Today the weather forecast was for cold and fine weather, so I thought I’d take the train to Cambridge for a wander around, but mainly because I wanted to pick up a Shetland Sweater at Arthur Shepherd in Trinity St.
Not being term time, but still tourist time and Christmas sales, the street was full of shoppers as I approached the venerable old frontage of the store. I could see a pile of wonderfully wintry coloured shetlands, surrounded by traditional bottle green cords and an excellent ‘mad bomber’ style fur flaps hunting cap. Tattersalls without BD collars are not my thing at all, but I still like to see these traditional items on sale.
Now, I’d like to be able to tell you how I purchased a beautiful lovat heather green shetland with saddle shoulders and it reminded me of the classic American ivy styles, and was a snip at £66.50, but I can’t.
I can’t because the shop was shut. That’s right: ‘closed for the holidays’.
Well, Messrs Shepherd, the holidays have finished, it’s not Christmas Day, Boxing Day or even some bank holiday created for those who freak out when Christmas falls on a weekend. It was the 28th of December, a working weekday.
This is why traditional retailers everywhere have disappeared. They will no doubt complain about falling custom, rising prices, rents etc., but fail they will, and do. Well, Arthur Shepherd must be minting it to be able to afford to miss the dozen or so people who tried to push the door open during the ten minutes I was standing outside, not to mention the rest of them today. Incredulous sighs of disbelief from a couple that came from over hundred miles away to shop there.
Maybe it’s possible to buy these wonderful sweaters online? Well, you guessed it. No. The shop does have a website. (It’s here if you fancy a laugh – the URL is Dial.pipex.com – when did you last see one of those?!) It was obviously built by Noah whilst waiting for the flood, and before the advent of real domain names and hyperlinks, let alone Paypal and shopping carts.
The stupid thing is that a great shop like Shepherds, if it got its act together, and moved the parts of the business that need to be in the modern world into 2012, then my guess is they could keep the bits of the firm that need to be traditional, for quite a lot longer.
Cambridge (like its American namesake) is an epicenter of a certain tweedy trad professorial English style, shetland and duffle coats, corduroy and tweed, and wellington boots. In other words, stuff that sells from Madrid to Buenos Aires, from Tokyo to New York, Paris and Milan. The main difference is that in those places its not the British selling anything, but our foreign friends buying it. Anyone who has tried to deal with a traditional British supplier of anything will understand what I mean (and that’s why newbie trad businesses that get this, clean up and leave these firms scratching their heads as to why they’re not successful, too. Food companies are often a great example of this new traditional approach using all the tools in box to promote and sell).
This retailer is after all only keeping up a great British tradition – that of making it as hard as possible for customers to actually buy something, a tradition that, with Shetland sweaters, starts with the islanders themselves.
There are a number of websites purporting to allow buyers to buy from sites with tiny poor images (you know, “click here to enlarge” and you get an even smaller grainier pic) and offer customers the ability to personalise a sweater. After emailing a few sites last year and getting responses like ‘Q: Do you have any traditional framed sweaters with saddle shoulders? A: (email response of one word) No.’, I gave up.
It’s a shame. If you happen to be around in Cambridge and they are actually open, then buy a few before they close down…