Jeremy and Joanna Clayton celebrated 30 years trading in their fashion and lifestyle store, Javelin, in 2019.
Having steered Javelin through 60 seasons, Jeremy and Joanna Clayton have seen fashions come and fashions go. Although the labels and the categories may have changed, the principles of the business has remained remarkably consistent since October 1989.
Suffolk-born and bred, the husband and wife team knew from the start that their local customers would be interested in quality products, but with an eye for value, and would expect a high level of personal service.
Jeremy’s family ran sports shops and that was the original concept of Javelin – hence the name – but within a few years it was clear that fashion offered a better and more exciting future.
“In the mid-1990s we introduced a fashion element alongside the sports gear and within two years our transition to a fashion shop was complete, although we retained surfwear and some ski elements,” Jeremy recalls. “Many of the sports customers stayed with us and from the start, Javelin positioned itself as both a menswear and womenswear retailer. In the early days, we were working with denim-focused ranges like Firetrap, Diesel and Urban Stone.”
The relatively prosperous years of the late 1990s and early 2000s saw a period of rapid growth for Javelin. In 1998 a second, smaller, shop was opened in Sudbury, about 30 minutes’ drive away. The Claytons’ also ran a shoe shop in Bury St Edmunds, which later became a ski shop. In 1999, a third branch was added in Green Street, Cambridge, which traded until 2008 when a demand for a 50% increase in rent made it untenable.
On the plus side in 2008, however, the freehold to the large unit alongside the original shop in Abbeygate was acquired, expanding a 16ft frontage to the impressive edifice which dominates the street today. Inside the store is 3,500sq ft of trading space, which has been cleverly arranged over several different floor levels in a building that in parts date back to the 14th century.
In a very confident move, Jeremy and Joanna invested £200,000 in a programme of works that has seen a large L-shaped basement storeroom converted into a 1,100sq ft department for a men’s premium fashion area and denim studio, while a mezzanine has been added at the nearby warehouse to house the displaced stock.
“We started out just before the recession of the early 1990’s hit, but after those few years of difficult trading, we enjoyed a steep line of recovery, which is when we grew the business. But this time round, after the financial collapse of 2008-2009, almost overnight trading got tougher and it’s remained tough ever since,” Jeremy admits. “But our response has not been to go downmarket or to discount. It’s been about investing in the store, having good playlists on the sound system, burning scented candles with the coffee machine on for those customers who want to linger.
“In its early years Javelin was definitely a progressive business, adding market share and introducing new fashion brands to our customers. We have done a good job in maintaining our position as a taste-maker and style-setter in Bury St Edmunds and we have maintained our healthy turnover for the past few years, but we constantly have to run just to stand still.”
Another important area of investment for Javelin is its staff of about 40 people, including 14 full-timers, across its two shops and central office. Menswear buyer Andrew Ashman, warehouse manager Andrea George and warehouse staff member Lynn Burrows have been with company since Day One.
Kate Hartwell, is our womenswear and lifestyle buyer has been with the company for 20 years. Lucy Payne is our Bury store manager and Jo Bayley is our Sudbury store manager.
“We pride ourselves in our level of service and how much we invest in HR generally in terms of staff training, appraisals and so on,” says Lucy. “When we recruit, we are looking for individuals who want to advance with us. Our policy has always been to value our staff as our best asset and add more value themselves.”
With a fashion concept based on selling well-known brands, the Javelin owners are sensitive to how the relationship between supplier and independent retailer has changed in the age of ecommerce.
Across the business, clothing accounts for 80% of sales and footwear plus accessories the remainder. The men:women split is almost exactly 50:50, which Javelin sees as a strength.
“I don’t know many independent retailers that have such an even division. And we are careful to run them as two separate concerns and we buy differently for them. Everything is much faster on womenswear – we are buying almost daily, while on menswear it’s more of a traditional ordering cycle and stockturn, although this is slowly changing as men become increasingly fashion aware.”
With typical attention to detail, Javelin have taken their own social media very seriously. The most important channel is Instagram, where a new photo is posted every day. Rather than just using free publicity shots from brands, Javelin does its own shoots, putting together outfits and usually using its staff as models and the lovely town of Bury St Edmunds as the backdrop. It’s a highly professional-looking exercise.
It’s been quite a big investment over the past two years but Javelin are seeing an immediate uplift in sales on the featured garments. Using the staff as models also helps in building up their personal relationships with customers.
Despite the reluctance of some independents to open more than one shop, Javelin is happy to have the second branch in Sudbury, ably managed by Jo Bayley, which, although smaller, has a strong local following.
Having welcomed 300 people to the shop’s 30th anniversary fashion show and party on 10 October 2019, Javelin must now prioritise it's future plans. In many areas, they will be sticking to what they know and believe in.
“Both Bury and Sudbury are good centres for independent retailers and have built up 15,000 loyalty card members. Javelin’s desire always has been to be aspirational and attainable. You can buy a £12 top or a £250 designer silk shirt from us. Some of our customers have been with us from the start and now we attract anyone from 15-year-olds to 65-year-olds plus. All ages are equally welcome.
In September 2023 Jeremy and Joanna retired from Javelin leaving it in the safe hands of Oliver Tookman. Oliver will be keen to keep Javelin trading with the same consistent standards.