As Dune celebrates its 25th anniversary, founder Daniel Rubin explains how the footwear retailer is staying fighting fit for the next quarter-century in retail.
The first thing to say about 25 years in retail is just how quickly the time goes. There have been some seismic changes in the fashion industry since we first started Dune in 1992. Back then, there were so many specialist shoe retailers in the low to mid-market, who were driven out when the likes of Primark, New Look and Zara came along. Everybody started to take selling shoes seriously. It was only if you had a real niche and point of difference that you could survive.
One of the biggest changes for Dune and the one that will transform us over the next 25 years is the growth of the international side of the business, which now accounts for 20% of overall sales. In a lot of the markets we go into, online is not as fully developed and shopping is still a key leisure activity.
We recently opened in Serbia, Switzerland and Chile. We’re also looking at south-east Asia, to add to our stores in Vietnam and the Philippines. Dune London is already selling in 30 countries but there are still a lot of big markets for us to target.
The opportunities internationally are massive, but you have to go in with the right partner and proposition. When it comes to building a range, be as flexible with your partners as you can without losing the DNA of the brand. In the Middle East, for example, we do really well with our dressy offering, but Switzerland is much more casual.
It’s very much about what suits each market and it is a balancing act that takes time to work out. There’s no substitute for getting out there to see your international partners and working closely with them. You’ve got to be good at engaging them – it’s about far more than selling them a few pairs of shoes.
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Online and experience
The arrival of the internet is the other thing that sticks out. We set up our first website in 2005, and ecommerce is now 30% of our sales. If I imagine what retail will look in 25 years’ time, I think ecommerce will be 50% of our business. The whole idea of going into a store, buying something and carrying it around will be gone. Instead, product will be delivered instantly wherever and whenever you want.
Stores will hold much less stock and space will be freed up to enhance the shopping experience. I expect there will be much more technology in store, although what is a gimmick and what is a game changer is yet to be seen. There are lots of gimmicks out there, but the customer will only use what they find useful and experience enhancing. For a business such as ours that delivers an affordable luxury experience, core skills, such as customer service and product knowledge, will continue to be important.
That said we are focusing on how the shopping experience in store is going to change over the next 25 years. We’ve invested a lot of money in to our ecommerce offer, but we also want to know more about our customers when they come into the store, such as what they’ve previously bought and what their tastes are. We want our dialogue with our customers to be much more targeted and specific – much more relevant. That involves a lot of investment in systems and upgrading point of sale in store, so that we can access their data instantly to give a truly personalised service proposition.
If I were to pass on one piece of advice to someone starting their own business today in what is a much more competitive and challenging market than 25 years ago, I’d say the key thing is to get the product right. It has to have a real point of difference. Today you can’t just be a “me too”.