Harpenden retailer’s relief at store closure

THE OWNER of a children’s clothing store on Harpenden’s High Street has made the surprising admission that she is “relieved” her store is closing down after struggling with “an awful lot of work” in a cut-throat industry.

Closing down signs were put on the windows of The Daisy Chain Store, owned by Suzanne Francey, last Thursday.

But unlike the owners of some other independent stores who say their business has suffered because of a combination of confusing local parking and “greedy landlords” hiking up rents in Harpenden’s High Street, Suzanne said she had, “nothing bad to say about my landlord.”

In a frank interview Suzanne told the Herts Advertiser: “I’m relieved because it’s been a real struggle for the last two-and-a-half years. It’s been an awful lot of work.

“People have no idea how much it takes out of your home family life. I’ve been working from 9.30am to 10 or 11pm at night, and I have two children.”

She added: “It’s been exceptionally draining and I do everything myself including accounting, maintaining product information on the website, feeding through to eBay; it’s not just what people see in the shop.”

Suzanne hopes that, as a supporter of Harpenden’s High Street, a fellow independent business owner will move into the premises currently occupied by The Daisy Chain Store.

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She said: “I’m in a very good position and I have nothing bad to say about my landlord. He understands the whole situation. We’ve been very lucky with our landlord.”

Her comments follow last week’s Herts Advertiser story highlighting the plight of some independent outlets who warned their businesses were being affected by landlords ramping up premise leases to about �20,000 per annum.

This paper is keen to encourage local residents to support Harpenden’s business community after the town’s mayor, Cllr Michael Weaver, warned that retailers “must not sit back and let things happen.”

Keith Lunn, chairman of the recently formed Harpenden Retail Partnership (HRP) which has called for feedback on the issue from local retailers, echoed his comments, saying: “We want to keep the business community vibrant.”

Suzanne said her shop, which sells special occasion wear and designer childrenswear, has been in Harpenden for 12 years, and she has owned it for nearly three years.

Because of the store’s good reputation, customers travel from as far as Liverpool and Richmond to purchase clothes for Christenings, Holy Communions and other occasions.

But Suzanne said it was a, “very cut-throat industry.” People copied new designs before they went into production and reached independent stores like hers. She has also found it difficult competing against the likes of mail order and internet-based companies.

She said: “It means mothers don’t have to go shopping with their children any more. Some families prefer shopping online and I can’t compete with them as an independent shop.”

There has been a mixed reaction from customers to the looming closure of her store, with many saying they would be sorry to see The Daisy Chain go, while others have been encouraged to shop there because of the closing down sale.

Asked about the future of Harpenden’s High Street, Suzanne said she was aware of an, “awful lot of businesses in a similar position, so for the foreseeable future it’s not going to get better quickly.”

She said that many people perceived the town as affluent but money was tied up in property, homes and schooling. Also, as some people in the IT and banking industries had been forced to change jobs several times because of the recession, she said, “they don’t have that disposable income they used to have.”

Once the shop has closed, Suzanne will concentrate on developing her niche market, selling children’s clothes for special occasions, “because it’s an area I do very well and there is a need for that.”