Name: Clare Campbell
Shop: Lexden Shoes
Brands: Rieker, Remonte, Waldlaufer, Caprice, Capollini, Sandpiper, Suave, Van Dal, Riva, Barkers, Loake
Home Town: Colchester, Essex
Family: Married to Luke and have a daughter Jessica age 16

How did you get into footwear? Tell us about your background and your current business?
I was originally studying at University to become a teacher after completing a Law Degree and had just got onto the first year’s course when my ex. partner was taken ill and ended up in hospital. As he had his own business, I had to run that whilst he was ill. The University would not keep my place open, as I was unable to say how long he was going to be in hospital. So, to cheer myself up, (as a customer already of the shoe shop), I went to buy myself a pair of shoes as you do! I knew the previous owner wanted to retire so I asked him if he had found anyone for the business. He hadn’t but asked me if I was interested and the rest, as they say, is history!

I purchased the shop in December 2002. We are predominantly a ladies shoe shop, but we do sell men’s shoes as well. I once worked out that for every pair of men’s shoes sold, we sold fifteen pairs of ladies! For men our suppliers are: Barkers, Rieker, Waldlaufer, Loakes, Sandpiper, Caprice, Anatomic Gel. For ladies we stock: Rieker, Capollini, Sandpiper, Suave, Van Dal, Remonte, Waldlaufer and Caprice.

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?
The shop itself has been established for over 60 years with only three owners during that time, myself being the third owner. It is situated about a mile and a half from the town centre and situated off a side road.

Customers generally travel within a 70 mile radius. I also have a few customers who live abroad, but always visit me when they are in the vicinity. Customers are prepared to travel for a good variety of stock and personal service, which we pride ourselves on.

The shop has a large window frontage so we pride ourselves on having themed window displays. Back in January we did umbrellas and raindrops as the rain never seemed to end. February was Valentines, March daffodils, April wedding, June hats for Ascot day (local business provides the hats) and in December a Christmas window. Other months depend on what is happening locally or nationally for example, Wimbledon, The Jubilee etc. We show all our shoes around these themes. Our window also tends to be a talking point, in addition to a good form of advertising.

I have two members of staff, Beverley Wallace who has worked for me for ten years and Emma Smith. We have free parking outside the shop which is vital to our business.

Many customers have difficult/problem feet and they come to us knowing that we will try our upmost to get the best fit and comfort for their requirements.

How important is shoe fitting to your business?
Shoe fitting is very important to our business because there are many people who have poor fitting shoes. Trying to educate customers in better fitting shoes can be hard work, but if you are able to provide them with all the relevant information then usually they are happy with your judgement. We are linked to many chiropodists in Colchester and surrounding areas as they know we sell quality shoes, provide a range of width fittings and sizes (half sizes where possible) but most importantly are happy to spend time to get the best fit for the customer.

We pride ourselves on our personal service. We also specialise in ‘problematic feet’. We have customers who wear calipers and braces that need supportive extra deep shoes. More commonly many customers wear orthotics. This area has certainly grown immensely over the last few years. Waldlaufer is fantastic as they have removable insoles for customers to put their own orthotic into. Generally it is word of mouth that new customers visit us. You can spend large amounts of money on advertising, but the best is always recommendation.

How are you finding the footwear market currently?
The current climate at the moment is that business is still quite tough. Through the 11 years that I have had the business there have been peaks and troughs as you would expect. The last few years have been more difficult due to customers spending habits changing. Most customers use to multi buy, but nowadays they tend to purchase just one pair. This of course will have an effect. However, we are hoping that by ‘riding out the storm’ will eventually bring the rewards and certainly from the start of this year it looks promising.

What’s selling well? Any particular trends? Which are your best selling footwear brands – and why?
Comfort brands always sell well. High heeled dressy shoes sales always trail well behind. Rieker, Remonte, Sandpiper and Waldlaufer are our best selling brands. Waldlaufer is a great product which accommodates orthotics which we are now finding more and more people are currently wearing and the other brands are very comfortable to wear.

Does your shop sell other items besides footwear, bags, gloves, tights, socks, below the ankle products?
We also sell leather handbags, Bulaggi bags, arch support insoles, shoe care accessories, socks and tights. Bamboo socks are selling fantastically well often difficult in keeping up with the demand!

Any tips on stock offers, novel ideas for clearing lines or advice for independent shoe retailers who might be feeling the pinch?
This is a difficult one because I am still trying to work that one out! Also what works well in one shop may not necessarily work elsewhere.

What is your favourite ladies footwear brand/manufacturer – ditto men’s/children’s brand – and why?
My personal favourite brand is Caprice. They are extremely comfortable to wear whether you are wearing flats or heels as they are made using soft leathers and are leather lined. They are fashionable and also come in half sizes which suits me as I am a UK size 4.5. Therefore you get fit, comfort and style all in one shoe!

How do you select your products – which criteria do you use / what are your customers looking for?
As I am sample size in shoes my first selection of a product would be how it feels and looks on my foot. I also like shoes that are different and stand out and, of course, I keep my customers’ needs in mind as well.

Which footwear/fashion shows do you attend, how do you rate them?
I attend Moda in February and August. It is great to see many suppliers all under one roof. I always wander around the entire show first before buying to see what the main styles/colours will be for that season and then make mental notes. Generally if you like a style from one supplier you could end up buying it from them all!

Do you have a favourite footwear agent?
All my agents are special to me but some are more special than others as they supply me with sample shoes! They know who they are!

Have you always had a passion for footwear? How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you have a favourite pair?
Until I got into this business, footwear was not my passion. However, I do have quite a few pairs of shoes now as I can only wear those shoes from the season we are in (well that’s my excuse and I am sticking to it!).

And, the next step? Any plans for the future, new lines, retail systems/new technology, etc.?
My lease is up for renewal in December, so that is my immediate plan in trying to secure a future for my business. Luckily, that looks like all that is coming to fruition. I would also be interested in looking at an EPOS system and a system that designs orthotics.

Contact: Clare Campbell, Lexden Shoes.
Email: lexyshoes@aol.comlexyshoes@aol.com