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45 years of fashion: inside Devon's Maggie & Co

Torquay-based premium womenswear independent Maggie & Co is celebrating its 45th anniversary.

Maggie & Co interior

The store’s “Throne” is a prime selfie spot

Maggie & Co supplies high-end women’s fashion to the shoppers of Torquay – and beyond. Drapers speaks to its owners, mother and daughter Sarah and Maggie Williams, about how the business has evolved and how it stands out in a tough market.

Tell us about Maggie & Co’s 45 years in business

Maggie Williams: I have been in retail since I was 16 years old. In 1974, a friend rented a small unit in Torquay, called Pink and Blue, for his girlfriend. However, she disappeared, and I ran it for the rest of the season. I was then offered a shop called Peanuts in Fleet Street, where we had many happy years before moving to larger premises at the Pavilion in 1987 under the Maggie & Co name. In March 1998 we opened on Strand, and have evolved to become a designer destination store with 32 brands including Ralph Lauren, Paul Smith, Burberry and Emporio Armani

How has your client base changed over the years?

Sarah Williams: The biggest difference now is that the younger [shoppers] aren’t loyal. The young generation are a lot more aggressive about their shopping – they’re much more “I want it now and I’m having it”. You have to try and make sure that you get the product for them, and tell them that if you don’t support local stores then they won’t be here for when you want to nip in for an outfit the day before you need it.

MW: When we started there was very little competition in Torquay and a lot of wealthy people around the marina with second homes. We’ve got customers that can remember the store since 1980 that still shop with us. Now, though, most of our customer base comes from the home counties rather than local people. A few months ago we even had two customers arrive by helicopter from the north for a private shopping experience with us.

How has retail changed over the time you’ve been in business?

SW: The whole of retail has drastically changed. It’s become all about service – unless you give a great service in store, you won’t survive. We don’t sell clothes any more: we sell a lifestyle and that’s how our business survives, as a large majority of it is personal shopping.

Maggie & Co celebrates its 45th anniversary


Maggie & Co celebrates its 45th anniversary

How do you stand out?

SW: You have to listen to your clients and learn what they want. Ours are mostly professional women who haven’t got the time or energy to pick clothes for themselves. But they want to be a bit more stylish, so we started offering personal shopping as a key service.

I have around 40 very good clients who we pre-order for each season and they’ve become almost like family. I’ve travelled all over the world to dress women.

MW: The collections we offer [make us stand out]. You’re only as good as your present season’s collections, so every season we have meetings about what do we need now, what are we missing or what isn’t working for us. It’s an area that is essential.

How has your brand mix changed?

MW: We’ve become a lot more premium. 1988 was a huge moment for us as we took on Giorgio Armani, then we started stocking Mulberry and Burberry in 2000. 

SW: We have 32 collections in store at the moment, but we drop one or two collections a season to make room for new brands. If it hasn’t performed well, it will be on the cull list. It’s not always the global brands that are the best performers – sometimes it’s the little collections that make you more money. We are returning as a stockist to Belstaff next season as the brand produced a very strong collection.

Has your buying strategy evolved?

SW: We buy from showrooms mainly. I listen to buyers and ask them if they have anything new and if it’s ever quiet in store I look at the websites and brands of other stores to see if there’s anything that they’ve found that’s new. Our buying timeline has changed, as we now do a lot of B2B buying. When we buy very strong brands I will use 80% of the budget initially leaving 20% for in season.

What is really good with a lot of collections now is the stock swaps they do, so that if something is really a bummer you can swap it out. It shows they want us to survive.

MW: In the 1970s, buying and supplying was much closer to the time you wanted it in store. The length of time now between an order and delivery seems to get longer every two or three years. Sarah flew to Paris for her first appointment for autumn 19 in October 2018, when we were still receiving stock for autumn 18.

We also go to Milan to visit brands and go to Pure for accessories and Scoop for exciting new labels.

Are you positive about the future of the high street?

MW: I worry for the future of fashion Independents. The high streets are struggling because of social media and online buying. If you’re opening up now you’ve got to have a strong bank balance, good business plan and good direction of where you want to be. Fashion in the 1970s and 80s was fun, but now the fun has vanished and it’s been replaced with a serious and challenging high street environment.

Maggie & Co at a glance:

  • The Strand store opened in March 1988
  • Stocks 32 brands including Diane von Furstenberg, Moschino and Emporio Armani
  • Launched ecommerce site in 2003
  • Retail prices range from £45 for Ralph Lauren T-shirts to £1,600 for Burberry coats
  • The store had a £100,000 refit in April, which included the reupholstery of the animal-print “Throne of Maggie & Co” on which customers have their picture taken to share on social media
  • Shortlisted for Drapers Designer Store of the Year Award in 2005

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