock viewings are completed over Zoom. It is really tricky and does make it difficult to see the stock you’re purchasing over video call.
Our spring/summer stock will be the first order to arrive that we haven’t seen or tried in the flesh which is quite nerve-wracking. However, we know all the brands so well along with their quality and so I have every faith in their products and their work.
Normally, this time of year we’d be at clothing exhibitions and shows where we would normally find lovely small, niche brands but we can’t do that at the moment and it is such a shame for those smaller brands who are wanting to get into wholesale.
How did your own brand come about?
It’s a way of introducing different price points into the shop. All our products are made directly through my sister Georgia.
We have a different range of customers and it means we can accommodate to all of them. At seasons like Christmas where people are looking for stocking fillers it means that we can provide it to them for a good price.
We are receiving all our spring/summer 2021 stock very soon so that should be all online shortly. We also currently have free gift wrap for all online orders over £50.
I can’t wait for the day we can re-open our doors safely and welcome back new and existing customers and friends.