Home Newcastle The North East entrepreneurs defying the high street gloom

The North East entrepreneurs defying the high street gloom

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Dan Foskett of Connection Flooring

The Entrepreneurs’ Forum is praising its innovative members who are rising from the ongoing high street slowdown by developing a unique and resilient blend of online and in-store shopping experiences.

Connection Flooring, which is based in Shildon, County Durham, grew its turnover to £36.5m this financial year – up £13.5m on the previous 12 months while South Tyneside menswear company Master Debonair has achieved a turnover of £2.5m after it began selling accessories just over three years ago.

Both entrepreneur-led businesses have plans to expand further – bolstered by a huge rise in customer demand for their digital and bricks-and-mortar services.

Jonathan Lamb, chief executive of the Entrepreneurs’ Forum, said: “Sadly, many established high street names are feeling the strain and some are struggling to adapt to a rapidly changing retail landscape.

“Connection Flooring and Master Debonair are examples of innovative businesses which have developed a new and exciting take on traditional retail. Their success should encourage those who value the high street by combining a new approach to digital and in-store experiences.”

Connection Flooring was founded in 2012 as an online business but over the past two-and-a-half years it has opened 16 stores nationwide – with more due in 2020.

Managing director Dan Foskett said: “There’s no doubt that the retail climate is tough, but there is room to grow for businesses that are doing things differently.

“We’ve been able to achieve success with our stores by bringing new ideas and concepts to traditional retail.”

Part of its success is based on the creation of its own transport network, based on nine national hubs, which ensures next day delivery to 98% of postcodes.

The company, which provides customers with three brands – Flooring Superstore, Grass Direct and Direct Wood Flooring – now employs more than 150 people across the UK.

Simon Whitaker founded Master Debonair with wife Eve after the death of his father, due to his frustration at being unable to find a suitable tie clip and pocket square to wear to the funeral.

He began selling menswear accessories via Facebook but after connecting with a suit supplier, he opened a shop in his hometown of East Boldon in 2016. Due to customer demand, it has since expanded its retail space from 1,000sq ft to 3,000sq ft.

Master Debonair, named Best Independent Menswear Retailer 2019 by fashion institute Drapers, has opened a second store in Chesterfield, Derbyshire, and is looking to re-establish a presence in London.

“Our online sales have grown to 30% but bricks-and-mortar remains the major part of the business. People regularly visit us from around the country and that is down to the style of our products and the fantastic retail experience we provide.

“We don’t take any inspiration from other clothing retailers and are focused on giving people self-confidence through our clothing and the warm welcome we offer to everyone.”

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