Gift Focus - Jan/Feb 2020 (Issue 117)

62 of years. And we have a great rate of referrals from existing customers to other retailers. The product ranges have evolved over the years, using customer feedback as one of our key inspirations. Scarves and packaging are both developments that came about after listening to our customers. The journey has been hard work but enjoyable. I can quite easily say I have two babies, both of whom are called Milly! What challenges have you overcome? Miss Milly was not started under the easiest of circumstances. Firstly, it was mid-recession and there was also a lot of emotional upheaval and legal wrangles separating the previous business and moving on. I was due to launch at Autumn Fair but the business separation agreement wasn’t signed until the day before so I didn’t know if I would even have any legacy stock available. I lived, breathed and dreamed Miss Milly, my curtain poles had jewellery hanging off them, and I was getting used to my daughter being at school and curtailing the work day at 3pm with the school run. Life was chaotic! The first year was definitely the hardest and most certainly an adventure but luckily, I had the foundations to build on. Outside of my marketing background, I had developed my other business skills through necessity; how to import, building websites, working with couriers and payment process providers and book-keeping, amongst so many more. Do you use factories abroad and if so what are the pros and cons? Yes, all our stock is manufactured abroad to our design specifications. Cost is our primary reason for manufacturing abroad. Our style of accessories wouldn’t be achievable at suitable price points in the UK. The factories we work with overseas are well established and specialists in their field, and they also look to continually update processes and styles, helping us stay ahead. The main disadvantage is that if there’s an issue it can be much harder resolving it over email and Facetime than it would if we could hop in the car and drive a few hours to work it out in person with samples in front of us. We have visited all of our factories and carried out our own inspections. Miss Milly is run on an ethical basis; we pay our suppliers a 30 per cent deposit to cover their material costs with the balance paid on completion of production. Our relationships are strong and reliable, and we don’t feel the need to withhold funds until delivery for any of our current partners. Describe your product offering. Miss Milly is principally known for colourful, reasonably priced jewellery in resin and paint. “We are looking to add more colour to our ranges” is something that we hear repeatedly at trade shows from new and potential customers. And we work hard to get our seasonal palettes just right. There’s a big difference between using a standard red offered by a manufacturer and selecting your own subtly different shade that will sell far better. This autumn we had a raging success with orange, a very tricky colour to use in jewellery. Whilst we keep up with the trends, we’re not a fashion first brand and our products are more timeless than trendy. We back- up the jewellery with accessory ranges, including scarves, purses and keyrings, helping customers create in-store displays and increasing transaction values. What are your most popular products? Our flagship range is the Floria Collection, the aforementioned colourful resin, paint and enamelled jewellery. We have experimented with all sorts of other styles but this is our mainstay. It encompasses all forms of jewellery, from necklaces, earrings and bracelets to rings, brooches and, more recently, scarf pins, which will be launching at Spring Fair. We’re also working on a range of resin cufflinks, our first products for men, which we hope to introduce in 2020. Have any products taken you by surprise with their popularity? Yes, the Starburst Necklace, a multicolour flower pendant, was one of our first designs and sold continuously well for a few years. Then it slowed down a bit and we stopped it as it really wasn’t in keeping with the brand style any longer. But we had so many requests for it that we brought it back, three times in fact. It’s not in the catalogue for 2020 but you never know. It’s very hard to juggle updating the colours of good sellers with introducing enough new designs. We invariably disappoint somebody with a discontinued line or two each season but we can’t possibly carry everything. Our animal keyrings and bag charms have been a great hit over the last couple of seasons, and we are looking to update the range for 2020 but sausage dogs will most definitely remain! How do you keep your designs current? How often do you launch new lines? Keeping up with fashion predictions and trends is a key part of pulling the collections together and, as I said before, whilst we aren’t fast fashion, we do pay careful attention to what’s happening and work with those that are relevant to our brand and market. Our main market is gifting and there’s a slight lag in uptake here compared to the fashion stores. A few seasons ago we knew stars were going to be big news so made sure to include some in our designs but they didn’t start to sell through until a season later. We have two main seasonal launches a year: spring/summer and autumn/winter. We tried a high summer launch as well but it didn’t really pay dividends so now we stick to the two main periods although we might play around with some colours and styles in our restock orders. How do you predict trends? It’s all about keeping an eye on what’s going on in fashion, homes and life in general. Social media is so much more key now to identifying trends and it’s hard to find time in the working week to do enough research. For colours, we look at the catwalks and forecasters, and for general trends we try to keep our eyes and ears open at all times. What sets you apart from your competitors? Everything really boils down to the appeal