Will the high street move on-line? The case of Daniel Footwear

Last month, two major companies went under due primarily to the rise of the Internet, but what about your local shoe shop? Jessica Hodkinson of Daniel Footwear has a slightly different view.

From about 1997 as the world went on-line, stock markets boomed with venture capitalists risking – and losing – staggering amounts of money through newly registered so-called dot com companies. One of the biggest of these failures was Boo.com, which aimed to sell fashion products. Leaving aside any technical difficulties - like the slow Internet speeds of the day - anyone with half a brain should have seen that coming. Having said that, ecommerce has now arrived big time, and any company or indeed any industry that ignores it does so at its own peril, as can be seen from the collapse of both the long established HMV and the UK arm of Blockbuster.

Although Daniel Footwear is neither as large nor as old as HMV, it is a fair sized company with a well deserved reputation for delivering high quality merchandise. Late last month, Daniel Footwear’s Jessica Hodkinson was interviewed by the BBC about the problems on-line sales can bring. This week she spoke to us.

Alexander Baron: I see your company was incorporated in 1997; can I ask who founded it and for a bit of background history, including between 1993 and 1997?

Jessica Hodkinson: Daniel Footwear was founded by Daniel Buck in 1993 and has grown strongly over the past twenty years.

AB: You have branches throughout the UK and Northern Ireland. Do you intend to expand?

JH: The website has been very successful for us and we would like to concentrate on expanding our offering and targeting more customers internationally. We have already made a couple of acquisitions and are in the process of looking at larger opportunities which will help with the brand offering in store and on-line.

AB: The BBC said you are striving to build a presence on-line. When I heard that I thought of Boo Dot Com. When it comes to buying clothes, most women, and most men for that matter, prefer to do it the old-fashioned way, if only because you can’t really be certain you’ve got the right size or a comfortable fit. Your experience with returns tends to suggest that might not be a bad idea. What if anything have you been doing to squelch that problem?

JH: Returns will always be quite prominent as it is impossible to avoid them (especially on-line as customers are unable to pick up the product and feel it before they buy). However, we can offer more alternatives in style and colour, increase the quality of photography – eg.360 degrees photography which gives the customer a full view of the product. We can also ensure product descriptions are more detailed and that our after sales customer service team is extremely efficient.

AB: Where do you see yourself and on-line retail generally in 5, 10 years and more from now?

JK: We will have a bigger website with a wider product offering and a very connected social presence. This will also involve forming strong relationships with the press, magazines, and relationships with bloggers to spread the brand further afield. Daniel Footwear’s main priority is to provide the best customer support on-line in the UK and receive customer satisfaction.

AB: You are definitely a high end retailer; most people don’t pay £200+ for a pair of boots. This can bring its own problems. Have you had much trouble with counterfeit, and how do you deal with that?

JH: We have the odd query about counterfeit, especially with UGG but as you can see on the website, we have all the information available to consumers, explaining we are a registered retailer that can be trusted. I would also like to add Daniel Footwear has been very fortunate and lucky enough to have received support from loyal customers which has enabled the company to open over 30 stores in the UK and run a very successful website.

AB: Jessica Hodkinson, thank you very much.

High quality tall ladies boots for the cold weather from Daniel Footwear.

UGG boots from Daniel Footwear.

UGG boots from Daniel Footwear.

Ladies high fashion shoes from Daniel Footwear.

A display of ladies shoes from Daniel Footwear.

High quality men’s shoes from Daniel Footwear

Finance: lace up brogues.

Short, high quality boots from Daniel Footwear.

[The above interview was first published February 5, 2013.]

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