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Stumbling giants lose their footing

As a footwear retailer, the demise of Dolcis last month was sobering news, but how alarmed should we independents be at the news?

No one in their right mind rejoices at such news – it is bad for everyone because it gives the impression of an industry or even a country in decline. Yet there was an air of inevitability about the troubles facing not just Dolcis, but also many of the high street footwear giants that have lost touch with what shoppers want.

I recall going into a branch of Ravel about a year before it closed, and what I noticed most of all was the unmotivated staff and the filthy state of the shop, let alone the stock. So it came as no surprise when the retailer closed, although those canny folk at Jacobson Group have taken over the name and resurrected the brand.

Today’s customers not only want product at keen prices, but also a buzz from the buying experience. For example, Bullfrogs’ customers will get the right music, well- trained staff and even a well-designed bag. It is as if the customer is saying: “If I’m going to leave my home to shop, rather than buy online, I want to be entertained.”

I am not advocating that Stylo, which bought Dolcis last week, should do a Topshop on it, but a bit of style and oomph wouldn’t go amiss. One problem facing the new management is the perception of a brand past its sell-by-date. Stylo, which has brought in Lynsey Hand and Richard Wharton, previously of Office, to revamp its Barratts chain, should exploit their talents with Dolcis too. I hope Dolcis turns itself around, because a high street populated by pound shops and identikit retailers is no good for any of us.

Michael Ashison co-owns footwear business Bullfrogs in London

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