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Footwear chain collapse leaves brands exposed

The collapse of independent footwear chain Johnsons Shoes has left a hole in brands’ stockist bases, Drapers has learned.

Drapers revealed on Monday that family footwear business Johnsons Shoe Company, which runs Johnsons Shoes and Bowleys Fine Shoes, appointed CVR Global as administrator on 23 April. 

The group has 12 stores across London and the south-east, but a lack of transactional website left it unable to trade during coronavirus lockdown. It stocks 27 brands, including Timberland, Sebago, Geox, Ugg, Clarks, Loake and Converse.

Brands have told Drapers of their surprise at Johnsons’ collapse, which will lead to lost business. 

“To lose a dozen independent stores within the M25 area – it’s going to be well-nigh impossible to replace them,” said the managing director of one brand. ”We did very good business with them and we can’t replace that business.”

“I fear they won’t be the last,” he added, noting this month’s liquidation of another family footwear independent, Ridgways in Newton Abbot, Devon. 

Another brand source agreed: ”In terms of strategic positioning, it was relatively important. The problem is that at the moment outside of Office, Schuh and JD Sports, there aren’t many more big accounts around, so what most of us were doing was going around find these nice mini-chains like Johnsons. So it’s where do you replace that business because the reality is there are very few other people to go and replace it with.” 

Drapers understands there have already been expressions of interest from established high street retailers, as well as newer players in the market, to buy the business. 

Johnsons’ collapse follows Aldo Group’s filing for bankruptcy protection last week, while JD Sports and Sports Direct are reported to be engaged in a tussle to purchase footwear chain Office.

One footwear source told Drapers the consolidation in the market marks the demise of specialist footwear retailers: “It is the pure footwear people that seem to be struggling like Aldo Group, Schuh, and Office. People now want to buy their footwear direct, not from third-party stores. 

”None of the third-party footwear stockists really have a USP any more. They’ve all got to start looking at their store portfolio more so than ever.” 

Another said a trade buyer would be the best option for Office: “Someone like a JD or Sports Direct who could come in and help bolster the athletic element, and allow the current team to do the ‘brown shoe’ area and actually it could be quite a nice business.

“You need people who can bring their infrastructure, so it can save money on warehousing and transportation, and get more buying power because they are buying from certain brands.”

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