Head of Retail Operations
How long have you worked at C&J?
Have you always worked in retail and more specifically men’s shoes?
I started working in retail on Oxford Street at 16 after leaving school, I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do, I started working for the largest shoe shop in the world (at the time). I was young and enjoyed the selling environment.
What originally attracted you to work for C&J?
I knew the brand because of a previous company I worked for, McAfee whom Crockett & Jones made shoes for. Their ethics were also very similar which is what I liked about C&J, so when I saw the advert I applied. The rest is history.
Did you not see it as a risky move, moving from another well respected Northampton manufacturer to Crockett & Jones pre branded retail?
It was a big risk as at the time I was head of Church’s flagship store, Regent Street. I was going from a flagship store with over 30 staff to a new venture in a tiny store on Jermyn street with just me not knowing is it going to work, is it not going to work. I knew C&J and I knew they had no retail platform and I thought it was a great opportunity to maybe build something.
How did you hear about C&J before the company ran their own ‘branded’ retail shops?
I knew the brand and Mark Eaton-Jones who at the time was their UK sales manager. From meeting Mark on the odd occasion at trade shows, I gradually got to know some of the ‘old’ management of C&J.
Did success come easily or has it growth steadily? What do you think makes C&J so special (product aside)?
Success is never easy and in this case took years of hard work and commitment. It was constant education, to every customer who came into the store; who we are, what we did and why we did it. If you have no standalone stores your brand isn’t seen everywhere and people are very careful about who they buy from, especially for luxury items.
There needs to be trust. No matter how much I repeated myself and didn’t get disappointed if they didn’t buy, it was the groundwork to potentially selling another pair of our shoes.
Congratulations for achieving 20 years on Jermyn Street, did you ever imagine that C&J would prosper so well on what must be the most competitive street in the world for shoes & boots made in Northampton, England now with two stores on the street?
I always envisioned having other stores, although I never thought we’d have 13 worldwide; which is quite impressive in 20 years. Therefore, I am surprised but also not surprised in how well we’ve done. Of course it helps that the product is so good, which is thanks to Jonathan (Jones) being the way that he is with his designs, materials and dogged focus on quality; there is no one like him or as good as him in our industry. We also really benefit from the huge support we get from our factory in Northampton.
What do you think has made C&J retail so successful since you first opened at 69 Jermyn Street?
Support, the balance between product price and quality, without a good product you’re unlikely to generate repeat business. Location is also important and the look and feel of the stores. As well as service and our excellent staff. Retail is a people’s business. Finally, many new factors over the past 10 years such as development of our website, branding, communication, social media and advertising; it’s everything put together.
Casting back to 1997, your first year at 69 Jermyn Street, what was the first pair of C&J shoes you owned, and do you remember the first pair of shoes that you sold?
My first pair of C&J’s was a pair of Whitehall in black calf, Hand Grade Collection on the 330 last, which I still have! It was the first cap Oxfords that we sold in the Hand Grade Collection. Lonsdale would be the comparable shoe today.
The first pair I ever sold was a pair of Grasmere Tan Scotch. Incredibly we have been selling this style ever since and is still in the Main Collection. It was the best seller by a mile and I knew that if the first pair of shoes a customers invested in was the most comfortable shoe that they ever owned, they would be back.
What are the differences between customers in 1997, in comparison to 2017?
In 1997 it was mostly guys who worked in business, it was an older demographic with the average age being around 40/50 and from the UK. Where as now, with our range being so much bigger and guys wearing more classic shoes and classic designs, the average age has dropped a lot and we now see plenty of customers in their late 20’s and early 30s from all over the world.
Of course, we still have the British gentleman and business man, but with younger people today if they want something, they will buy it, and they know that C&J offer great value for money.
C&J is world renowned for offering excellent value. This has always been Jonathan Jones’s focus, but must also provide you (the retail) with great confidence when dealing with our trusted end consumers. For you, is this balance between price and quality still the most important factor?
Yes, 100%. It has been engrained in me by Jonathan, he wanted to make the best value for money English shoes and he has continually repeated this over the years; which has naturally become my own mantra. When people come to work for us it is one of the first things I tell them and the same with customers. It is such an important thing, and best of all, we back it up.
We have many customers (ambassadors) who spread this message to their friends and family, you don’t recommend a product unless you have faith in it.
C&J are now regarded as a much ‘trendier’ company than in previous decades due to our world markets, particularly Japan, and interactive platforms such as our website, Instagram and Pinterest. Does this resonate with the staff who are now working for you in London, Birmingham and New York, and how does it impact on business today when it didn’t exist in 1997?
We still have the traditional guys who dress very smart, but we now have the younger guys who are very trendy and are sharper looking, with an eye to detail, better than most people who work in top end clothing stores. They understand fashion, they understand the look and what is current which reflects in the product and how our staff present them – we don’t make them dress in a particular way, they just do! They are wearing the products and it looks good with current fashion, making our product look younger and trendier; along with other world markets and the way we portray the shoes in the catalogue and online.
Given that the demand for C&J has grown considerably over the past few years, is there a growth strategy for C&J retail? And are there any new C&J retail shops in the planning?
We grow every year with turnover and by improving our service, we have no set 5 or 10 year plan. Bricks and mortar retail is under pressure at the moment because of the constant online battle, so you have to be focussed on continually improving and upping your game all the time. We have never forced a strategy it in the past, we know where we need to be in the world and it’s more important to stay focused on your main objectives and the current business you have built.
Finally, what are your expectations for C&J retail over the next decade or so?
We keep improving, it’s all you can do, you keep on top of your game. You don’t get complacent. Bricks and mortar is tough so we need to keep on working hard. Not everyone is happy with ordering online, it’s a risk factor, you will always have someone who wants to come into the store to experience service excellence and experience. Customers have such a good experience with us, they like the stores, they like the ambience and they like our staff.
69 Jermyn Street is now under the watchful eye of Christopher Tan, Manager and Bismark Walter, Assistant Manager.
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