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Learnings from 30 years in retail with YAYA’s Patrick Draijer

Interview YAYA's Patrick Draijer

At first glance, the retail world today is vastly different to the one 30 years ago. Yet, peer a little deeper, and the core of what makes great retail hasn’t changed at all. Retail has, and always will be, about serving the customer, giving them what they want, giving them choice and convenience, and delivering a knockout service.

That’s how Patrick Draijer, owner and Sales Director of Dutch lifestyle brand, YAYA, thinks about it. From starting in wholesale back in 1992, his journey has been full of twists and turns. Now 30 years later, he’s an integral part of the team spearheading the growth of YAYA which now has over 2500 selling points, and 32 concept stores in countries including the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany, France, Poland, and Ireland.

We caught up with him to find out what he believes it takes to be successful in retail and what lessons he’s learnt through his career.

What’s the biggest thing you’ve learnt in over 30 years of working in retail?

Retails is a learning curve and it’s as challenging as ever. Of course now we have all the online channels to consider but we live by physical retail and see how important it is to have physical stores.

And this is why it’s so important to have a clear audience you want to serve – and be very selective in the locations where you want to be and the deals you strike. It’s really easy to open or to rent stores but it’s much harder to rent for a good price, with a nice facade and a nice interior in a nice location – so put in the work and find locations that are best for your business.

At YAYA, we don’t go for high traffic locations because we’d rather have quality traffic and the right people visiting our stores. Although preferably we want quality in good quantity!

I think the key in all these things is to make people happy. If they are happy they will return which is amazing. If consumers are unhappy then whatever model you have will break. We’ve been around for some time now so we like to think we’re doing something right when it comes to making our customers happy.

Everyone in retail always talks about how customer behavior is evolving. How has customer behavior changed since you started working in retail and what it is customers want today?

A lot has changed, but in essence, not a lot has changed. Every consumer who comes into our store doesn’t really need what we sell. They could open their wardrobe up at home and it will be full of clothes. But still they will say they have nothing to wear.
So when they come to see us, we’re there to help them fulfill their needs in a way that is, hopefully, nice and not too aggressive in terms of the sales pitch.

People are emotional buyers. They are sensible, sensitive, and they like to interact with the product. This hasn’t changed. Of course there are digital channels but when you buy online you have to interpret the product and hope your perception of it is close to reality.

Whereas, with physical stores, it’s all about creating an accessible, approachable, and welcoming atmosphere and environment that feels like home. What you smell, what you see, and what you can touch are incredibly important. For us, this is combined with a clear offering, knowledgeable store associates, and a first class service. In this respect, retail is the same as it has always been.

What would your best piece of advice be for other retailers?

First and foremost have a clear vision on who your audience is and how you want to serve them. Then make them happy because as long as you make people happy, we believe they’ll tend to come back. And, if you disappoint them, maybe you can get away with it once but more than that and you’ll have to constantly be searching for new customers. This is not the way we see business. Tell your story in the best possible way and trust yourself.

You also have to survive and to survive means evolving. We are Darwinists. We’re not the strongest, we’re not the smartest, but we’re highly adaptive.

On a more practical note, cooperate and automate in areas where you can. Also take care of your stores. Imagine it like a fruit bowl – you wouldn’t leave old, rotten fruit in there. A new collection is the fresh fruit and replaces the rotten bananas. Take out old products to give room to new deliveries and always keep your stores looking nice and fresh.

What excites you most about the future?

For us, it’s nice to see the stores we’re opening are successful and, to a certain extent, there’s still room to grow in that direction. So we are not finished yet and we have several options on the table but we’re not under pressure to open a set number of new stores each year. If we see something nice we do it, if we don’t see it then we don’t do it. We love to cooperate with our partners instead of competing with them and we’re in a position where we can control as much as possible – from distribution and wholesale through to our stores – and this is a great place to be for the future.

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