Can a traditional high street retailer prosper in the digital age?

How can a traditional haberdashery business survive in a world of online alternatives? One company is adapting to do just that.

In today’s society, we’re much more likely to go online to buy a new shirt or dress than pick a pattern and cloth and stitch it ourselves.

So how does a haberdashery business survive in a world of online retailers, when the traditional high street is struggling and customers are increasingly looking for low cost and less hassle?

Roddy Hamblin, great-grandson of the founder of Closs & Hamblin, is steering the company through troubled times, but they’re no worse than his ancestors faced, he says.

“The first generation of our family had to build the business in the aftermath of the Depression,” says Hamblin. “The second generation had to survive the Second World War, and the third generation faced the decline in people making their clothes at home. We have to survive the diversification of the high street.”

The company’s thoughtful approach includes working with local tradespeople, and a purchasing policy that ensures that every pound spent by the company goes back into the UK economy.

The handmade bespoke curtain service gives busy people the opportunity to have soft furnishings with a one-of-a-kind look, while the in-store customer base is served by a highly trained and skilled staff who pride themselves on their product knowledge – as well as running demonstrations and workshops.

And Hamblin is optimistic that the company’s quality wares will stand another test of time.

“At the risk of sounding optimistic, the death of the high street is over-exaggerated,” he says. “Online sales are only about the same as mail order was in the 1980s and 1990s. We have diversified to include a bespoke home-furnishing service as well as the raw materials for homemade projects.”