The Ipswich retail family who say it’s easier to trade now than it was 20 years ago
- Credit: Archant
With their four different stores all on the same street, the Mannings have probably done more than any other family to boost Ipswich’s independent retail offering.
Despite the doom and gloom that hangs over the sector, for them, business has been booming.
The family has owned The House in Town and Maud’s Attic for the last 22 years, and recently opened Merchant House Interiors, plus the pop-up Harry Potter store selling memorabilia from the legendary book and film - all along Ipswich’s St Peter’s Street, which is now bustling with independent traders.
Matriarch Wendy Childs has managed to maintain her business through some of the toughest trading conditions over the last two decades.
She started her shop Maud’s Attic, 22 years ago when there was only one other retail shop along St Peters Street. Believing it would be a temporary measure, Wendy took out a three-month lease on the shop where she sold second-hand goods and antiques.
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However, despite her expectation, customers kept bringing in their antiques for her to sell on.
One year turned into ten, but with the advent of the internet, competition arose from high street brands investing in online stores.
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Fashions and trends began to change – antiques were no longer in popular demand, but Scandinavian flat pack designs were gaining momentum.
However, Ms Childs realised that the internet didn’t offer a retail ‘experience’, which she claims is her “USP”.
“Being a small independent shop meant I could easily adapt to the market and what our customers wanted,” she says. “I knew the internet wasn’t for me – it didn’t fit my model, but I had to do something. So I changed my offering considerably.”
These days, Ms Childs’ clients know they can come into her store with an evening dress and Ms Childs will help source the perfect accessory. She only sells two to three of each item, so they are fairly unique and won’t be found on the high street or the internet.
“Clients like exclusivity” she says. “Although they say the high-street is in decline, our street has grown with independent stores.
“It is easier to trade now than it was 20 years ago, especially if you provide a shopping experience that can overcome the challenges being faced by retailers today.”
Ms Child’s son John Manning, founder and owner of ‘The House In Town’, claims his store also capitalises on the uniqueness of it’s products. “You can’t walk into a major high-street furniture store and walk out the same day with a dining table and chairs.
“If you see it, you can buy it, and we can also deliver and install.
“If we can do it on the same day, then we will.
“We have had a huge increase in custom from tourists who repeat their visits to the town and our shops annually- we have got to know our customers well over the years and our ability to provide a unique shopping experience rewards us with their repeat loyalty and business.”
While the stores are family run, they are all independent of each other – if one wants to expand, it has no effect on the others trading.
However, each member of the family supports the other with the day to day management and running of the shops and on a wider level.
John has recently re-branded Merchant House Interiors, selling mostly products from Culinary Concepts of London, a few doors down from The House in Town.
And in October, John’s elder brother Robert Manning opened a Harry Potter shop, which is the latest addition to the retail offering on St Peters Street.
“Retail is hard work and you have to be prepared to do the hard stuff, 24/7, and in the early days do it all yourself,” he says. “You have to establish your process before you can let someone else do the work for you.
“If I ever stop being passionate about my shop and what we do, then it will be time to give it up and move onto something new.
“But for the time being I am loving it and I can honestly say that what we have here is unique – I spend many weekends visiting other towns and cities around the UK and this street is a hidden retail gem.
“Nowhere else really has this offering.”