Gerard Levy is owner of footwear store Spice London, which has two stores in Primrose Hill and Islington, and founder of footwear trade show PLFM.
Spice London was never going to be just a shoe shop; I wanted it to be a real brand with a focused identity. I had worked for three years for Sequoia Paris, a very successful French bag company. The experience was invaluable, teaching me everything about merchandising and selling. When I took over Spice from my mum in 2000, it took me literally 10 years to get everything right. However, we are now one of the most successful and longest-surviving indies out there, and I’m very proud of that.
The reality is we are now in a market where the customer has so much choice. They can easily purchase from the high street or even more easily online. With so much competition, it is vital that we all do everything we can possibly do to make sure the customer says ‘yes’.
This idea of customer service was at the heart of me setting up footwear trade show PLFM. There is no doubt that being both a shop owner and an agent gave me a head start. I had become disillusioned with what the other fashion fairs were offering and how they were treating the shoe sector. There simply was no premium shoe show available. The shows that did exist were old school and tired and exhibitors were charged ridiculously expensive amounts for shoddy, cheap stands. They had all lost their way and forgot that the customer is the most important thing.
I used my 30 years of retail knowledge, merchandising, skills and contacts from Spice to attract the exhibitors, plus I used all my experience and contacts as an agent for labels C Doux and Megumi Ochi to attract buyers. The show would be like a boutique shop; it had to be focused and fresh. It would be in the heart of London, buyers would enjoy free tea, coffee, biscuits, sandwiches and Wi-Fi. We would even provide a free taxi service.
Then it came to picking the exhibitors. The brands and designers had to be right and complement one another. I started sending out the idea by email to prospective exhibitors and the response was one of overwhelming support. PLFM had arrived.