Footwear stores: Stepping it up
Charlene Perera, general manager
Hush Puppies has undergone a transformation in Australia in the last few years. Can you tell me about that?
The Hush Puppies transformation started about four years ago with a rebuild of the internal culture and getting back to the core values of the brand. We are a brand with a rich, 61-year-old history but we had gotten old with our customers and weren’t relevant in the market. The Hush Puppies brand is all about optimism, comfort, colour and classic, casual style. It was after re-establishing our foundation that we really started having some fun with product, technology, internal culture and, of course, our marketing.
Your shop-in-shops in Myer have had a makeover recently too. What do they look like and what impact have they had on the brand?
We were very excited to launch eight branded shop-in-shop spaces across both men’s and women’s floors in top Myer stores back in February (Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Perth and Chadstone). As we start to expand our own retail footprint, these shop-in-shops give us the ability to showcase our brand and collections as they’re meant to be presented. It gives us a great opportunity to treat our customers with a warm, comfortable and relaxed environment to connect with our brand.
Tell me about Random Acts of Kindness and why it was launched.
We believe in optimism and spreading joy through the community. It’s one of the key foundations of our brand. We want to celebrate and champion people spreading joy and to encourage our own customers to do good things ‘just because’.
Our Random Acts of Kindness initiative is about giving our store teams the flexibility to make someone feel fantastic when they might be having a tough time, celebrating an occasion or they might just be waiting for pay day. They have the ability to give away something for free to a customer like shoe care, a coffee card, massage voucher or even a free pair of shoes. We encourage our Random Act of Kindness receivers to pay the kindness forward too. Keep spreading joy and the message of optimism.
What are some of the greatest challenges for the footwear industry at the moment?
It is absolutely no secret that the market is tough and foot traffic is down, so we all need to work extra hard to convert a browsing customer into a purchasing customer. Some of the really big wins that we have seen in our brand have been due to:
- Getting back to the core of our brand; embracing our heritage and celebrating it with our customers;
- Making our stores and windows exciting so people want to come inside;
- Innovating everything. Always pushing the boundaries on product, marketing and operations – we truly believe there is nothing we can’t do.
- Making it all about our culture. Motivating our internal HQ teams so that the customers feel it too.
I truly believe that there are many brands within the industry and also the marketplace that have lots sight of these things. There are so many companies that are just thinking about money today and not money tomorrow. The world is moving fast and tech is advancing quicker than we ever dreamed, but the core fundamentals of human engagement will always be at the heart of everything we do.
What are some of the retail or footwear trends that you’re most excited about at the moment?
At Hush Puppies, we are loving the grandpa trend. After seeing the success of the dad sneaker trend worldwide, we introduced Australia to the OG (Original Grandpa) Sneaker, the Power Walker, and Australia fell head-over-heels for the colourful, geriatric style. The ability to take something that was once our weakness (like old and daggy shoes) and to put a fresh new spin on it really caught the eyes of media, the fashion world and the general public. We launched our Power Walker collection in late July and within days, we had sold out of certain colours and styles
Tia Paterson, head of marketing
Sneaker culture has certainly hit the mainstream. What do you think is behind this rising passion and how has Hype DC responded to it?
Sneaker culture has been around for decades, however its recent popularity is largely due to its versatility and the speed in which leading global brands produce new silhouettes. At its core, our team is made up of sneakerheads and we are devoted to finding opportunities to celebrate the culture with everyone, whether it be through introducing our customers to great sneaker design, or bringing the community together through exciting in-store events. It’s important that we continually engage with our most sneaker-obsessed audience.
While there’s a loyal sneaker community, sneakers are largely about style and comfort – providing something for any taste, occasion or style. Hype DC continuously strives for innovation – we react quickly to what our community wants. Whether it’s a limited-edition Nike release, or ethical footwear from Veja, we are committed to remaining current and provide a premium collection of footwear with frequent drops.
Resellers play a significant role in the growing sneaker culture. How does this impact Hype DC?
There’s no question that the most limited releases Hype DC offers are worth more once they hit the reseller market. It’s a testament to how big sneaker culture has become. Our role is to ensure that anyone who wants to purchase limited release product from Hype DC has a fair opportunity to do so.
As a business, we continue to train our team members in-store on how to manage special releases in a specific way to ensure we offer loyal Hype DC customers the first opportunity to purchase limited release product through our website.
How would you describe Hype DC customers and what are they looking for in a shopping experience?
There’s not just one Hype DC customer – our diverse collection of brands and products is open to anyone who wants the best selection of sneakers and footwear from leading brands. Our customers often know what they want and expect quality service across online and in-store, and we’re committed to providing that.
