Best Shops in Britain: Secondo, Brixton

Customer in Secondo, Brixton

I spent 2009 looking long and hard at empty shops, and where the high street was going wrong. The best bit of all that work was finding the bits where the high street gets it right; the Best Shops in Britain.

While I was sitting in Brixton’s quirky Secondo, I Tweeted that I had found my new favourite cafe in London.

Secondo, though, is much more than that. It’s a vintage clothes shop with a well-stocked bar (a whole cupboard for whisky), a choice of coffee, delicious cake and great company.

There are racks and racks of vintage clothing, with quirky and cute alongside classic cut suits. Shoes, bags, hats … the full works. And lots of it. None of this silly habit some secondhand shops have of just racking out a few nice items. Lots, so you have to get stuck in, rummage and explore.

There are tables and chairs dotted about amongst the racks, so shopping doesn’t have to be hard work. Big comfy battered armchairs too.

I was offered a choice of coffees, without any pretension – just straight coffees with great flavour tips. I had something very chocolately. And was given a free slice of carrot cake as well.

It’s also the kind of place where you can’t help but talk to other customers, although my conversation about a chinchilla fur coat got surreal when a complete stranger (pictured) said it was the kind of coat you’d have to have sex on… like I said, the kind of shop where you talk to other customers.

So what makes Secondo such a success? It’s more than a clothes shop and more than a cafe – it’s more than the two combined. It’s a little bit of lifestyle, a place to spend time rather than shop. It’s on a fairly bleak street (at least when I visited on a cold Wednesday) and it offers a little pocket of warmth and friendship. This is – on a small, independent, off-high street level – destination shopping.

Oh – and the staff are brilliant too.

A New Type Of Local, Independent Shop

I’ve been trying something different for the last six months.

Random Rules was a small, independent music store just off Warwick Street, Worthing’s ‘cafe quarter’. After a promising start about two years ago, sales were dropping. The owner didn’t want to invest in stock. The shop was losing its way.

So – for six months, I took over. It’s been a challenge, but I’ve built up a loyal customer base, a reputation for stocking interesting CDs and odd stuff, and created a buzz through some innovative marketing. We’ve staged instore appearances by bands, despite the shop being tiny; organised events for children; hosted web TV shows; kept the coffee machine on the whole time.

So it’s worked; sales are up, people enjoy visiting and hanging out, and trust the shop’s recommendations. People described it as a little bit of Brighton or London. We’ve just been shortlisted in the Worthing Business Awards, in the ‘retail’ category. And a few weeks ago, it was time to renew the lease. Easy enough.

The thing is, I don’t think you need a shop to stay successful in retail. Why sit and wait, using a business model that’s hundreds of years old? Surely it’s time for something new?

I’m not talking about an online shop; anyone could do that. Stack it high, sell it cheap, go global.

I want to create the atmosphere of an old-fashioned record shop. A place to hang out, hear new things, build friendships and buy stuff that you love. I want it to stay local, but online.

I’m talking about harnessing social media (that’s Facebook, MySpace, Twitter and all those nifty Web 2.0 gadgets and gizmos) to create the same retail vibe. The same buzz, the same conversation.

I’m talking about using the same techniques we use with the Revolutionary Arts Group; open houses, unusual venues, marketing stunts. The same buzz, the same conversation.

I’m looking for a whole new way to retail music. Finding the best stock, and getting it to Worthing’s customers. I’m trying something really different for the next six months; want to join me?