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New Start-rite CEO to focus on brand, product and processes

New chief executive of children’s footwear brand Start-rite, Ian Watson, is implementing a three-year strategic plan to elevate and innovate the 224-year-old business.

Watson, who joined the firm in February from German manufacturer Britax Childcare, is the first non-family member to run the business. He said he was attracted by the opportunity to “refresh” an established company and make it more “relevant” for today’s market.

“We’re focusing on brand, product and processes,” Watson told Drapers. ”On brand we are currently conducting a study of 1,000 consumers to understand exactly what they want from us and what’s most relevant for them. We want to make our positioning cleaner, so people know exactly what we are. We are known for our quality but some shoppers view us as old fashioned.”

“It’s about a little evolution in all areas rather than revolution of one area of the business.”

On product Watson said he wants to improve the brand’s school range, as well as developing trans-seasonal lifestyle footwear.

Ian Watson

Ian Watson

“Our research so far has shown that consumers want durability. They want product to look as good in May as it did in September, so that’s something we’re working on with our Warrior range. We’re understanding our shopper better and changing the collection to reflect that, which is a step change for us.”

He added: “Outside of school we need a stronger lifestyle-based product line. Historically we had long winter boots and a sandal range in summer but the footwear market is changing considerably. Consumers now want product they can wear year round, like ankle boots, so we are developing more of that.”

Start-rite is currently looking for a head of design to lead the design team.

Watson said he wants to make the family-run firm “more efficient and professional”, and so is streamlining the back end of the business: “We have to make sure we have the right people in the right jobs, and that they have the skills they need to align to our strategy.” 

Start-rite is now fully focused on wholesale following the sale of its retail business One Small Step to premium children’s footwear label Step2wo in February. The brand has 349 wholesale accounts and is looking to expand further.

“We’re not retailers. One Small Step was diluting management’s time and they weren’t able to focus on the core business, which is designing great product. One of the key ways we can become more relevant is by expanding into select premium partners across multiples and independents.”

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