Our ever changing High Street

I was listening to the radio this morning and the CEO of Whitbread was talking about his famous coffee shop chain Costa and how they were opening 3 new branches every week. His reason for the success was that the High street has changed over the last 10 years. It used to be an area where necessity shopping was carried out, now it is a social area where consumers take time to relax drink coffee and enjoy their shopping experience.

This got me thinking about how shoe shops have developed over the years and how we can keep up with the consumer’s expectations in the future. When I first started in the shoe trade nearly 50 years ago we closed for lunch everyday only opened half day on a Thursday and never opened on a Bank Holiday or Sunday. Imagine closing the shop for lunch today or not opening all day.

Then you start to think about how customers were served 50 years ago. In our shop we had a large window display and inside, wall to wall shoe boxes. Each customer took a seat and then the member of staff would produce numerous pairs of shoes which hopefully matched the customer’s requirements. Along came the supermarkets that operated a self service idea. I can remember my father saying “that won’t work” just like when they introduced self service petrol stations. How wrong he was!

In time the independent retailer followed suit and started to offer self service or in our case self-selection with all the shoe boxes demoted to a stockroom and far more displays created in store. This idea has continued right up to the present day with the vast majority of shops simply displaying their shoes generally to brand with all styles and colours grouped together.

If we look at the supermarkets today they have turned full circle introducing Butchers and Fish Mongers back behind a counter offering help and advice to the consumer. This, coupled with their internet and home delivery service which in reality is no different to the good old days when the grocers van would call at your house once a week, is what the supermarkets are doing to make sure they offer every possible way for the consumer to shop with them rather than someone else.

So are we in the shoe trade doing the same? I’m not sure we are. Yes we have stopped closing for lunch, yes we all open 6 days a week but how many open Bank Holidays and Sundays? How many retailers are addressing the fact that the High Street is becoming a social environment rather than a business area?

How many shoe shops have changed the way they display their products? How many shops have interactive websites, computerised tills (I will talk about technology in next month’s edition).

It is a very important time for independent retailers to somehow change the way we sell our shoes. We need to make the experience far more enjoyable so consumers want to spend money in our shop rather than on the internet or in some out of town shopping mall.

I totally agree with Mr Costa. I think it is a very important time for independent retailers to somehow change the way we sell our shoes. We need to make the experience far more enjoyable so consumers want to spend money in our shop rather than on the internet or in some out of town shopping mall.

Firstly we need to make our shops far more comfortable, just as my father did by getting rid of all the shoe boxes we need to find ways to display our product so customers feel they are viewing the product rather than being pushed into buying. We need to softer shop fittings, settees, tables, softer lighting, maybe even a coffee machine.

We also need to widen our collection. Years ago there was Black Coffee or White Coffee, now there dozens of options many totally unfamiliar to us but we try. Similarly, we need to offer new and exciting brands not just the good old brands we have always done.

If nothing else after reading this column go and look and discuss with your staff how you could improve the shopping experience you offer, very often for very little expense. You may be surprised.

Please email and give me your thoughts or subjects you would like me to natter on about in future editions to Misfitfootwear@hotmail.com.

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