We chatted with Euan Pringle, owner of Otterburn Mill. Situated in Northumberland countryside, the 18th century mill is a ‘destination’ retail outlet, selling high quality textiles and country woollen clothing. It also prides itself on providing a unique customer experience, boasting many original features, archive material, tools and machinery, on show to the public.
We discuss how Euan came to the Mill, his views of fashion and retail, and what the future holds.
Q. How long have you held your current job?
Euan: I have always worked in textiles. In the 1980s, as MD of the family textile operation with modern retail and manufacturing, I travelled the world to promote the business, and in the 1990s, we sold the business on. Sadly the brand suffered when the textile industry took a downturn a few years later.
In 1995 I found the derelict Otterburn Mill building located on a windy moor on the tourist route between Scotland and England. I redeveloped the site to what it is today – and I am still in the driving seat over twenty years later.
Q. What attracted you to a career in retail?
Euan: I have always loved the textile retail business and loved being in the working mill from my early working years. I enjoy getting the seasons’ colours ahead of time, buying to meet the trends months ahead and finding new suppliers to fil the gaps when suppliers go off-piste.
Q. How do you see the future of retail?
Euan: I think the trends in retail are starting to change and things definitely have a more positive outlook. In the last 10 years, the trend was for the big investment companies to buy up the big chains, slash prices and, I think, caused a lot of damage to the retail sector. Now we are seeing these big chains fall by the wayside as the future of the large stores has gone, which leaves space for more interesting themed retail places.
…there is always a place for retailers that can provide a great customer experience and product
We have seen the demise of the high street, with property companies not investing in the high street buildings, this, plus high government taxes, have squeezed out the smaller retailers. However, I think there is always a place for retailers that can provide a great customer experience and product and I am optimistic we will see a change in the next six months to a year, once the casualties of the big discounters have gone. The retail market is turning the corner and I think the outlook is positive over the next 2- 3 years.
Q. How can technology help?
Euan: I think there is a lot of tech at the moment, and some of it is helpful and some of it is not. At the end of the day, your shop floor staff can really make the sale – they can help customers find the missing part of the jigsaw – so technology needs to enable your staff.
Brands are starting to realise that stores are the key to brand loyalty, not just selling online. At the end of the day people want to go out and have fun – and enjoy the experience of shopping. Shopping centres are big and glitzy, but they need to refresh the décor and themes to keep customers interested. At the same time, I think if you aren’t using tech as a retailer then you will suffer.
What piece of tech couldn’t you live without?
Euan: Definitely my iPhone. It’s my lifeline, particularly recently when our email service was down. I do everything on it – I know how to use it and certainly won’t be looking to change!