Footwear Retailer of the Month

1. How did you get into footwear? Tell us about your background and your current business?

I started selling shoes in our shops at 12 years old!  Following University I furthered my education and became a chartered accountant.  After having enough of accountancy, I worked in corporate finance for an investment bank.  After doing that I felt I’d rounded my skills and took the opportunity to join the business when we acquired several of DE Shoe’ stores in 2013.

2. Where are your premises located and how many people do you employ? Do you have a high turnover of staff? Tell us about your shop(s), the local area, your customers and their requirements?

We’ve got 9 shops located all over Scotland and have approx. 50 staff.  Our staff turnover is good and nearly all changes are due to personal circumstances changing which, unfortunately, cannot be helped.  The area we cover is vast in terms of size so tastes vary greatly, there high demand for patent and “bling” in some areas and welly boots in others!  Being the only shoe shop on two Islands means we are the go-to shop for all age groups in some locations.  It makes buying challenging at times but is certainly interesting.

3. Do you have an online shop/website and do you use social networking for business?

Our website – – is going from strength to strength after launching in 2014.  Social media is important to us, we’ve got all the common social networks covered

4. How are you finding the footwear market currently?

We’re finding the footwear market challenging.  Some areas are performing better than others but no doubt customers are spending less on their shoes and are fussier than they have been in years gone by.  We feel political uncertainty combined with the oil crisis are the cause of this.

5. What’s selling well? Any particular trends? Which are your best selling footwear brands – and why?

We’re still quite early in the Spring/Summer season and the forecast is for snow so sandals haven’t moved much yet for us.  Seasonal colours in trainers/casuals have been really strong as a transitional product.  Best performing brand for us has probably been Clarks.

6. How important is shoe fitting to your business? Are you or any of your staff members of the Society of Shoe Fitters?

I am a member of the SSF and we now have 10 qualified shoe fitters in the business with another 4 currently going through their qualification.  We believe having staff that can advise a customer on a professional level is an important point of differentiation for us over our local competition and obviously, the internet.  Our hope is that customers will value our expertise and advice and keep returning to us for their shoes.

7. Does your shop sell other items besides footwear, bags, gloves, tights, socks, below the ankle products?

We’re very much focused on selling shoes these days.  Accessories are nice add-ons but can be time consuming to organise effectively.

8. Do you use an EPOS (retail technology) system in your shop(s)?

Thankfully my father is a computer programmer so has built our own bespoke EPOS system – it makes life nice and easy when we want to change/tweak something!

9. Any difficulties/problems?

Acquiring several DE stores has brought exciting changes for Begg shoes, representing a move in the right direction but it has also came with new challenges.  Managing the larger staff team and ensuring they are aligned with our values and trained to deliver excellent customer service has been a challenge but something we continually strive to improve.  We have a great team working for us and with the recent growth of our management team we will continue to work closely with our team to ensure we offer the best possible experience to our customers.

10. Any tips on stock offers, novel ideas for clearing lines or advice for independent shoe retailers who might be feeling the pinch?

Keeping control of stock levels is key for all independents and when volumes go down, you’ve got to make sure you do not try to buy your way out of the problem.  We’ve seen a lot of businesses get into trouble because they are buying more than is required.

11. What is your favourite men’s footwear brand/manufacturer – ditto ladies/children’s brand – and why?

Men’s – personally I like Ecco for their comfort & durability. Fashion wise they could improve but they do have a few good looking styles.

Women’s – Wonders – beautiful shoes made with love in Spain!

KidsPrimigi – they are popular with parents due to their quality and value and the styling is standout.

12. How do you select your products – which criteria do you use / what are your customers looking for?

We use a mixture of statistics, personal views and memory of good styles (& the bad!) to decide what we want to add to each shop.  Feedback from our staff is also an important factor we take into account.

13. Which footwear/fashion shows do you attend, how do you rate them

We used to attend GDS but now go to MICAM as well as MODA.   We use Riva del Garda for sourcing MTO product.

14. Do you have a favourite footwear agent you can tell us about?

Steve (Heavenly Feet/Nordikas) – he presented the full range to us outdoors (minus 5 degrees!) in the middle of a Scottish winter – hardcore shoe selling!  Alan Bulloch is a good man but hasn’t braved the cold yet so doesn’t win! Sorry Alan!

15. Have you always had a passion for footwear? How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you have a favourite pair?

I’ve got a lot of shoes and have been brought up from a young age speaking about shoes over the dinner table!  My favourite pair are brown suede Ara chukka boots that are very comfortable and look good with just about anything.

6. Any famous customers?

I believe Lorraine Kelly and Tilda Swinton are customers

17. And, the next step? Any plans for the future, new lines, retail systems/new technology, etc.?

My younger brother has just joined me in the business as we continue to bolster our management team in Inverness.  We’d like to expand further down south, potentially in Scotland or England, but would prefer to grow through acquisition rather than opening new stores.  Online growth is part of the strategy but it is a highly competitive market where Amazon are dominant and profitability is poor.

August 2017

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