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Retailer Insight: Breathe some lifestyle into footwear retail

Brands and retailers need to widen their view and delight their customers to remain successful, writes Gerard Levy, owner of independent footwear retailer Spice London and footwear agency Gil Agencies.

Gerard levy

Gerard Levy

As both a retailer and an agent, I am in a unique position. I have access to the entire supply chain, from the factory floor right down to customers’ feet – quite literally. This provides great insight into the mindsets of both buyers and consumers, and enables me to support both their needs as best as I can.

In the 14 years that I have been running Spice London – the family footwear business that my mother founded in Primrose Hill in 1985 – many retailers have moaned about tough trading conditions. This has only heightened in the time since I founded my footwear agency, Gil Agencies, in 2014. It currently represents brands such as Arche, C Doux and – newly last month – United Nude.

But it is only now, as an alarming number of shops continue to disappear from British high streets, that I am starting to take note.

Business has never been as tough as it is today, and although Brexit has undoubtedly played its part, footwear brands and retailers need to accept that times are changing, and they must adapt to survive.

Keeping up with the times

Consumers are much more interested and, indeed, invested in the brands that they buy from nowadays. They no longer visit a store simply for the product. They want to have an entire experience and leave satisfied that the brand’s values resonate with their own.

Fashion and lifestyle businesses are thriving at this, and have really transformed their in-store experience. From beauty salons to DJ booths and cafes, shopping is a whole new ball game and the footwear industry is generally lagging behind.

At Spice, as well as footwear, we now sell clothing, bags and accessories, and it is proving to be a great success. It gives customers another reason to visit the store and grants us another chance to generate sales. Customers want convenience as much as they do an experience, and shop owners must provide that.

Footwear businesses have thus far been resistant to change, and they are suffering as a result. Once-popular chains, such as Derber, have disappeared, and premium brands such as LK Bennett are not without their problems. Why is this? I’d argue an old-fashioned mentality and refusal to change are the forces behind it.

We need to wake up and give customers the shopping experience they want before they take their money elsewhere.

Spice1

Spice has expanded its offer to include clothing

Be original, but practical

Brands often approach me about partnerships, but I am very picky about who I work with – both at Spice and the agency. They need to have a unique selling point, and, above all, I need to fall in love with the brand. I can’t sell something I don’t believe in. It all comes down to knowing your customer: what do they like and what will they buy?

Interestingly, at Spice, our two bestselling brands are the most expensive – French label Arche and vintage-inspired Chie Mihara. We’ve noticed that although customers are still willing to pay the price, they need to be able to justify it more.

Arche, for example, has a unique production method that involves injecting lactae hevea [rubber tree milk] into the soles. This tells us that customers want comfort, which we reflect in our product range.

All of my customers – at Spice and the agency – are after the same thing: high-quality product, value for money and exceptional customer service. At Spice, I ensure that customers receive the best service and are completely satisfied with our offering. As an agent, not only do I want to provide top service, but also for shops to get excited and know that I care – I genuinely want them to sell products and to sell them well.

Footwear businesses need to realise their niche and focus on what makes them stand out from competitors. Modernise your concept, upgrade your offering and give customers what they want – otherwise, someone else will.

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