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Profile: John Bligh and Graeme Jenkins of Groococks

After joining mainstream footwear manufacturer Groococks 18 months ago, managing director John Bligh and sales director Graeme Jenkins have sought to refresh the Padders brand image. Launched in 1982, Padders specialises in casual, wide-fitting comfort shoes for men and women aged 55 and over. Over the past year, Groococks also became the UK and Ireland distributor for Aerosoles, a US comfort fashion brand for women aged 25-plus.

John Bligh and Graeme Jenkins, Groococks

John Bligh and Graeme Jenkins, Groococks

Groococks has 650 independent retail accounts across the UK. The Padders brand is also stocked by multiples such as JD Williams, The Original Factory Shop and Pavers, as well as online by the likes of Debenhams, Amazon and Shoes.co.uk. In addition, the brand has an ecommerce site and concessions in independent chains such as Beales and Hourstons of Ayr. Bligh and Jenkins tell Drapers about their plans for UK manufacturing, a collection refresh and the impending launch of new brand Padders Plus.

Why did you decide now was the right time to bring manufacturing back to the UK?

John Bligh: We wanted to get shoemaking back in the building. When Graeme and I were approached to join the company 18 months ago, £500,000 worth of injection-moulding kit was in a container ready to go to the Far East. We realised immediately that getting rid of the machine would be a mistake and decided to get it working again. This isn’t a romantic or emotional decision; it’s about economics. The future of shoemaking in the UK is profitable.

Graeme Jenkins: There are practical retail and wholesale reasons for producing in the UK. We’re not saying people should buy our product because it’s made in Britain, but because of stock repeats and quick turnaround, which are fundamental for retailers. It’s a business case.

JB: On September 7, we began manufacturing the injection moulding for men’s and women’s waterproof walking boots with our Aqua-Paw membrane (£75 to £85 retail). We hope to extend the UK-made collection over time to other products. Come back in five years and you’ll see that we mean it.

Globally, why did you decide to rationalise your supply base?

JB: Going back two years ago, we had 19 suppliers, which was just way too many. We only represented a small bit of production for each supplier. We decided to rationalise this to six core suppliers in China, Vietnam and India, so that we could create a closer relationship with the manufacturers.  

GJ: Give them a meaningful chunk of business and it gives you room to talk about price, delivery and capacity.

How important is maintaining a stock service?

JB: When Graeme and I joined, the stock had been run down and we were losing sales as customers were going into shops and not finding the shoes they wanted.

Padders autumn 15

Padders autumn 15

GJ: Groococks has a reputation that you come in, buy your forward order, put it in your shop and fill up. Our commitment is that if a retailer buys a forward order we will commit to match that forward order buy, so that every order has a back-up. In essence, we are attempting to be 50% forward order, 50% stock. Retailers can order repeat stock through our trade sites 24 hours a day and receive the shoes in 48 hours.

How is the Padders identity changing?

JB: We decided to refresh the whole product range to make it a bit younger and put a lot more emphasis on creating our own designs.

GJ: This younger age profile was based on research and market feedback. Our 55-plus customer still wants to wears the shoe or slipper a 40-year-old would wear. It was all about making our shoes look more feminine in terms of colour, shape and details, not restricting the designer in terms of leather and trims.

Can you tell me about your plans for new brand Padders Plus?

JB: Eighteen months ago, when we looked at the range, we saw there was a group of shoes that were being bought by elderly women who had some form of foot problem and needed the assistance of a removable insole, wider fit and Velcro adjustment. We thought this product was aging the overall Padders image, so we decided to pull it out of the main range. And research showed that this product for people who require assistance with footcare is actually a massive category.

GJ: Removing this group of shoes allowed us to make the Padders main range much more feminine. We decided to create a new brand for the group – Padders Plus – which will launch in late 2015/early 2016. These shoes will have a separate showroom and some outsider design influence by contract designers to enhance foot comfort

JB: The spec of the product has been enhanced, so the retail price point will be higher. And we are going to make them in the UK.

GJ: We’re not trying to create a premium brand, but we have a premium idea. So if the core price is £65, Padders Plus shoes might retail at £69 to £75. In terms of identity, whereas Padders is for a younger, more feminine-thinking consumer, Padders Plus is more clinical, helpful and supportive.

Tell me about the recent investment in the Groococks outlet store at your headquarters in Kettering, Northamptonshire.

JB: We wanted to increase sales in our outlet store in Kettering, so we invested £50,000 in increasing the floor space by converting our stockrooms and increasing the retail selling space by 30%. This new space is dedicated to clearance stock, while the rest of the store remains full price. The new look store opened in early September and is already attracting a good response.

GJ: Alongside our Padders collection, we sell 40 brands across women’s, men’s and kids’ footwear, including Fly London, Dr Martens, Gabor, Rieker, Timberland and Skechers. Going forward, we want the main shop to become more branded and full-price.

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