Pep&Co becomes latest high street discounter with first store in Kettering

About 100 people queued up outside the modest clothing and homeware store, hoping to get their hands on £1 school polo shirts, £2 bras and £4 ballet shoes, The Guardian reports.

It was no surprise, perhaps, that on a midweek morning just after the school run the majority of shoppers were wheeling buggies. It must also have been reassuring, however, for the Asda veteran Andy Bond and his colleagues, who have built Pep&Co’s strategy around attracting young mothers.

“This is just one store on one day,” said Adrian Mountford, the chain’s managing director, a former Sainsbury’s and Matalan executive. “So in some ways it doesn’t mean a lot. But it would have meant a lot if there was no one here.”

Bond and his team aim to open 50 stores within eight weeks, backed to the tune of £20m by the South African retail tycoon Christo Wiese, who recently bought the New Look chain.

The next opening will be in Cwmbran, south Wales, in a fortnight, followed by Falkirk in Scotland, Corby in Northamptonshire, and Hull. The following week six stores will open, then 10 a week until the target is hit.

It is a hectic schedule which retail old-timers say has not been matched since 1982, when George Davies launched Next with six stores in one day and 70 within five and a half months.

“Everyone we talk to wants to call us mad for trying,” said Bond. “But that bloke that said the world was not flat, he was thought a bit mad at the time.”

Shoppers seemed to be testing out the store’s catchline, “spend a little get a lot”, as queues formed quickly at the tills, which took £1,000 in less than an hour. Bond said Pep&Co would easily exceed its first day target.

The nascent chain is entering a crowded market against giant competitors including Tesco, Asda and Primark. Bond insisted there was a gap for a high street shop that focuses on mothers, with more children’s wear than rivals such as Peacocks.

In Kettering there was no question of the message Pep&Co hopes to get across. The main window is dominated by 6ft lime-green 3D numbers marking out deals from £1 to £6. Inside the store, so-called “round pound” simple prices are clearly flagged above tables and racks stacked with plenty of clothes.

One shopper said her mother had sent her to check out the prices on nightwear and underwear, but ended up filling a basket. She was planning to come back later for some candles and other homewares.

Cayla Woods, a mother and grandmother who had picked up school uniform items and underwear, said: “The price on everything looks good and with the quality of the clothes you can’t go wrong. I think the quality of the T-shirts is better than in Asda or Tesco where I usually shop.”

One repeated complaint on the hottest day of the year so far was that there was not enough summer wear. “I like the boots,” said one shopper. “But who wants to wear those now?” Another complained there were no shorts for boys.

If the hot weather lasts, it could make things more tricky for Pep&Co’s first few weeks. The chain’s launch comes at the end of the traditional summer season for retailers, when most are already discounting their summer stock

Bond said the telling moment would be after Pep&Co had completed its first season, with a Christmas under its belt. He said that after Wiese’s Pepkor had backed the initial openings, the business should be able to f inance further stores itself, but he did not rule out returning to Pepkor for more funds.

“We will review it and decide if we want to go faster or slower,” he said.