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Helen Hook

Drapers probes leading independents to get their View from the Shop Floor.

How is business at the moment?
It could be worse. It could be better though. We are starting to get some interest in new season products. I am currently trying to get people into the idea of spring. 

How is the independent footwear market faring in the recession?
It depends who you talk to and what you read. Some reports say it is going really well and others say it is dismal. But after speaking to people at Moda, the majority of them said it’s very difficult, but, of course, there are always one or two who are thriving. I do think being an independent is one of the better parts of the industry because I am in control of my buying, but it is still tricky.

Which trends are helping to drive business?
This spring is big on colour. It always helps as it makes the shop look brighter and happier. There are a few quirky styles that I am loving this spring and that is what you need to stay different. So I am looking to incorporate colour as much as possible as that is what I think is going to get customers buying.  

How is the currency issue affecting pricing?
Some of it is looking a little scary, I noticed from recent shows that prices are going up. Some manufactures and suppliers had absorbed some of that from last season and now they are trying to recover it which has resulted in some big jumps on some products. It would be OK if every single shoe shop in the country follows this increase, but it’s when you get some shops that decrease their prices that it makes the rest of us look expensive.

What do you think independent footwear companies can do to fare well in the recession?
Focus on customer service - it is the absolute key. We have to be willing to go the extra mile to differentiate ourselves from the high street. Now is not the time to play it safe. Retailers have to take a few risks, and keep staff motivated and involved in what they are doing to keep morale up.

How confident do you feel about business this year?
Reasonably confident. You have to be optimistic don’t you? If you start believing in all the doom and gloom then we might as well give up now. We’ve been through recession before, survived it and have possibly come out stronger on the other side.

Do you think because you have been through a recession before that you are better equipped to deal with one?
Not necessarily better equipped, but we know that we have come out of one before and hope we can do it again. But it is important not to get complacent because of that though - nobody is immune.

What are some of the key issues you face for ’09?
A lack of people shopping! We must work out how to improve the rate of conversion. For every single person who walks through the door it is crucial that they are treated in the right way. People’s confidence in shopping must go up and when it does we must cater for that.

What are the biggest challenges facing you?
Getting customers to spend.

Which brands are selling well in your store at the moment?
It is a bit all over the place at the moment as it is a bit too early for the spring season to start and there are only scraps left from winter. But Cefalu, which do women’s shoes, are probably selling the best.

Have you bought into any new brands for next season?
I have, yes. On the women’s side I have picked up Inner Moon - who I only went to see because I liked their name. They have just come into the shop now.

Do you have a transactional website?
No, at the moment we use our website as a shop window and to direct people to the shop.

Will you be getting one?
I am aware that I may need to direct my attention to looking into that this year. It is a possibility and something I have not ruled out or said I would never do.

What can we expect from you next year?
I am looking to pay more attention to our men’s department and perhaps making stock control and the look of it more streamlined and efficient. I will continue to do lots of hand bags as they have always done well for us.

Are you expanding at all?
No. I am quite happy with one shop. It provides me with more than enough to worry about.

  • Helen Hook is the owner of mainstream footwear indie Geoffrey Bailey Shoes in Wantage, Oxfordshire

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