Leaving Footprints – David and Goliath


Never have we seen a time with more disparity or opinion as to growth potential in the footwear industry. With particular independent growth strategies afoot and the seemingly endless play out of corporate strategies from major players including The Munro Group, RCG and Brand Collective, many have asked where this could be heading for suppliers and independent retail stores who are now facing a proposed “change or die” scenario at their feet.

The fact is the ground is changing below our feet, literally.

Whether it’s a large supplier adding additional brand portfolios to their stable (e.g RCG buying Accent Group) or independent retailers looking at new strategies to put in place to stay relevant and interesting, the one thing we cannot seem to do is stand still. Standing still, or worse – living in yesterday’s ambiance, is certainly no recipe for success today.

Much of the strength of solid turnover independent stores lies in adapting to customer wants and foreseeing trends. Combine this with a keen eye for style based comfort footwear which is relevant to the store, location, price and a keen eye for product and there’s a plan for success. However, part of adapting in the footwear game is the ability to identify tomorrows trends and brands, perhaps even before a brand itself believes their time has come.

An example which comes to mind and may be relevant for the smaller end to hold their own, is a specific warfare strategy smaller forces would ploy against larger and more equipped opposing forces. In guerrilla warfare, when faced with a much stronger, better equipped and larger adversary, a smaller force could be more mobile, observe from the shadows and use tactics, mistakes and leftovers of larger forces to steer a campaign with more nimbleness, effectiveness and speedy execution – think of a hidden sniper taking on a much larger force.

Large armies, despite their dominance due to sheer numbers, size and capital, could not completely extinguish the force which was most adept at adapting to an environment based on change – on top of which an army which was built of domination does not consider a single sniper a threat. If you’ve seen the movie Enemy at the Gates with Jude Lawyou’ll know what I mean. Our footwear environment is entirely based on change, from a seasonal new trend perspective, and it is this reason independent retailers will never completely lose out or be extinguished and why the smart ones are actually growing.

In this case and in assessing the viability of future independent retailers, the nimbleness, foresight and speed at which certain stores can move from brand to brand, introduce customised vertical product as well as initiatives in customer service, customer orders, flexibility in returns and so on can be used to great tactical advantage and strategy to grow and command customer attention.


Stocking brands which suit a type of demographic customer and geographic location is a constant battle but a necessary endeavour  stores and owners must actively undertake to stay ahead of the curve, relevant and continue growing. Brands which have a focus on function, fit and style and who tell a story behind the story (why they do, what they do) are a great place to start. These early adopted brands (tomorrows independent giants) which are sometimes spotted early by key retailers already have consumers falling for them at a rate of knots. We are proud to have some of these brands as showroom owners on ShoeCircle already.

Brands which have a strength and focus on the benefits and features of their product as well as have a readily identifiable point of difference which can be easily communicated will have an advantage over saturated, discounted brands. Independent retailers whose customer values quality, comfort and a distinctive unsaturated silhouette for their wardrobe, are constantly finding new brands to fall in love with.

The question is, do store owners have the conscious ability and foresight to actively see into tomorrow, dismiss industry dogma and steer their ship into a more exciting direction? That’s anybody’s guess. It’s never been a question of survival, but of adapting to change.

About the Author:

PrintBarry Nicolaou is a regular Exposed Online Contributor and is the founder and Director of ShoeCircle,

Barry can be contacted here:

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