A northern seaside town may not be the first place you associate with cutting edge fashion – but that’s exactly what the owners of The Priory, Vince Clarke and Leo Jarvis, want you to think. Rebecca Jackson finds out more about the menswear store that’s changing the retail face of Bridlington.
Coming from a fashion background, Vince Clarke worked in sales at VF Corporation before setting up menswear destination store, The Priory. With an aim to create something different and an existing knowledge of the industry, Clarke decided on a northern setting for the store. After narrowing the selection down to a few options, the east Yorkshire seaside town of Bridlington was the winning location.
“Bridlington is 80 per cent cheaper than Beverley and York, which were the other options, and I thought there would be more opportunities as there weren’t any good indies locally. I thought it would help me have a more rounded view of the whole industry,” explains Clarke.
Clarke brought Leo Jarvis on board shortly after. After finishing university, Leo says the move was an easy decision, especially when, he admits, World of Warcraft was taking up most of his time. Jarvis brought a new direction to the store, steering it away from its gothic and religious connotations and identifying it more with the idea of a rehab clinic. The store uses the image of a pill as a logo on its website and social media channels.
“The religious image just didn’t sit right within our industry and the direction the store was going. I decided to move the focus around a rehab clinic. This reflected the idea of an obsession with footwear and clothing. The fun we could have with it long term was a much more interesting option for us,” says Jarvis.
Opening the store on a shoestring budget in March 2012, Bridlington’s cheaper location was integral to the store’s initial success. However, the area wasn’t exactly known for its thriving selection of independent businesses. With that in mind, the pair also had a strong focus on e-commerce, with their plan B being the goal of having a fully functioning transactional site within the first 12 months.
Despite the success of the bricks and mortar space, e-commerce is a big sales avenue for the store. With a growing online presence, The Priory sees roughly 70 per cent of its takings coming from online. This is expected to grow to 80 per cent this year. Online sales may be integral to the store’s operation, but this does not extend to third party online sales.
“Solid reporting has shown us that third party platforms don’t work for a few reasons: they’re not credible and there aren’t enough good margin sales to cover the fees. And just to make it even harder, it muddles all the data. I am pleased to say now we ship in 800 units most weeks, with 95 per cent of that being on our own e-commerce platform,” says Clarke.
Though it typically creates less revenue, the bricks and mortar store has had an effect on Bridlington’s retail landscape. After the store opened its doors, more independent businesses have opened around it. Now with an art gallery workshop, a coffee shop and a jewellers nearby, the area is on the turn and becoming a pocket of creativity.
“I suppose it’s fair to say we have given the local community a little bit of an insight into how something a bit different from the norm can work in the town,” says Clarke. “Now we’re seeing nicer shops and the overall shopping experience has improved within certain hot spots.”
It quickly became apparent that more space was required to fulfil the needs of the store. Taking on a storage unit just behind the shop to help with stock and goods out seemed like a good idea, though it took only six months to fill. The problem was promptly solved when the pair bought the building next door, which had recently come up for sale. Originally titled Tony’s Textiles, it was a larger space which had demanded a rent to match.
The decision was a financial risk, but it paid off. The extra space allowed more room for expansion and further growth. While to others it may seem like the decision was the result of good business sense and the ability to take a well-evaluated risk, Clarke and Jarvis modestly put it down to convenience. “Everything has happened quite organically due to growth and also buildings coming up at the right time. It’s like our entire setup was meant to happen,” says Jarvis.
Now with too much space for just the retail side of things, the pair decided to diversify the space. Incorporating both a bar and a barbershop, and with the addition of homeware, the larger store operates as a destination store and is filled with different elements under one roof. The brand mix was reorganised, with streetwear separated into the original premises, the smaller space of the two.
Both stores attract a broad range of customers. However, the Victoria Mill store is known as the ‘grown-up’ one of the two, typically offering the likes of Norse Projects, Folk and Oliver Spencer. Meanwhile, brands seen at the Manor Street store include Stussy, Carhartt and The North Face.
“We try not to pigeonhole either store, and we feel this works well,” says Clarke. “We buy brands with solid history, which is a fundamentally good product with fair pricing that hopefully isn’t too ‘hype’. We don’t get involved in fast fashion fads that grow stale quite quickly.”
This year, the store will continue forward with its growth and development. Outerwear is a strong category this a/w 17, and the store is on the lookout for more brands this buying season. Whatever the future holds for the store, it’s certainly bound to not be stale. As Jarvis asserts, he gets bored easily, craving change and always looking for that ‘something else’. “It has its benefits and its downsides,” he says. In this case, it’s almost certainly a benefit.