Spotlight: The Hat Box
At OX we love small, local businesses who display a true passion for attention to detail, artistry and pride in what they do.
Each month, we shine our Spotlight on a small- to medium-scale enterprise who we think embody these values and celebrate the best of Oxfordshire’s small business. For November, we’ve spoken to Gillian Senior-MacDonald, owner of the Covered Market-based hat emporium The Hat Box.
Hi Gillian, how did you get into hats?
I’ve always worked in fashion, and always had a passion for accessories. I was in between jobs, and when I moved to Oxford I decided that I’d actually like to work for myself and set up my own business. A hat shop was available in the Covered Market, so I bought it.
How have you seen the industry change over the years?
I don’t think the internet is very helpful – with hats you really do have to put in the effort: colours, complexions, textures, and so on. For me, the industry has changed in that I’ve introduced men’s hats into the shop, which has been quite successful. That’s the only major change since I took the business over around 10 years ago; this is quite a traditional product and industry.
How has Oxford treated you as a business environment?
Very well, in general, although I think the Covered Market could do with being promoted a lot more. Parking is always going to be an issue in Oxford – on Mansfield Road, for example, the parking allowance has been reduced to two hours down from three. Nowadays people like to take time over their shopping trips, have a coffee, and relax, so that doesn’t help. However, the clientele in Oxford is perfect, because people are always going to garden parties or Henley or Ascot or other formal events. I supply hats for all of those because I work with English milliners.
How has the actual structure of your business changed over the years?
I do have a couple of staff, but I’m here for 99% of the time at the shop, and always have been. I keep it very much in-house.
What, in your opinion, makes a good small business?
Product knowledge and a personal service. In this industry, you need to have broad knowledge of the different styles which suit different people, and the fashions in terms of what is young and trendy and what is more classic and traditional. When a prospective customer comes in, they want to feel that you’re confident about the product you’re selling and that you know exactly what you’re talking about. I’m very honest about hats, and I think that’s what’s given me a good reputation.
Finally, what makes The Hat Box the best?
I think we’re quite unique. I’m very selective in what I buy and the milliners I work with, and the passion that my staff and I have make us quite special. I have many, many returning customers, because when wedding season comes around, someone who may have got married two or three years ago might now have a sibling who’s getting married.
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