School Uniform Shop
CWB Independent Retail Awards 2015, Best Schoolwear Store.
By Laura Turner
7 October 2016
Twenty questions with… Luke Conod, owner of School Uniform Shop and winner of the Best Schoolwear Store category in the CWB Independent Retail Awards 2015.
1. What is an average day in your job?
For me, there is no ‘average day’; every day brings new things. One day I can be visiting schools to help create and decide a new item of uniform, and another day I can be doing deliveries in the van. No two days are the same, which I love!
2. Was retail something you always wanted to work in?
Not really, I sort of fell into it when I was 14 years old and had a part-time job at Woolworths. When I left school, I joined its management training scheme. I was one of the youngest Woolworths managers, and things just progressed from there.
3. What do you love most about your job?
I love the variety. Like I said, no two working days are the same. I love meeting new people on a daily basis and attending new, exciting product launches. Seeing customers leave our store happy is also something I love.
4. And your least favourite part?
Definitely the paperwork. I would much rather be out there on the ‘front line’, so to speak.
5. What motivates you?
A sense of achievement. We have worked with Hereford Rotary Club to build a school in Nepal, which is an incredible achievement. I recently went out to the Calais Jungle to help build accommodation for the refugees. Knowing we have helped many people, and children especially, across the world is enough motivation for me and the team.
6. What is your greatest career achievement?
I think that would have to be building the school in Nepal with Hereford Rotary Club. The school was officially opened in 2012, and has helped more than 3,000 students. We have also worked alongside other charities, such as the Gloag Foundation, Care 4 Calais, Stella in Cambodia and People in Motion, to name just a few. We believe in ‘people, planet, profit’.
7. Do you have a business mentor?
I have lots! Most of my friends and the people I mix with are business owners themselves; we bounce off each other and share ideas and inspiration to help each other out.
8. What do you like most about the schoolwear industry?
I like interacting with the schools themselves. They are very supportive of us, as we are of them. We work together to create new school uniforms and source and produce them ethically and sustainably. There is a massive sense of teamwork within the schoolwear industry.
9. Who would be your dream customer?
We are lucky enough to have supplied school uniform for the Harry Potter films, a TV advert for KFC, The A Word on BBC One starring Christopher Eccleston, Matilda the Musical and more recently, the Harry Potter and the Cursed Child stage show.
10. What do you look for in a supplier?
All of our suppliers are ethical and sustainable. We carefully handpick the best brands to work with that fit in with our ethical policy. This means that no child labour is used, working conditions are safe and hygienic, working hours are not excessive and regular breaks are implemented, wages are of the industry or country norm, employment is freely chosen, no person will be taken against their will or forced to work and factories undergo rigorous checks and audits to make sure they are a safe and secure structure.
11. If you launched your own schoolwear brand, what would it offer?
It would need to be both ethical and sustainable. We have created our own brand of T-shirts for our FIT Menswear Store, which are ethically sourced by the brand AIM Apparel. AIM Apparel is based in Cambodia and its goal is to provide education and vocation for young women who have been subjected to sex trafficking.
12. What’s your strategy to create a positive customer experience?
We want to make the mundane job of purchasing school uniform more joyful for a child, an experience they will remember as pleasant, which will in turn make them want to come back to us again. Last year we relocated our shop to a bigger and brighter store, all on one floor. It provides easier access and implements everything possible to give the customer the best experience including a play area, customer toilets and changing rooms – even collection by car. We always strive to offer customers the best shopping experience possible.
13. What is the strangest customer request you have had?
Well, it wasn’t from the school uniform side of our business, but on our jeans website
(www.buy-jeans.net). A customer requested that her deceased husband was buried in double denim. Denim jacket and jeans. It’s definitely a look.
14. What is the best piece of business advice you’ve been given?
Sales are vanity, profits are sanity.
15. And the worst?
Always trust your bank manager.
16. What do you wish you had known before you started your business?
That you don’t have to do everything yourself. I think it is important to build a team around you that you can trust.
17. How do you find inspiration?
Listening to others gives me inspiration. Friends and family are always on hand to offer advice and inspiration, sometimes unintentionally. I also think when you visit other retailers who are doing inspirational things, you can learn a lot from that.
18. What’s your productivity secret?
It has to be dealing with things straight away. There’s nothing worse than not doing something there and then and having it playing on your mind for the rest of the day. Having a good group of colleagues allows me to be as productive as possible.
19. Where do you see your business in five years’ time?
Leading the way and championing ethical and sustainable schoolwear retailing. It’s not acceptable for larger corporate companies to be paying their workers so little in factories across the world – workers who cannot afford to send their own children to school, whilst working to make the school uniform for our children.
20. What difference has being a CWB Independent Retail Award winner made?
It’s made all the difference to School Uniform Shop. New brands have noticed us and want us to work with them. We have told all of the local schools we work with, which has given them confidence in us that we are leading the way in ethical and sustainable uniform. Thank you CWB, this year has been a blast!