Sarah Dudley wants to transform her family business’s focus from local to global, but is unsure how to take the first step.
- The company Bodileys
- What British shoemaker and retailer
- Founded Northampton
- Director Sarah Dudley
- Operating since 1919
- Sales £265,000 (projected for 2016)
Q Bodileys was established almost a century ago as a small retailer selling men’s shoes made by local manufacturers. I represent the fourth generation of the company and I want to grow it into an international operation. I’ve led the first steps into export and online sales and now, as well as selling footwear made by nearby shoemakers, we’ve begun making our own label of luxury shoes. I’ve brought in John Garner, formerly of Edward Green, to design our first collection. We’ve got a good story to tell about shoes made in Britain from the very best calf leather.
However, we are facing an uphill struggle when it comes to getting our own name established as a shoe brand in its own right. How can we begin to get our company’s name out there? One option I’m considering is expansion through international wholesale. Do you think that might help us to spread the word? Or are we better off taking it one market at a time? Perhaps we should focus on online sales rather than building retail networks as a route to expansion?
A You have a wonderful heritage, nearly 100 years of supporting manufacturing in Northampton, one of the world’s most famous shoe-making centres. You don’t shout about this enough from your website.
Potential customers are interested in how products like yours are produced and there should be plenty of opportunity to tell a great story about your business, your leather and your approach.
I have always found wholesale difficult. Buyers are fickle and ever-changing. There are few good ones and too often a brand will pay for their wholesaler’s mistakes, in the form of returns and cancelled orders. The profit margins for brand owners are lower.
It is Britain that you should be focusing on through consistent marketing of the Bodileys brand and by building a reputation. Begin your expansion by investing in your website and online marketing to recruit new customers. To do that, develop a more direct relationship with the consumer. Men will remain loyal once they have tried and liked a new brand and have become confident about sizing.
Awareness can be achieved through targeted public relations through quality magazines and online and through collaborations with complementary brands.
Finally, bear in mind that by selling other shoe brands you might risk detracting from your own and may suggest a lack of confidence in your own brand. It could be time to put your own shoes in the spotlight.
Expert view John Ayton, MBE, is the co-founder of Annoushka, the jeweller. He is also chairman of Bremont Watch Company and Orlebar Brown, a designer swimwear retailer
A The good news is you don’t need to invest a fortune to build a reputation. I put my story at the heart of my business, and you should do the same. You run a family business supporting traditional manufacturing skills and craftsmanship to produce high-quality footwear. It’s a great story and a labour of love. Why is this not apparent from your website?
I would begin investing in your online presence rather than in wholesale and export. Export is a cut-throat business. Think about dealing with wholesalers like a mobile phone contract: very easy to start, expensive to leave and particularly pricey when you’re abroad.
Start building up your business at home by making a video for your website providing an insight into the manufacturing process of Bodileys. I want to see the raw materials being cut, sewn and shaped. Explain that each pair of Bodileys is handmade in Northampton, in a process largely unchanged since the company was founded in 1919. Show all the stages of production, how many individual operations each shoe undergoes and how long the process takes.
Stable growth is about identifying a core customer base and then carefully scaling your operations profitably, slowly if necessarily. Too much growth, or growth with the wrong wholesalers, can be worse than a lack of it. You’ve been around for almost 100 years, so there’s no need to rush.
Expert view Pleurat Shabani is founder of Konik’s Tail, a Polish vodka stocked in more than 2,500 of the world’s leading bars