It’s easy to forget the value of good old fashioned, well-appointed, sensibly staffed shops in today’s digital world. Why take the time out (and let’s face it, we all seem to have less time these days) to visit a store when you can get your instant retail fix on t’internet in five minutes flat? I’ll tell you why: because visiting a shop, particularly when you’re looking to invest in something that’s been properly made, is often the only way to avoid making an expensive mistake.
Crockett & Jones is an apt example. The company has long championed bricks and mortar, and the value of an honest, customer-led shopping experience. The brand has 13 shops in the UK, Paris, Brussels and New York, with longstanding front of house teams who share the factory’s passion for doing decent shoes justice. It’s not that the company disapproves of selling online (I hear this is in the planning), but rather that it understands the importance of fitting your first pair of shoes in the flesh.
Robust, well-made English shoes really do need fitting properly. A shoemaker will have dozens of lasts and often multiple width fittings for you to choose from (C&J has over 25 lasts in its current collection) at any given time – and really, the only way to find the last that work for your own feet is to try as many pairs on as you need, in store.
visiting a shop, particularly when you’re looking to invest in something that’s been properly made, is often the only way to avoid making an expensive mistake.
C&J's staff are (in my experience, at least) among the best in the business when it comes to seeing you comfortably shod. I’ve got difficult feet (I’m a wide-fitting that needs arch support and I’ve got arthritis) and when I’ve visited Crockett and Jones I’ve left with shoes that feel comfortable, but which aren’t always the shoes I intended to purchase – and that’s a good thing.
The ultimate benefit of the bricks and mortar retail experience is the expertise of the staff on offer; you might well see a pair of boots on a website and think ‘they’re the pair for me’, but if you visit, have them fitted to you and let an expert see them on your feet, he or she might well steer you to a wiser investment, either in terms of style or shape. And that’s a service worth paying for.
Moreover, C&J sit you down and measure your feet properly, and their front of house teams have an excellent understanding of the brand’s different offerings; from leather qualities to last shapes, or heel clippage to toe-box widths.... oh not to mention the gloriously long company history!
Fine shoemaking is a science after all, so it’s best to leave it to those who know what they’re working with.
There’s also aftercare to consider. If you visit a shoemaker’s shop and build up a rapport with the team, they’ll think of you when new models come in that you’ll like, and they’ll help you look after your purchases. C&J's customers can return their shoes to store for resoling back in their Northampton factory (and please don’t leave it to your high-street cobbler, you’ll never know whether they’ll do a proper job), polishing or conditioning advice, too.
Once you find the lasts that work for you, online shopping gets much easier. But, unless you’re happy to work your way through some uncomfortable purchases on the way to finding the right shoe for you, don’t underestimate the value of bricks and mortar full of friendly, knowledgeable staff.