Boden's Town Hall Clearance Sales:
A review of a sale in Norwich, Nov. 2012

The siren call of a sale can be hard to resist at the best of times, but even more so when the brand in question is one that inspires a devoted following, such as Boden.

Lists of dates and locations of Boden clearance sales in 2014:
- Boden 'Town Hall' Sales in the United Kingdom
- Boden Sample Sales in the USA

Boden Town Hall Sales are a bit of an institution, and friends have returned from them with fantastic bargain finds, so I'm rather more excited than I care to admit about having the chance to attend one myself. These sales are not always widely advertised (contact Boden and ask to be added to their town hall sale mailing list), which just adds to their attraction for many. And they always seem to be packed, so Boden are obviously doing something right!

On the day of the sale, I get to Norwich in plenty of time and make my way to St Andrews and Blackfriars Halls, the two adjoining medieval buildings where the sale will be held. Start time is 10am, and when I roll up at 9:30am there is already a queue of around 50 women (and a lone man). This quickly expands to many hundreds as the opening time approaches, and the queue snakes right around the block. You can tell it's a Boden sale - at least a third of the women are wearing spotty Boden raincoats!

A queue of several hundred people waiting for the doors to the Boden sale to openA queue of several hundred people waiting for the doors to the Boden sale to open

There can be no faulting Boden on their timekeeping - on precisely the chime of 10, the doors open, shopping bags are swiftly distributed, and we're off!

Walking briskly - I'm a bit disappointed that there's no running - the crowd heads into the halls, a few people peeling off to the right to the smaller hall (shoes, swimwear and menswear), but most people making straight for the womenswear and Mini Boden.

Inside, the halls are fantastic, with high stone pillars, stained glass, soaring roof beams, banners, and portraits of Norwich's great and good. But no one (other than my already bored husband) is looking at any of that. Attention is focused on the racks of clothes and a sea of tables arranged in groups around the hall, each stacked with plastic bins full of neatly folded clothing and crowned with a large sign clearly displaying type and size of merchandise and the all-important prices.

Hunting for bargains - the relatively high prices don't seem to put anyone offHunting for bargains - the relatively high prices don't seem to put anyone off

Ahh - the prices! The flier for the sale declares 'MASSIVE SAVINGS ON EVERYTHING' (yes, in capital letters). Certainly everything appears to be half price or less, and there are some good deals, including children's T-shirts for 8, swimming shorts for 5 and lots of pretty women's summer dresses for 25. Other items, for example sweaters at 30 and long cardigans at 40, don't seem so much of a bargain to me. The lesson therefore is not to go expecting rock bottom prices.

Not that the prices seem to bother any of the customers at the sale, however. They descend on the tables and racks and within 10 minutes the neatly folded piles and rows of orderly hangers are a distant memory, replaced with heaps of tangled garments and hanger chaos. I'd heard tales of people being elbowed in the ribs and yummy mummies fighting over coveted items in the aisles. Rather sadly for my sense of drama, this wasn't true, at least not in Norwich. Instead, the halls resemble a quality jumble sale with particularly focused and motivated customers, sorting through the stock with eagle eyes and fierce concentration! Another 10 minutes and the first shoppers are heading to the cash registers... a trickle that becomes a torrent within the hour.

Once the first wave of shoppers has passed through, the hall resembles a jumble sale.Once the first wave of shoppers has passed, the hall resembles a quality jumble sale

Unlike some clearance sales, it was good to find that Boden happily accepts both cash and credit card payments during these sales. You do, however, need to be aware of the very specific Town Hall Sale refund and exchange policy - it's clearly posted around the sale and at the cash registers, and is quite different to Boden's standard no quibble terms. Basically, there are no refunds, and exchanges are only accepted during the two days of the sale. So once the sale closes, that's it. Better be sure you really want your haul before you pay!

These town hall sales are big business for Boden. Half a dozen or so of the two-day events are held around the country every month (Update: Seems I was misinformed - there seem rather to be 1 or 2 per month, with around a dozen planned for 2014), with average turnover hovering around a whopping 200,000 per sale. Each sale swallows up two large truck-loads of clothes, and takes a team of six, plus numerous temp staff, to coordinate and staff it.

Sandals and party shoes made up the bulk of the footwear stockSandals and party shoes made up the bulk of the footwear stock

So, what did this two truck-loads of stock consist of? Well, unsurprisingly for a November sale there was a lot of previous season (spring/summer) stock, especially dresses, although there were a good number of coats and jackets too. There was very little knitwear (which I found disappointing!) and only a moderate number of trousers and skirts.

Shoes were also a bit of a let-down, and the opposite season rule certainly applied here - lots of flip flops, party shoes and lace up plimsolls and hardly a pair of winter boots to be seen. Accessories were barely represented, with just a few scarves and a couple of types of bag, plus piles and piles of one particular necklace that obviously didn't sell as well as envisaged!

A nice surprise was the smattering of current season items among the clothing - I assume they were PR or manufacturers' samples. It was also interesting to rummage through the faulty items, although the 6 price tag seemed a little steep for the T-shirts with a slightly misplaced motif, and laughably high for trousers so ripped that they were frankly only good for the recycling bin.

Sandals and party shoes made up the bulk of the footwear stockThe footwear and shoes area was much less crowded than the main hall

Menswear featured a good number of jackets, but was otherwise sparse, although there looked to be some decent items - albeit in small sizes - among what was there. Mini Boden was the range that was best represented, and to my relief everything was clearly sorted by age, although not by gender. This is where I spent my money - two great current season kids' T-shirts, several others from past seasons, some snazzy swim shorts and lots of pairs of kids' trousers - a bargain at just 10 a pair.

Regarding a modus operandi, most shoppers seem to work on the grab now, think later principle. This involves moving swiftly around the sale, sorting quickly through the racks and piles and stuffing anything that looks even vaguely suitable or interesting into a shopping bag. Once this initial haul is complete, the shopper then heads to a corner where she (it is invariably a she!) sorts through and appraises everything. The Boden staff seem quite used to this routine and happily collect up the cast-offs, sort them by size and return them to the right place in the sale for the next wave of shoppers.

The changing rooms are as basic as the sign suggests!The changing rooms are as basic as the sign suggests!

A complicating factor is the fact that although there are changing rooms, they are makeshift, communal and often very busy. Some brave souls get around this by trying things on where they find them. Most of the people around them are far too intent on the hunt to even notice.

So there you have it - a Boden Town Hall sale. Quite an experience if you have time and a liking for the Boden style. Possibly a bit of an ordeal if you don't!

Should you be interested in going to a sale, then take a look at my 10 Top Tips for getting the most out of the experience.

Happy bargain hunting!

Two questions occurred to me regarding the sale, so I waylaid one of the staff to ask:

Is all the stock put out at the beginning of the sale? Or is more added over the course of the two days?
All the stock is put out at the beginning. Items discarded in the changing rooms and elsewhere are returned to the correct area as quickly as possible.

Why are there signs saying 'Only 5 items per size per customer'? Isn't this a bit limiting?
These signs are generally only displayed in the first hours of a sale to discourage people from grabbing piles of stock to put on Ebay. Even then the rule is not necessarily strictly enforced, but it's there as a safeguard should anyone attempt to buy suspect quantities of stock.

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