A renowned fashion store that has been at the heart of dressing New Zealand women for 27 years, is on the market for sale.
Browns, a well-established and thriving business at Eastridge Shopping Centre, offers existing and new brands, some of them manufactured in New Zealand, to its many loyal customers.
The brands, along with top notch customer service, have been at the heart of Browns longevity and success. The owner's dub it “slow fashion” in reaction to the prevalent “fast fashion” movement.
Women, from teenagers into their nineties, are customers at Browns, in an industry where trends change every month. As far as Browns' owners, Bob and Lyn Bilkey and their daughter Kirsten Lloyd, are concerned there are no trends, it is about what suits an individual in their one-stop shop for style and fashion.
The business was established on Remuera Road in 1992 by the Bilkey's, who also owned jewellery retailer Bilkey & Co. They bought the shop next door and established Browns at a time when there were few fashion outlets in Remuera.
Browns was opened to cater for women of any age and size in good quality, plain, simple, long-lasting designer clothing and well as pieces manufactured under their own brand.
Nearly three decades later the Bilkey's are handing over the reigns to a new owner as retirement and new ventures beckon.
The property is being marketed for sale by negotiation through Bayleys Auckland business salesperson Carolyn Hanson.
Ms Hanson said while Browns business is about fashion, a large part of it is about building confidence in women and providing that through exceptional service at the Eastridge store.
“This stems from genuinely wanting to help people and that is not a fashion or trend,” Mrs Bilkey said. “People leave feeling good, which is a major drawcard and why the business has thrived and survived, when many others have failed.
The 114 square metre Browns store is at the entrance to Eastridge Shopping Centre, with the lease running until 2025 at yearly rent of $86,025 plus GST. Rent increases annually by the rate of CPI growth over the previous year and at the right of renewal dates the rent is set at whatever is the greatest – market or existing rent plus CPI growth. There are only two fashion outlets at Eastridge and the lease prohibits the establishment any other clothing stores.
New restaurant The Eatery has opened next door to Browns and is proving popular with people spending a day at the shopping centre, while two new apartment blocks have opened across the road. The Bilkey's attribute the business's rise in turnover to the new apartments and restaurant.
Ms Hanson said the store is open seven days a week and could be operated by a hands-on owner/owners for four days and existing staff for the other three days.
“Under this model staff wages would come to about $30,000 a year,” she said.
Keeping the store well stocked with current and classic pieces from core suppliers has been a key ingredient to the longevity of the business. Caroline Sills has been a constant at Browns, the Bilkey's having stocked it since the Remuera shop opened.
On the racks and shelves are also Scotch & Soda, Diesel, Blank NYC, Standard Issue, Woodward, Smith, Isaac & Lulu and the popular Browns label.
A few years after opening, the Bilkey's saw the need to launch their own Browns brand to give the business stability with a higher mark-up for their own clothing and provide basic pieces to go with the other brands. Simple stylish black jackets, shirts, knitwear, silk slips complete a customer's outfit and look.
“Our label fills the gaps,” Mrs Lloyd said.
Buying trips to mainly Las Vegas trade shows, Hong Kong and Los Angeles have generally been done by the family twice a year. “That's the fun bit,” Mrs Bilkey said.
“I even manage to do a little bit of vintage and antique buying at the same time and this gives the shop an eclectic feel,” she said.
Designing the Browns label and merchandising the store are Mrs Lloyd's passion and areas of expertise. “However, a new owner could select a buyer or designer if they are a little daunted at the beginning and we can also help or advise,” she said.
Mrs Lloyd and her sister Jenefer have been involved in family business their entire working lives. Both worked in Browns while at university. Jenefer bought the Browns Eatery and Store on Remuera Road, which was part of the family business and Mrs Lloyd stayed with fashion.
When the Remuera Road building was sold the Remuera shop was amalgamated into the Eastridge branch of Browns. The café is still on Remuera Road.
“The business has grown up and flies on its own,” Mrs Bilkey said.
“We have stepped back over the past six months as we prepare to retire from the business and it has been run efficiently and well by the existing staff.
“We love what we have created and it has been a real privilege to have a business like this. The gift it has given us as owners has been travel, time with family and a work/life balance few people achieve.”