“It’s terrifying. There have been many sleepless nights about it. I can’t remember anything else I’ve done [that’s been as big] really, even rolling out 40 Myer stores in one day was less scary. This is scarier,” Shalem admitted to Inside Retail Weekly. “It’s huge for us.”
In the video campaign, the Shoes and Sox superhero squad is on a mission to find the perfect shoes for kids. As Shalem describes it, it’s “a bit tongue-in-cheek; it’s funny, and we’re not taking ourselves seriously”. The illustrated characters will also come to life in-store from January onwards.
The campaign signals the biggest investment in a brand marketing exercise by Shoes and Sox. Until recently, the brand was in its own niche catering to kids’ footwear; but in recent years, the back-to-school campaign period has become intensely competitive, with more retailers cashing in.
“Suddenly we have a whole lot of competitors – Williams, Mathers, Athlete’s Foot, Rebel – which have come into the market, saying, ‘We’re the experts in school and sports shoes’ – and they’re discounting,” Shalem explained.
“Although we’re the only specialists in kids’ footwear, we haven’t done a good job of shouting that message. The reality is that all our competitors have more stores than us – they’re more national with bigger marketing budgets and they’re more attractive to a 10-year-old kid who has been shopping with us since they were two and doesn’t like the queues or the screaming babies [in our stores] and wants to go to a Rebel or a more adult store.”
In response to this, the Shoes and Sox team took a step back and decided to focus on what they’re known and respected for – specialising in children’s footwear from ages 0 to 10.
Developed by The General Store in Sydney, the Fit Squad concept will go beyond just the upcoming back-to-school campaign and will be permanently integrated across the business. From now on, the online team will be known as the Fit Squad and the “superhero” lingo will be introduced into stores, along with a six-point fit check, which has always been used by staff but will become a permanent fixture of point-of-sale.
“Our aim was to create an ownable platform that could roll out across every touch point,” explained Matt Newell, CEO at The General Store. “When we walked stores across the category, it became clear that the brand’s key competitive advantage was their people. Not just the technical training the team receive in fitting kids’ shoes but the business’s ability to recruit people with a natural talent for engaging kids. And every parent knows the value of kid-wrangling skills, especially at the shops!”
Within the video, three of the five superheroes are actual Shoes and Sox staff and, according to Shalem, the main aim of the campaign is to showcase the expertise of the staff and put them in the spotlight.
“Ultimately, the staff in your store teams – your casuals, assistant managers and managers – they’re the blood in the body of your business. You actually can’t survive without them, they’re so important. They have all the history, the day-to-day experiences, all the customer-facing learnings, they’re loyal, they manage their teams and you need them to be stable,” she said.
“It’s tough working in stores and it’s getting tougher, because the world is moving towards omnichannel. What it really means for [physical] stores is we’re pushing more work onto them. Online’s going to sell a shoe, but you’re going to pick and pack it and send it, or you’re going to pack it and get a customer to collect it. Or online will sell a shoe, but it’ll get returned to your store and you have to deal with it. Their jobs are hard.
“The world of stores is getting harder so this is a way of creating excitement for them and making them feel good about what they do. For me, the whole point of this campaign is to motivate and lift them.”
Onwards and upwards
Shoes and Sox, founded by Shalem’s parents in 1987, was taken over by Brand Collective and Anchorage Capital in 2015. Shalem joined the company in 2010.
Since the takeover, the business has gone through a lot of changes. In 2015, Shoes and Sox had 25 stores, which has since grown to 72. The online store launched three years ago and the business entered a partnership with Myer, where it runs the entire children’s shoes category in 40 store locations and online. Shoes and Sox also now runs all the kids’ shoes at The Iconic.
Sales have doubled since the takeover, and last year, Shoes and Sox continued to grow in the vicinity of 10 per cent like-for-like online accounts, said Shalem. The business has more than doubled its profit not only through sales growth but also through “better optimisation of staff costs and warehouse”, she added.
In the next 12 months, Shoes and Sox is looking to enter shopping centres in regional areas that would have been previously viewed as being too small and less affluent. However, the brand has rolled out a new range of products specifically aimed at the Myer customer base in those areas which offer quality at the appropriate price point.
“We’ve opened four to six stores in this demographic and they’ve all started off extremely well. When we get the model right and it works in these six stores it’ll give us a model to open up 30 more stores,” explained Shalem.
In addition, Shoes and Sox will explore opening new outlet stores, the first of which will open in March next year in Victoria.
“The outlet store gives you a great way of selling through ends and sale stock you can’t clear. But also, there’s a customer in that segment that doesn’t see us, so we now have access to them, which will be a similar model to Myer. That’s exciting. There will probably be 10 to 15 stores there,” Shalem said.
In terms of e-commerce, Shoes and Sox will enter eBay, Amazon and Catch, while also upgrading its own website, with a review function and click-and-collect. Loyalty will also be a major focus of the brand, as it moves towards offering more personalisation for customers in the future, such as potentially offering parents a personalised guide for their kids around foot health, depending on their age and life stage.
Plans are also currently underway for the business to enter Asia next year.
“There’s not a concept like ours – a multi-branded specialist kids’ retailer – anywhere in the world. In Europe, you have Pablo and Clarks, which both do monobrand kids’ offerings. But there are no chains of multi-brand retailers like us,” Shalem revealed.
“We’re on the brink of Asia and there’s a demographic and there are cultural trends in Asia that are so supportive of a business like ours that we’ve started to think about an Asia strategy.”