A designer ‘swap shop’ proprietor tells consumer editor Emma McKinney how the recession is boosting business.
Dressed head to toe in designer clothes, hair and make-up immaculate, Christine Timms is the perfect advert for her Birmingham shop, which sells some of the world’s most exclusive labels to the city’s most savvy fashionistas.
But everything is not as it appears at Encore, a boutique in Moseley’s St Mary’s Row.
The frocks on Encore’s rails may be genuine Guccis, Armanis or Juicy Coutures, but they certainly don’t come with designer price tags.
And Encore’s polished wooden floors and crisp white walls are not the only thing hiding a secret.
Behind Christine Timms’ flawless foundation and sparkling diamond earrings lies a woman who literally went from rags to riches – thanks to her simple, yet apparently ingenious, idea which sparked Encore’s birth.
“The premise of the shop is very simple, it’s like a swap shop for designer clothes,” says Christine. “People come in with unwanted designer or vintage clothing, we tell them how much we think we can sell it for, and they get 50 per cent of the profit.”
Christine opened her first branch in 1980 in Birmingham’s Maypole.
Unemployed, inexperienced, unqualified and struggling to make ends meet living with her parents in Druids Heath, Christine took advantage of Thatcher’s Britain and a £40-a-week government scheme to help entrepreneurs.
Helped by a £1,000 insurance policy cashed in by her mum Gwen, now 80, and factory worker dad Ron, 75, it took a year to open Encore, but it proved an immediate success.
With products such as a DKNY silk top, never worn, sold for a penny under £90 compared to the £260 original price tag still on the garment, it’s clear why, 28 years later, Encore is still a hit, with the Moseley store, which opened in 1992, flooded with customers.
While high street giants are buckling under the recession, business is booming at Encore.
“We are so busy it’s ridiculous,” says Christina, struggling to find enough stock with bargain hunters emptying her shelves.
“There may be a recession but there’s not one in my shop.”
It’s not the first time that a recession has been a friend, rather than a foe, for Christine.
“When we had the recession in the 1990s business was great then too,” says the 46-year-old, who now lives in Solihull.
In fact it wasn’t the country’s economic crisis that saw Encore’s business dip for the first time a few years ago.
“We had our own kind of recession when there was the explosion in cut-price clothing stores such as Primark,” says Christine.
“But we’ve found people are now reverting back to their old ways of thinking. They don’t want cheap clothes that look hideous after a few wears. They want quality, and that’s what you get with designer clothes.
“The great thing about our shop is that people who either can’t necessarily normally afford the designer price tag, or just don’t want to pay it, can still get the real thing for a bargain price.” It’s not just fashion-hungry youngsters following celebrity trends who frequent the store, which sells men’s and women’s clothing, including suits, casual wear and ballroom frocks, as well as shoes, jewellery and accessories.
“We have customers of all ages, men and women alike,” says Christine. “In fact we find many people come in to sell something and find it impossible to leave without buying something else.”
And wealthy well-known local celebrities are also among Encore’s clientele, although their secret remains safe with Christine, who refuses to name names and is clearly fiercely loyal to her customers who seem to treat her more as a friend than a shop proprietor.
“I love coming to work and I love the people who come here, we’re like our own little community,” says Chrsitine, as she greets yet another regular customer with a friendly peck on the cheek.
Business is so good that Christine, who had to close her Maypole store due to a regeneration scheme, plans to open another shop in Olton, Solihull, next month and she hopes to keep it in the family.
“My son Luca is only ten but he already has a clear understanding of the business and he loves getting involved, even designing his own clothes,” says Christine, who is now separated from Luca’s father.
“I believe in working hard and that’s what I tell Luca. I would be proud if he wanted to follow in my footsteps.”
She also hopes her parents are proud of her change in fortune, especially her mum, who inspired Encore.
“Before she had me and my sister my mum was a model and I remember her taking us to these shops and sitting on a chair waiting for her to come out of the dressing room to show off some kind of exquisite gown,” says Christine.
“She always looked wonderful and so glamorous, even though we didn’t have a penny to rub together.”
But now a successful businesswoman, money worries are far from Christine’s mind.
“The only problem I have is finding time to spend it!” she says.