Positive growing pains

Even when everything’s going great guns, Anita Strandheim is convinced about thinking new.

All gathered from Conzept (from left): Mia Strandheim, Mona Fløttum, Anita Strandheim, Linda Kvam, Anne Lise Tinnen, and Emma Rogstad.

Going against the flow means a flow of your own

Anita Strandheim and her husband, Roger, have been working in clothes retailing for over 20 years. At one time, she was franchisee for as many as eight Solid and Lene-V boutiques.

In 2010, wanting to leave chain-store operations behind them, the couple opened their own Conzept store in Trondheim. They have never looked back since.
“When you go against the flow, you have the pleasure of making a flow of your own,” says Strandheim, reflecting on running their own shop with their own concept. Today, they run three shops in Trondheim: Conzept, Conzept Herrer and Sizters. If we are to believe what Strandheim has to say, willingness to learn

new things and take a few risks are part of the secret of success. The Conzept store, which was originally in Søndre gate, is a good example: “There wasn’t a great deal of traffic, so we moved Conzept to Thomas Angells gate. We’ve stayed there since, and the store’s just grown and grown.”

The ordinary woman and man

Clothes hangers in the Strandheims’ stores are hung with PartTwo – their biggest brand – as well as Pulz, Freequent, YAS and best-seller brands 2-biz, Kaffe and My Essential, among others.
“We take in what our customers ask for, and we’re terribly faithful towards our brands. At the same time, though, we shape our stock to get even closer to what our customers want. That way we get to work with products that are fun to work with rather than with goods that really don’t move much at all,” says Strandheim.

– Our regulars come into the store, say what clothes they need, then go and stand in the changing rooms. They know we’ll fix the rest.

Anita Strandheim

“Who comes in and does their shopping with you?”

“I like the ordinary woman and man in the street. We want to make something for them Somewhere that’s a bit nicer to come into, a place where they’ll be very well looked after. We attract quite a lot of adults because of the high level of service. Our regulars come into the store, say what clothes they need, then go and stand in the changing rooms. They know we’ll fix the rest.”

Store manager Cathrine Jakobsen at the entrance to Sizters.

“How do you appeal to younger customer groups?”
“You have to think new the whole time. We don’t want to lose the adult customers, but it’s always necessary to make sure we bring in new ones.”

How do you go about doing that?”
“By taking in younger brands, daring to go for it and daring to give them exposure in the windows – there’s a lot to be said for doing that. We also want to have the younger generation at work, so we’re always trying to mix it up so that we’ve got both adults and youngsters at work at the same time. And that’s how we can learn from each other: we have something to teach them, and they have something they can teach us,” Strandheim says.

Needed external input

In January 2022, the Strandheims decided to expand the store in Thomas Angells gate. They went up from around 100 sq.m to almost 370, and over two floors to boot.

Conzept Herre took over Dame’s former premises, and Dame moved diagonally across the street into new premises over two floors.

Indeed, both suppliers and customers were hankering over Conzept Herre after it had temporarily disappeared owing to lack of space.

– This January, I suddenly felt I had to call Kristine Andersen at Texcon. I needed external input.

Anita Strandheim

Marketing strategy with Texcon

Although the new launch was a great success, Strandheim was hungry for further development:

This January, I suddenly felt I had to ring Kristine Andersen at Texcon. I needed external input. I was experiencing what you might call positive growing pains,” Strandheim recalls.
Kristine Andersen was brought in, and they together developed an own-product analysis especially for the Conzept store, which is the biggest.

“How did you do that?”

“Kristine was so helpful to us. We drew, scribbled and wrote, plotted and planned – all on paper. It was great fun. When you write something by hand, it goes in in a completely different way. It sticks in your head more.”

“And what was it that stuck in the end?

“We felt that we established our DNA. We became a bit more secure about who we are, what we want and what market we want to be in – and that we should be faithful towards it.”

