Retailer of the Week
11 May. 2011
MICHAEL ASHLEY, AKEEF, BERLINThis week, Sportswear International talked to the people behind one of the most charming, specially assorted, denim-loving store in Berlin. Manager Michael Ashley reveals why customer service and the communication of information at Akeef in Berlin-Kreuzberg is as important as unwashed selvage jeans and the British accent of the staff… By Lena Elster
“There are quite a few different items that have been selling well. Swedish label Velour has great cuts and style, and reaction from customers has been really good. Another success has been small UK brand TukTuk, their vibrant shorts and shirts are going to be great for the summer. We've had a good response to their first collection in store. Our recent move to take on Baracuta has also generated a lot of interest from customers. Their original Harrington represents the direction that we would like the store to continue in: Offering timeless classics while always remaining contemporary.
At Akeef, we believe we can offer customers the best service possible by fully communicating information about the products. We ensure that if it is the first time the customer is going to spend €140 on a pair of jeans, they should understand the benefits of these unwashed selvage denim. We live by our beliefs and customers who see our own (personal) jeans, trust that the experience gained from working with your denim over time and gaining a wash unique to yourself is really important. In spending a little more on quality jeans, customers are investing in a product that is not only built to last but will in time grow unique to them. (Although it makes take people some time to get used to not washing them for six months!)
We have found that over a period of time people are able to identify themselves with a certain brand, as they know it will fit them best or will wear in a way that they like. Our main denim comes from Edwin – one of the original Japanese denim producers. As a store, we hold certain styles all year round as of range as we know these are they styles people love and choose. Throughout the year we also take on various different styles and colors, allowing the customer who wants to be spontaneous to do so.
We'd like customers to feel that we offer a “one shop stop”. They begin by buying a shirt on their first visit, but also see other items they may like. This allows them to return, building a collection one piece at a time. As customers get to know our store and what style they would like, they will build up their purchases, until they feel comfortable enough to buy a whole outfit from us with as little stress as possible.
Something we have tried to curate with our store is to surpass trends of the high street. We look for good clothing that will allow you to create a complete look for the seasons. As a buyer of clothing, I have to think ahead of a season. Questions like what I'd like to be wearing and what colors have been catching my eye around the internet – this is a large part of the buying process and will be a basis of how the shops future collections work. Similarly, we have found our buying always being affected by our regular customers, we always engage with them discussing clothing they have or have not bought to find what they have been looking for. Our buying will always depend upon what our current brands have produced; we also are looking to curate a shop in which people can find whatever they need.
It is always very difficult to pick out just one item for the coming season! However, it is one we are very excited about; we have really pushed ourselves and the brands to really define each label. We have also been able to expand on some of the small brands we stock to allow them to move towards becoming a focal point of the store. We're looking forward to receiving the fall/winter collection from Norse Projects. Look at their new products, you can really tell that they've put lots of time and energy into the pieces.
We often introduce new labels, with classic styles this allows us and customers the opportunity to work out what really works. After a season, or even towards the end of a season, we start to introduce some items that are maybe a little more experimental. We have found this approach to generally work best for us. We have to remember that, as many of our customers are relatively new, we are growing with them. Although we seek to avoid general trend, we seek to fulfill the needs of our regular customer base.
Akeef separates itself from other stores by its choice of location and the brands it now houses. We provide atmosphere of casual shopping – giving customers a wide choice of clothing, at a range of prices. We are neither an exclusive young shop, nor a place for people who have endless disposable cash. We want to stock staple items as well as more experimental pieces that customers may not have immediately considered buying. We have a distinctly independent home grown attitude with a British/German accent.
Kreuzberg has had a rich history and has always been a lively place for residents and tourists alike. It is an area that is growing rapidly, but holding onto its values. We are also in a fortunate position to be away from the hustle of Berlin-Mitte. We have become a little nirvana for our customers who don’t want to be bothered or rushed in trying their clothing. Kreuzberg always feels relaxed, we really like that.
The approach to the design of the store was to be clean and simple. We didn’t want to detract anything from the presentation of the clothing. We often receive comments from customers about our stripped ceiling which provides great contrast to our white walls and dark wooden shelves.
The online store has presented a great learning curve. It has opened a lot of new avenues for us and enabled us to become a global name. It has also enabled us to show our ethos and our drive in not only being a clothes store, but moving towards a lifestyle store.
Converting our basement has meant we can curate exhibitions and work alongside our brands more closely. Our blog provides new territory to present our products.
An online store is very different to an existing store. Though in store you are able to speak to your customers and advise them on their purchase, this is something that cannot happen online, we had to quickly learn what makes elements of the real store shopping experience we can replicate online and how best to present collections to customers. This is where the job of the manager of the store and the site developer crossed over, the communication is vital and customer service via email and delivery has to be fast and clear.
As I grew up in Manchester, I saw the development of the Oi Polloi from a small room to a worldwide lifestyle store like no other. We really like Très Bien Shop and the style of the store and website.”
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