Will social distancing spell the end for school shops?

Sponsored: The move away from onsite shops is set to accelerate with Covid-19, says uniform supplier Schoolblazer

As recently as 2006 the main method of uniform supply in independent schools was an onsite school shop. Indeed, almost half of all HMC schools had an onsite shop at this time with similar figures amongst GSA and SoH schools.

Over the last decade or so that picture has changed dramatically. Schools have responded to the changing needs of parents and recognised that an efficient online service is the solution for most dual-income, busy families.

Schoolblazer are the clear market leader, having invested heavily in intelligent sizing – to avoid the need for fitting and to minimise returns. Now 30% of schools in HMC, SoH or GSA are with Schoolblazer and the percentage of schools still running an onsite in that group has declined to just 18%.

Fig1: Since 2006 the number of school shops in HMC, GSA and SoH schools has halved whilst Schoolblazer’s online solution is now the preferred choice of supply.

Those schools that did take the plunge and move online haven’t looked back. Jean Marc Hodgson, bursar at Bedford Girls’ was an early adopter: “I could see that online retailing was the future. When I took over, I was assured that our onsite shop was profitable, but it quickly became clear it wasn’t once excess stock, returns and salaries were fully included.

“Added to that it was a constant source of parental complaints and using up valuable on-site space. We moved to Schoolblazer and since then school uniform has been managed by a company that knows the sector inside out and has superb customer service, allowing me to focus on more strategic matters.”

This move away from onsite shops is set to accelerate with Covid-19. The government’s guidelines for retail are clear and onerous:

  • Fitting rooms should be closed – so pupils are unable to try on garments, which has been the traditional role of the shop.
  • Returned items should be quarantined for 72 hours – easy enough online, but almost impossible with the limited sizes and limited space of a school shop.
  • Staff should be protected with protective screens and handwashing – driving yet more expense for schools with other priorities.


Whilst limited time means that back to school 2020 will need to be delivered with the current set-up, help is at hand for schools wishing to move forwards for 2021.

Founder of Schoolblazer, Robin Horsell, said: “I founded Schoolblazer having experienced first-hand the frustrations of being forced to visit a traditional school shop. I knew there was a better way and online provided the solution. Since then we have invested in our intelligent sizing system to ensure first-time fit for all pupils and work hard to ensure our system is as convenient as possible, including free no-quibble returns and sewn-in nametapes.

“Schools have realised that the school shop ties-up valuable working capital and space which can all be put to more productive use. Following a trickle of initial enquiries, we would urge any school wishing to review their supply arrangements to get in touch. We have moved almost 200 schools online over the last decade so can help support the process.”

Whilst uniform is not the top priority at the moment – schools quite rightly are focused on reopening their classrooms – parents’ expectations of online convenience have been set during lockdown and won’t go away. Schoolblazer are here to help.

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