Cheryl Taylor talks to Andrea Afrifa of Stampede, Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Name: Andrea Afrifa
Brands: Start-rite, Ricosta, Geox, Petasil, Converse, Skechers, Lelli Kelly, Superfit, Noel, Ralph, Lauren, Crocs, Garvalin, Kickers, Emu, Primigi.
Home town: Tunbridge Wells, Kent
Family: Married to Baf Afrifa, 3 children Isaac (11) Leon (8) Audrey (3)
How did you get into footwear?
Tell us about your background and your current business?
The pinnacle of my career to date is having been a founder member and shareholder of the restaurant booking website toptable.com in London, after years of retail: from sales assistant in Debenhams to running Duty Free concessions on cruise ships worldwide and more. On moving to Tunbridge Wells and still commuting into London I wanted to be able to run something closer to home, whilst bringing up the kids and realised quickly there was a gap in the market for kids shoes in the town. This was ten years ago. A family friend of mine worked for Start-rite at the time and was able to give me plenty of advice, plus Micam was but 4 days away when I called on him. Within 24 hours I was in Italy (my sister lives in Milan which helps) having booked thousands of pounds worth of shoes, having no premises or business plan!
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, the local area, your customers and their requirements?
In 2014 we celebrate 10 years of Stampede. We are located on the A26 which is the main road into Tunbridge Wells if you are coming in from London. We are 10 minutes walk from the centre of town on a small parade which includes a deli, cafe, kiddies pottery painting and newsagents. We have a well-heeled brigade of customers who are looking for something a cut-above from what is on offer in the High Street. They come to us for a professional yet friendly and fun service and the choice of European styles we offer as well as a school shoe department on the mezzanine level of the shop. I have 7 staff on my books currently. A couple of full-timers which includes my manager and part-timers.
I tend to start staff from the age of 16 onwards from the local grammar school and they stay with me throughout their studies and also when they go off to uni I have fully trained staff eager to earn money when they come back in the holidays when I need more people. At any one time there a minimum of 2 on the shop floor and up to 7 on busy Saturdays.
Do you have an online shop/website and do you use social networking for business?
We have a fully transactional website and an EPOS system which integrates with Ebay and Amazon too. Even though we are shoe fitters I think it is important to open up all revenue platforms and opportunities. We have a facebook and twitter page too which I often get the youngsters to populate!
How are you finding the footwear market currently?
School shoes as ever remains buoyant. We have not seen a massive impact on kids shoe sales here at Stampede from a recession but seem to suffer with strange seasonal pattern in the weather such as a snowy spring a mild start to the winter.
I have closed down my ladies shoe department (Dec 2013) as I did suffer a downward trend in sales plus increasing competition on pricing over the internet which left no margin for my business. I think the product mix on a secondary site of ladies and kids together is not altogether correct. I think rather than just selling to mums the net needs to cover the High Street too and I simply couldn’t afford to move my ladies business. However this strategic move has meant I will fill the floor space with kids clothing lines which should perform more favourably next to the kids shoes.
What’s selling well? Any particular trends?
Which are your best selling footwear brands – and why?
Recent trends shoe that buying pattern favour quality over price at Stampede. My higher priced school shoes such as Ricosta and Petasil perform well. Today’s customer would rather it lasted than go for cheap off the shelf products as we all know it’s a false economy. For kids canvas remains popular in the summer with Converse still surpassing Vans (I think this speaks more about our customers than national trends) Gore-tex is becoming more and more relevant with increasingly snowy winters too.
Does your shop sell other items besides footwear, bags, gloves, tights, socks, below the ankle products?
As I mentioned in Feb 2014 we will be launching a kids clothing department. Alongside shoes we currently already sell foot care products, hosiery, toys and gift for party bags and stocking fillers.
The problem with footwear retailing in my capacity is always that the overheads are too high and the margins too small. Supply and demand is a difficult thing to manage and because of the seasonality of the industry cashflow is always a problem with suppliers wanting larger forward orders. I need more flexibity where I can repeat QUICKLY on popular styles in-season in order to be able to achieve any volume. It stops me from expanding into other towns as I don’t see any benefit in doing so without a cost price incentive.
Any tips on stock offers, novel ideas for clearing lines or advice for independent shoe retailers who might be feeling the pinch?
Ensure that you really really understand your business. Don’t just look at the shelves and think lines are performing well because you see them walking out of the door. Understand you costs, margins and above all profit. How much product do you sell at full price, for example.
Also it is important to work hard with your customers to entice them back. I have a database of over 5000 customers who I email on a regular basis to incentivise them to come in. I also offer a loyalty points rewards system which gives money off vouchers back to my customers once they have spent a certain amount.
What is your favourite ladies footwear brand/manufacturer – ditto children’s brand – and why?
For the past 7 years Fly London always was our best performer for women’s and since day one Start-rite is my most profitable brand (thanks to school shoes) and easy replenishment.
How do you select your products – which criteria do you use / what are your customers looking for?
I select my products based on what has sold well in the past. I do listen to agents in terms of what the bigger retailers have bought into (it doesn’t mean it’s always right thou!). I also to this day buy 10% off my stock from the heart – it looks different, has bright colours for example – not always the biggest sellers but window-candy to entice people in!
Which footwear/fashion shows do you attend, how do you rate them?
Moda, Micam, Pure, Bubble. Tiring on the legs! I often don’t see anything new and confirm the brand-mix is correct for them moment.
Do you have a favourite footwear agent?
Naming my favourite footwear agent is a mean question! I guess Nick and Laura West spring to mind (discount please!!!)
Have you always had a passion for footwear?
How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you have a favourite pair?
I have not always had a passion for shoes per-se but love retailing. Being a mum and directly involved in the market as a consumer currently helps a lot. From a business perspective sometimes I wonder whether retailing to the lower end of the market would be more profitable but I simply wouldn’t enjoy it. I can’t tell you how many shoes I own as my husband might see. Put it this way – I have 2 garages!
Any famous customers?
Jane Torvill, the baddie out of Batman, Homes under the Hammer guy once nipped in (and asked for a discount) and one of the cast of Shameless….hmm
And, the next step?
Any plans for the future, new lines, retail systems/new technology, etc.?
I am really looking forward to launching our kids clothing range which includes Converse, French Connection, What’s Up, Phister and Phillina…. I guess with our 10 year anniversary looming it would be great to win the accolade of best kids shoe shop for 2014. We have been runners up all too often and at Drapers too. It would be an extra boost to all my girls who often work extremely hard. What else does the future hold? Continually working at improving my profit and deciding what the next big thing is (I am having a mid life crisis after all)…..any suggestions?!