Behind the scenes at a Kent department store

They are the people who get two days off in December – if they're lucky – and who have been eating, sleeping and dreaming Christmas 2010 for the last 14 months. We take you behind the scenes at a family run Canterbury department store

Behind the scenes at a Kent department store

They are the people who get two days off in December – if they’re lucky – and who have been eating, sleeping and dreaming Christmas 2010 for the last 14 months. We take you behind the scenes at a family run Canterbury department store

Name: Michelle Stewart

Job title: Managing director

Michelle Stewart has been branch md at Fenwick Canterbury for four years, having previously held the same role at Fenwick Windsor. Her varied retail experience ranges from helping set up V&A Enterprises for the V&A Museum, doing the same for the Warehouse fashion chain, and being a stylist and trend forecaster for Debenhams.

“We start to plan in the October/November of the year before, beginning with the shop windows, lights and interior decorations, deciding the mix of Christmas-themed merchandise in departments like the Christmas shop, linens, gifts and gift food, right through to cosmetics, menswear, lingerie and jewellery, all topped off with excellent customer service and gift wrapped where possible!” she explains.

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And the show goes on, whatever is happening behind the scenes or out in the world. “We can’t always totally prepare for random acts of God and problems caused by other service industries we rely on. There have been times when our staff have had to walk for miles through snow drifts to get to work, or wear coats and gloves on the shop floor in the middle of winter when the mains electricity has failed, but it’s a huge credit to them that that whenever something like this happens they all muck in with a smile on their faces and ensure the store can continue trading 99 per cent of the time!” Michelle, who has a flat in Canterbury, adds: “We’ve found our customers get very upset if we’re closed when they feel we should be open, even if we’ve had to evacuate the store for any reason. The lovely thing about our customers is that they’re very vocal, and are generally queuing up to get back in!

 “Our resident buyers walk hundreds of miles, looking at thousands of ranges and collections and visiting over 20 trade fairs every year, just so that we can offer our customers beautiful things at the most competitive prices possible.”

Michelle says the best gift she’s ever received at Christmas was when she was once whisked away on “the trip of a lifetime” to the Galapagos Islands.


At Christmas 2009 we sold …

�— 450 boxes of Xmas crackers

�— More than 12,500 of tree decorations and Christmas baubles

�— 6,500 customer gifts were wrapped throughout the store

Best Christmas lines in 2009….

�— More than 1,000 Links of London sweetie bracelets were sold

�— 3,600 pairs of duvet ducks slippers were sold

�— 2,600 cupcake lip balms were sold

Best Christmas lines in 2010….

�— Fitflop boots - we just can’t get enough of these boots, which are the winter version of the Fitflop and look to be overtaking the Ugg boot as this year’s winter footwear craze

�— Cupcake bath-bombs – these are so realistic we’ve had to put signs up next to them to stop people eating them and at �2.95 they’re the perfect stocking filler!

�— Homey’s men’s fun slippers are proving to be a bestseller!

Name: Debbie Johnson

Job title: Graduate trainee buyer

Department: Christmas

Debbie, who lives in Kennington, joined Fenwick’s graduate buyer training scheme after completing a degree in fashion promotion and has been training for just over a year. She started working in the Christmas department at the end of July, a journey that began with pricing stock and unpacking the goods, then setting up the store and selling on the shop floor.

“We began to research ideas for the Christmas themes at various fairs beginning in January and started to put together a plan of themes around April,” she explains. “Julia Williams is our buyer and she builds four different themes around her favourite bauble – this year she’s gone for vintage, woodland, glamour and ‘dusted Christmas’ (white and gold). The department opened on 25 September and although some customers believe it’s too early, most are very excited to see our new Christmas lines, so it’s not difficult to get into the Christmas spirit!”

Debbie particularly loves seeing the excitement light up on children’s faces as they come down the escalators and glimpse the bright and shiny lights and decorations and says the best gift she’s ever received was the rocking horse her mum bought her when she was a child. “I still have it now and look forward to one day passing it on to my own children,” she says.

Name: Kirsty Richardson

Job title: Sales adviser

Department: Toys

Whitstable girl Kirsty joined Fenwick four years ago and before that worked part-time in her nan’s hardware shop. She loves working in the toy department, as it’s always so busy – especially in the run-up to Christmas – though admits at times it can be more like running a cr�che than a shop floor.  

Kirsty is demonstrating this year’s easily most popular toy, the self-propelling, sit-on Didi-car (“for ages from three to 30!”) and says that last year the best sellers were the Zhu-Zhu hamster for girls and Star Wars lego for the boys – though Lego remains a perennial favourite.

When she was little, she loved her Barbie dolls but now she’s all grown up, her “best ever” has to be her Juicy Couture handbag.

Name: Kirsten Holmes

Job title: Manager

Department: Menswear

Kirsten lives in Canterbury and has been a stalwart of Fenwick for nearly 20 years, heading up ladieswear for 18 years and now managing the menswear department. Bubbly and chatty, she is a real asset on the shop floor and loves the buzzy, busy atmosphere of Christmas at the store. Her customers are mainly women, buying up socks and briefs, slippers, scarves and jumpers for their partners – but she did memorably have to cope with a rather elderly male customer who decided to try on a pair of jeans right on the shop floor. “If he’d been a Chippendale, we wouldn’t have minded!

She goes a bit misty eyed when she remembers her Sindy horse, a favourite present from childhood, but the best recent gift was when her parents gave Kirsten and her husband �1,000.

Name: Hayley Bedford

Job title: Sales adviser

Department: Lingerie

Hayley has worked at Fenwick for six years and previously for BHS, and she and her sister used to run a business selling hand-painted furniture and crafts. These days its all bras and knickers, PJs and dressing gowns, and the department is especially busy now as men join the mums, daughters and grandmothers buying for family members and make their first tentative steps into the unknown in search for that “perfect gift” for their partners. And sometimes for themselves. But that’s a story for another magazine altogether.

Hayley, who lives in Faversham, enjoys gift wrapping purchases (something that is offered throughout the store - several men will walk miles to bring in all their shopping to be wrapped, for which there’s a small fee if it’s not a Fenwick item). “Lots of men have a good idea of their partner’s size and style preferences, but there are the odd few that haven’t thought to look through her underwear drawer first!” she laughs. “The most popular purchases are red, lacy and see-through, but there is always much more to choose from. Nightwear is a very popular gift, in particular cosy PJ’s in warm berry shades.”

One of Hayley’s most memorable gifts was when she was eight and got a

Barbie house with lots of furniture: “It was heaven!”

Name: Elaine Barry

Job title: Catering manager

Department: Restaurant

She used to work for Shell and was involved in Government training, but Elaine’s career took a very different turn 12 years ago when she joined Fenwick. In charge of the popular restaurant, where there’s a steady stream of business from breakfast service onwards, she enjoys the atmosphere of a very busy department.

Last Christmas she reckons around 2,000 traditional turkey lunches would have been gobbled up, along with 600 brandy butter mince pies from their local baker: “absolutely to die for!” Every year she looks forward to her colleague Jackie’s hats: “Jackie serves in our staff restaurant and I believe she has a different hat for each day running up to Christmas. A laugh a day!”

The best gift she has ever received was a home-made scrapbook of her children’s days at their childminder – “from contract to colourings, from photos to little quotes, ah bless! Four years into one book, there was a lot of time and thought behind that.”


Fenwick Canterbury

St Georges Street

Canterbury CT1 2TB

01227 766866

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