What are some of the major plans on your agenda for this financial year?
Hype Hype DC’s focus is to continue to offer the best selection of footwear sourced from all over the world, open new stores in locations demanding the brand, and innovate our digital experience. Accent Group will also expand The Trybe, a fun and interactive boutique devoted to youth footwear, and open Pivot, a new retail space offering a wide array of performance and lifestyle footwear at a value price to the consumer, all whilst expanding existing banners across the business.
What would you say are some of the biggest challenges in the footwear industry at the moment?
There’s an almost endless list of places where people can purchase footwear, and the biggest challenge as a footwear retailer is to keep the community engaged, react quickly to demands and never mature as a brand. It’s important that we remain innovative and ensure our customer experience is second-to-none.
Shane Anselmi, managing director
Sustainability has always played a big role at Merchant 1948. Can you tell me about some of the ethical practices in the business?
Sustainability is something we see as a big priority and a journey we are proud to have embarked on over the years. A focus for us has always been the health and sustainable wellbeing of our people. I feel there is an increasing and alarming problem in our world with mental health, rising anxiety and depression, especially in young people.
Our company purpose is amplified by the words ‘Together we create to inspire’ and to do this, we rally and support our people to dive in alongside one another into a whole range of creative endeavours. Our people seem to agree because we are very proud to have been voted New Zealand’s Best Workplace several times.
A big part of this vision we have is giving back and our Deuce sneaker charity, Young Hearts Project, has raised over $1.4 million since 2014 to help support, empower and build resilience in young people. Our guys get a lot of joy from this because they feel like they are helping those most in need.
We’ve also set up a sustainability committee who are making recommendations for us to innovate and improve our processes and ensure we reduce our impact on the planet. We operate our own factory, which means we have total oversight over the amazing things that are happening there, but also the ability to make ongoing change. A key focus for us at the moment is on packaging – using recyclable materials where possible and looking at how we can continue to reduce the amount of soft plastic packaging.
We are launching a new takeback scheme at our flagship Newmarket Westfield store, where customers can bring in their unwanted shoes and we will pass them on to those in need. We hope to roll this out in other stores in the future.
Tell me about the repair workshops in your stores.
We set up our first Merchant Workshop in our Chadstone Melbourne Store 18 months ago. The workshop supports the very heart of sustainability by promoting longevity in your shoes. The fashion industry (including the shoe industry) is one of the biggest polluters in the world, and our workshops are designed to make your shoes last longer.
There are four services we offer in our workshop: repairs, upgrades, monogramming and, soon, a full old-fashioned shoe shine at certain times of the week.
We’re really excited that our first NZ Merchant Workshop is about to be set up in our new Flagship Westfield Newmarket store, which is opening shortly.
What are some of the greatest threats for footwear retailers at the moment?
We see threats as challenges, which if embraced well, lead to opportunities to adapt and change – something that’s vital to humanity and living a good life. Certainly, the growth of online competitors has been huge, and it’s taking a lot of business from traditional bricks-and-mortar-retailers. Our response has been to firstly grow our online capability and we’re making great progress here.
Secondly, we understand that there is a sea of shoes out in the world, but people make buying decisions based on emotion. So we are continuing to connect emotionally with firstly our people, then our customers. As humans we are social beings and connection with others is a fundamental need in us all. This means the good old-fashioned care, empathy and service our people give in stores means a hell of a lot to our customers and we are spending more time on this than ever.
Fast fashion has sped up the production process for a lot of brands and customers are constantly hungry for new products. Has this impacted your business?
Yes, we’re gearing our business to react to demand much faster and reducing the volume of our early-season buys until we get a read on what our customers want. This helps to really eliminate waste and markdowns, excess production and enhances working more sustainably.
Besides working with our suppliers in Europe and the rest of the world to reduce lead times, we’ve invested in our own factory in China and rolled out the same values-based culture of engagement there. This allows us to be incredibly fast meeting demand. We get a lot of joy working with our people in China, seeing how far they have come and how much they have embraced the journey we are on.
What trends in retail and footwear do you have your eye on at the moment?
The move to a far more casual lifestyle is well cemented in our culture with the responding change in fashion to an athletic, relaxed and comfortable aesthetic. This means a continued focus on sneakers and crossover athleisure looks and ensuring comfort and longevity are built into our shoes.
However, at the end of the day we are a fashion company and our big focus is still in interpreting trends and, importantly, listening to our customers. There’s lots to do!
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