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Next Gen | Within Region

Working in fashion doesn’t have to mean being based in London. There are opportunities all over the UK
Written on 5/2/14

With bright lights, a cosmopolitan buzz and a reputation as one of the fashion capitals of the world, it’s little surprise young people flock to London to enjoy life working in the city. But it seems that many have blinkers on when it comes to living and working regionally – where in fact the opportunities are aplenty – leaving retailers with a recruitment dilemma.

“There is a big problem,” says Jonathan Tinning, HR business manager for home shopping company JD Williams, which is part of retail and catalogue business N Brown Group. “Everyone says ‘if I want to be a buyer I have to go to London’. Whereas actually there is a lot of activity in Leicester, in the Northwest and across into West Yorkshire.”

JD Williams attends graduate fairs to promote opportunities at its Manchester head office. Tinning says: “We’re telling them that there are opportunities right round the UK. And collectively we’ve got to start promoting the opportunities that are there.” He adds that student placements are an integral part of that strategy: “We have a great success rate with student placements. We take them on  12-month placements and we go on to hire about 75% of them.”

Mary Anderson-Ford, owner of recruitment consultancy AQUA retail, says candidates are more likely to work regionally when their priorities change. “I find that many buying and merchandising professionals who moved to London to get more choice for their careers have a homing instinct when they reach a certain age, and  want to be closer to the family – or indeed raise their own in more rural surroundings,” she says. “There are some retail head offices in gorgeous locations such as Clarks in Somerset or Fat Face on the south coast.” 

Caroline Grant, group resourcing delivery manager for Clarks, says: “It’s an old-school thought that leaving a big city means leaving your career aspirations behind, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I’ve been fortunate enough to work in London and Dubai and have found that Clarks is just as driven as any city firm I’ve worked for. It is just as motivated to achieve great things, but with the added bonus of a more supportive and engaging environment to do it in.”

Adam Owen, men’s senior designer for Clarks, made the move from London to Somerset and has not looked back. “I am passionate about shoe design and wanted to immerse myself within a company full of like-minded ‘shoe dogs’,” he says.  “What I wasn’t quite ready for is what Somerset and the Southwest has to offer a London lad. It is a quirky, artistic, characterful county, second to none that I have experienced.” Clarks was founded in Street in Somerset in 1825 and its head office there still acts as its nerve centre, with key support functions driving a global business that has a presence in more than 75 countries. “The appeal of working with us is obvious. Due to our location, however, that doesn’t mean that securing the right talent is always easy,” says Grant. “When roles require niche skills, it can prove more challenging.

Some of the technologies we’re using are advanced in the market, which means that we sometimes need to look further afield. To find the right talent, we will advertise on job boards, take to LinkedIn or get networking,” she adds. Seth Davies, senior HR officer for Next, says it can be harder to tempt London candidates to come and work in Leicester where the fashion chain’s offices are based, but once they see the state-of-the-art facilities at the headquarters and meet the people here, they are won over. “There’s countryside right on our doorstop as well as lively and historical cities nearby, such as Nottingham and Birmingham, which have great nightlife and shopping. All this provides a great alternative to the hustle and bustle of London. We have a grade two-listed property that we use to help relocate new employees from all over the country, plus this year we’ve opened an amazing new workplace nursery onsite to cater for our employees’ early childcare needs.” 

Nadine Tipping, senior consultant for buying and merchandising in the North at Success Appointments, says more businesses are relocating out of London because it makes sense financially. “There is also a good talent pool outside the capital. For example, Morrisons made the decision to base its clothing division [Nutmeg] in the Leicester area and not at the northern head office, as the talent pool they needed to tap into was in the Midlands.”She adds: “We’re doing a lot of work with rapidly  expanding online fashion retailer Boohoo, which is based in Manchester’s trendy Northern Quarter.

Boohoo is attracting young, ambitious talent from London and the South as it is a unique opportunity to be part of a very successful fast-paced UK and international fashion business. Plus they find that their accommodation and lifestyle is much better in the North.” Multibrand Retailer Shop Direct, which owns brands Very, Isme and Littlewoods, operates from a light and open-plan renovated aircraft hangar outside  Liverpool in Speke. Director of HR and people services Sarah Willett says: “Most people are very surprised when they get here to find that Liverpool doesn’t look like Brookside.

For a start, it takes less than two hours to get from London into the heart of Liverpool. The city is extremely vibrant with a great nightlife and shopping scene. And if you want the best of both worlds, you can live just outside the city centre and have fields and national parks on your doorstep.” Aquaretail’s Anderson-Ford says the challengeis catching candidates at that pivotal moment: “You can’t put an ad out saying ‘are you a head of merchandising looking to move to the country?’, because people don’t apply to those adverts. You have to actually go in and target them.” She adds: “I recently recruited a London-based buying and merchandising executive into a role in  Kent.

Initially she rejected the suggestion based on  the upheaval and life change, but changed her mind and is now living a wonderful life away from the stress of the commute.”  However, luring the best talent from London comes at a cost – with salaries on average 15% higher across all levels and relocation packages for the top jobs. “I think employers do need to look at the packages on offer.

While we all know there is a London weighting to salaries it is hard for candidates to accept a move for the same salary or a drop even if they know the cost of living is lower,” says Tipping. As well as accommodation at its grade two-listed  property and its crèche, Next offers a range of perks.

This includes two subsidised restaurants, a coffee shop, a sports and social club, free company coach transport through Leicestershire and free car parking, a staff discount, and share save scheme. Not to mention two bonus pots this year for head office staff. “We find that working regionally offers the same dynamic pace and exciting responsibilities of  London but without those little extra hassles of life. Transport access is quicker, there’s free parking and importantly the cost of living is significantly cheaper too. All these things help when you are focused on progressing your career quickly,” says Davies.

JD Sports Fashion is based on the outskirts of Manchester, and group recruitment manager Nicola Arrowsmith says prospective employees will find lots of opportunities open to them at the sportswear retailer. “Because we’re growing, JD Group can offer a career path, not just a role. With different divisions there are opportunities to move between  them and upwards, getting exposure to different products and cultures. We own JD, Size?, Scotts, Bank, Champion, Blacks and Millets, with more being added every year.”

Working regionally could pay off in the long term,  says Charlotte Yates, digital and marketing consultant recruiting for the North at Success Appointments. “I think in the long term it is better for career progression. Businesses based regionally realise how hard it is to replace people as there is a smaller pool of talent to look at so they concentrate on developing and promoting the people they do have.”