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Dealing with brands is about give and take

I have to confess to casting an envious eye over the 2011 Footwear Awards brochure, especially those footwear independents who have developed a strong and profitable online business and who are successfully competing against the online giants.

I have to confess to casting an envious eye over the 2011 Footwear Awards brochure, especially those footwear independents who have developed a strong and profitable online business and who are successfully competing against the online giants.

For the rest of us who are struggling to do it or who have given up trying, the temptation can be to pass the wormwood and don the sackcloth and ashes. However, before we declare ourselves obsolete it might be time to adjust our expectations and refocus on what independent retailers can still deliver.

At Bishops, we have not set many records this spring but we did achieve our highest-ever response to our start-of-season customer invitations. Our mailing list, composed of both email and old-fashioned postal addresses, is now in the tens of thousands (not bad for a single-location indie). It is the result of more than a decade of work, and is one of our key business assets.

Despite tough economic conditions, we have been impressed by the support available to us from brands, when we are prepared to offer something meaningful in return. Whether it is using our customer database to communicate key seasonal messages, finding creative ways to enhance the placement of product in store or ensure staff get training about brand values and to deepen their product knowledge. If we can oblige on these fronts, brands will provide the training, merchandising or marketing tools.

“Despite tough conditions, we’ve been impressed by the support from brands”

While the market seems to be in a mad dash towards discounting, there will always be brands, both new and established, that are keen to build a business and reputation and who will offer the margins and support to those that can help them do that.

Nigel Hamilton is the owner of Bishops Footwear in Coleraine, Northern Ireland, and former president of the Independent Footwear Retailers Association.

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