A Sense of Independence

Jo-Ann Fisher, founder and principal of fashion retailer Hangar9, chats about business branding, shopping by foot and the uniqueness of Richmond Row

JO-ANN FISHER HAS been selling clothing to women since 1983. She began operating Fisher & Company in 1988. It changed names, but not locations, three years ago and today is Hangar9.
Her four daughters are all involved in the business, which employs 12 in London and six in Toronto.
Raised on a farm in Elgin County, she lives in St. Thomas. She started her career in cosmetics, but expanded into fashion when her clients began asking her for clothing advice.
She is waiting for more information about the proposed Old Oak 32-storey highrise on Richmond Street, which could force a move next year.

Next year will be your 35th year in the fashion business. What sparked your interest initially?

I really love making women look beautiful, because when they look beautiful they feel beautiful and have more confidence.

How does your success compare to your early hopes and expectations?

Success comes from the people you surround yourself with. I have been fortunate to serve and work with fabulous people, especially my daughters and staff. My journey in business has exceeded every one of my expectations, and continues to do so. Again, I have a great team to do it with.

You made the transition from Fisher & Company to Hangar9 almost three years ago. What were the practical effects of the change?

We rebranded to meet and cater to the image and demands of a competitive retail market. The timing made sense, with my daughters expanding the business into the Toronto market. Our name and message had to solidify our business model of wardrobing: the organized combination of nine great clothing items equals 36 different looks. More quality, less quantity.

You’re one of the longest standing Richmond Row retailers. How has the area changed, or not changed, during your time?

Richmond Row continues to attract and embrace entrepreneurs and hardworking individuals, and this hasn’t changed. The uniqueness of Richmond Row is its heritage and owner-operated businesses, several of which are operated by second and third generations, including Hangar9.

Did you ever, even for one second, consider moving to a mall?

We are a business based on service. In order to execute our business, we needed a space where we could create a personalized and unique shopping experience. Street access also allows us to be visible 24 hours with window displays and advertisement. Being an independent business means being in an independent space.

In theory, downtown retailers would benefit from a state-of-the-art rapid transit system. But most, if not all, were opposed to the BRT plan. What went wrong?

Richmond Row is about an experience on foot, not on a rapid tunnel system. Being able to stroll along to your favourite coffee shops, restaurants, church, hair salons or shopping destinations is what has made Richmond Row successful. Every major city protects and supports key visiting areas and districts. Richmond Row is London’s special and unique area. People like myself have invested 30 years into Richmond Row. We know how key it is to have a diverse main street.

What fashion trends do you see coming in 2018?

Designers are realizing that people want quality. Fashion is going forward and leaning towards luxurious fabrics and refined dressing. Head-to-toe colour has made a resurgence.

You won a Business Integrity Award last year from the Better Business Bureau. How did that come about?

It was a highlight of my career, being recognized for integrity in all aspects of business. Many people are nominated, and in each category three finalists are selected. You have to create a binder in which you have to show integrity in all areas of your business—customers, suppliers, employees, financial. It was a very rewarding experience to reflect on over 30 years of business.

What charities do you support and why?

Although we are involved in many local charities, we often support those that our customers are personally involved in, with a strong emphasis on charities that support women, young professionals and children. Women’s Community House, Merrymount Family Support and Crisis Centre, Clothing Works, Ivey Business School, Fanshawe College, Brescia University College, St. Joseph’s Hospice, St. Joseph’s Health Care Foundation, Alzheimer’s Foundation, Children’s Health Foundation, Hope’s Garden, Original Kids Theatre Company and Easter Seals.

What’s your relationship with coffee?

Best friends!  Interview by Christopher Clark