“Now we’ve got something to build on. We felt that when we moved the store and expanded our floor space. We really believed we could do it, and we increased by 10 million: we doubled our turnover – in one year! It’s totally amazing!”

Anita Strandheim spends a lot of time in the shops and thrives in Concept Herre.

Knowledge thrown in

Besides meeting with Kristine, what else has Texcon given you?”
“We’ve gained even greater awareness of our brands. Especially after they started speed-dating with suppliers. I was at the last Texcon event, and it was really inspiring. It was fascinating to hear what the suppliers think and what they stand for. There’s a lot to be gained by presenting yourself there – and it works both ways,” Strandheim points out.

She also tells us how positive it is to be able to tell customers a bit about the brands: “The more of a story you can tell about a product, the safer the customer feels. And it’s more fun for the customer to leave the shop with a big bag and lots of knowledge thrown in. On our side, it’s fun to be able to tell the customer:

‘These trousers are worked on by someone with sandpaper to make them look a bit worn…’ Being able to tell them that is pure gold.”

An awful lot of nerd work

Anita Strandheim spends her weekdays in store, as she likes to put it, but when she goes home between 4 and 6, it does not mean her working day is over.
That’s when I start my nerd work,” she tells us.

Nerd work?
“That’s right. One of our recipes for success is to get a good circulation of goods and to sell as little as possible on sale. The method means moving the goods around. There’s a bag – or a crate – that moves between the shops every single day. I’m a bit of a ‘control freak’ like that, and I’ve got full control of what we’ve got in our various stockrooms, in terms of colours and sizes, without having to check the computer. But if you want to have more stores, you really need to be a nerd in that area.”

– The more of a story you can tell about a product, the safer the customer feels.

Anita Strandheim

“OK, then I’ll ask you the nerd question: How do you do it?”

“Front Systems! It’s completely brilliant. You’ve got full control of everything; you just switch between the companies – you go in at the detailed level of sizes and colours and then undertake an internal stock transfer. That way we can optimise our stock the whole time.”

“How do you manage good customer service with customers on three different floors?”

“I’m lucky enough to have lots of really good people around me – one excellent key employee has been with me for years. You’ve got no chance whatever of doing it all on your own.”

And apparently an occasional long weekend in Stockholm is necessary too:

“All the permanent staff have a trip together, just for a little break and some inspiration. We all need a bit of a top-up now and again,” Strandheim asserts.

Location, location, location

Drawing on her long experience, Strandheim underlines a few more essential factors that can help bring positive results:
“Location is the be-all and end-all. And I’ve learnt that the hard way – not just once, but three times! I’ve been in the wrong place and had to make a decision: either close down or move the store.”

“Have you got any specific examples, apart from the one in Søndre gate?”
“Yes, the first time it happened was with a men’s store we had at Steinkjer – a Solid store, that was located at the end of the centre. That’s never a good idea. If you’re in the wrong place at the centre, where customers won’t just walk past naturally, then you’re not benefitting from the customer stream that the centre generates,” Strandheim emphasises. “No more ‘at the end’ or by an exit for us. The level of service in the store is also important. And our reputation. Our reputation is the best marketing of all. We work really hard to maintain that, and I feel we’ve made a success of it.”

Rebranding on the agenda

All three stores in Trondheim are going really well, but when we ask if there will be 20 Conzept stores in Norway in five years’ time, the answer is no:

“We don’t have any ambitions in that way although we have heard there are people who want us to open another store. They think we’re getting a lot of things right and that we’re doing something that people can identify with.”

In the autumn, a rebranding of Sizters will initially be launched. In fact, the inspiration’s come out of the marketing strategy meeting with Texcon.

“It was Kristine at Texcon who said that I must convey our pride over what we’ve achieved. That we must show that we want something. And that’s what we intend to do,” Strandheim concludes. “Now we’re going to undertake a rebranding of Sizters and make our brand even stronger.”