Name: Anna Swift
Brands: GEOX, Ricosta, Petasil, Garvalin, Agatha Ruix De Prada, Bio-mechanics, Primigi, Bobux, Livie and Luca, Melton
Home town: Birmingham
Family: Family run business with husband Mick Swift. We have two daughters Nuala (9) and Doris (6)
Cheryl Taylor, Editor, talks to children’s footwear retailer Anna Swift of Cooshoo, winner of the National Shop Front Of The Year Award 2015.
- 1. How did you get into footwear? Tell us about your background and your current business?
We have two young children and wanted to buy shoes that were fitted and good quality but also well designed. We were really frustrated with the lack of choice available in and around Birmingham and wanted something with a bit more imagination and not too gender specific in terms of colour.
We realised there was a gap in the market locally and after many hours of talking and visits to MODA to do research, we decide to take the plunge last year and fill it! We opened our lovely shop on York Road, Kings Heath, Birmingham, last Easter and the number of customers who are discovering that there is something different from the usual pink and blue shoes is steadily growing!
We’re also working hard to forge good relationships with many of the local schools as we see this as a key area of the business and we think we can provide a very specialist service particularly for the private schools in the area.
My background is in children’s Public Health and understand the value of providing good quality fitted shoes for children to provide support and protection for growing feet and help to prevent problems later in life. Building relationships with local health professionals including a children’s physiotherapist and podiatrists has been mutually beneficial as we can provide a referral and in-store service for families with concerns about development and posture and we get referrals into the store from these sources too.
- 2. Where are your premises located and how many people do you employ?
Cooshoo is located in Kings Heath and urban area about 5 miles outside the city centre in South Birmingham. We employ 4 part-time staff to work flexibly. Kings Heath is a Bohemian area and many people have a range of jobs. We’ve been able to capitalise on this and have staff experienced in working with children and families including two teaching assistants and a children’s illustrators! We also work with local health professionals and Kings Heath is a hub for creativity in the city. This enables us to offer other things in-store such as locally hand-made products and to hold book readings and craft workshops during quieter periods to boost trade.
- 3. Do you have a high turnover of staff? Tell us about your shop(s), the local area, your customers and their requirements? / How do you select your products – which criteria do you use / what are your customers looking for?
Our customers want a family focussed service. As a trained interior designer, I realised that children and parents needs were central to the design of the shop. It’s bright and colourful inside and there is a play area at the back away from the door, where children can play whilst parents browse or focus on another child’s fitting.
We also work hard to ensure that atmosphere we create in the shop is as welcoming as the interior! We encourage parents to come in for a shoe MOT whenever they need to. We also offer appointments for all children and can be flexible for those who may have special needs or a fitting phobia. So for example, we can open early when it is very quiet and we can ensure we are able to spend more time with children who need that.
Style-wise, our customers want something different. In our first season we only sold one pair of pink shoes, these were bright pink Ricosta baseball boots for a boy on his way to a festival! The people of Kings Heath and the surrounding areas are very diverse, which means our buying is pretty varied. We need to make sure we’ve got a really wide-range of colours and styles to suit the understated classic colour palette through to the more flamboyant taste. Getting the balance right is something we’re working on and it’s fun doing it.
- 4. Do you have an online shop/website and do you use social networking for business?
We have just revamped our website to make it clear and easier to navigate for customers. We do use social networking to promote products, events and services. We had a successful social media campaign last Christmas linked to our Christmas window display. The advent calendar design enabled us to post a new product from the numbered ‘box’ everyday until Christmas Eve which boosted our sales of gifts at a time when the children’s shoe trade is quieter.
Our business App is a really useful tool, amongst other things, it contains our loyalty scheme, enables us to showcase our best styles in our gallery and send push notifications to customers about new products and sales.We’re working on a social media strategy linked to our planned marketing activity this year as there’s lots we can do to improve. We’re also part of a Facebook group for children’s shoe shops which enables us to provide support to each other and share working practices.
- 5. How are you finding the footwear market currently?
Spring’s arrival will be really welcome in Kings Heath after a quieter few months in January and February. We’re now seeing trade picking up as the temperature rises and the Easter Back to School period is on the horizon.
- 6. What’s selling well? Any particular trends? Which are your best selling footwear brands – and why?
All of our footwear brands serve a different purpose in terms of style and fit for children. Ricosta is a consistently good brand for us as the fit of the shoes is so good for children with narrow feet and ankles, which we see a lot of. Bobux is very popular for pre-walkers and toddlers as they are so flexible for developing feet. Our new Danish brand Melton is featured in our Spring window and their desert boots in mustard and navy are causing a real stir amongst the adult shoppers who’ve been the biggest purchasers of the boots so far!
- 7. How important is shoe fitting to your business? Are you or any of your staff members of the Society of Shoe Fitters?
At Cooshoo we are members of The Society of Shoe Fitters, and staff follow their training. Children’s feet are so important and different and the training has been invaluable on a number of levels. It influences our buying to ensure that every season we have a range of styles to suit the enormous range of children’s feet we will see come through our door. Society of Shoe Fitter signs in our shop window and on marketing instantly show customers we are competent fitters and endorsed by a national body. It enables us to be confident about different types of feet, foot development and fitting with the ability to talk to parents and children about why one style is better for their child than another. Ultimately, it means children leave with a good fitting shoe to protect their feet and we have fewer returns due to ill-fitting shoes.
- 8. Do you use an EPOS (retail technology) system in your shop(s)?
We use the iZeetle EPOS system which is a downloadable App which we use through our iPad and on mobile phones if we are busy or taking products out to events. It is really quick and easy to use and doesn’t require a big in outlay which was useful for us as a new start-up. The downside to it as yet is that it doesn’t hold a full stock inventory although this is in development for future versions.
- 9. Which is your favourite children’s brand – and why?
Our personal favorites are Petasil because of their bold designs and colours and we also love the distinct look of Camper which we are bringing into the store for AW2105.
- 10. And, the next step? Any plans for the future, new lines, retail systems/new technology, etc.?
We’re really excited about bringing in three new brands to the store for AW2015 season. Classic Camper styles will be on our shelves, alongside Hummel giving us cooler sports footwear that we don’t have at the moment. There is a huge Dr Martins following in our local area of Kings Heath with lots of ‘Mini Me’ footwear going on so we’re looking forward to providing for that market locally.
As for our window displays … we have a very small shop front (1.5 meters wide) and its set back from the pavement so we’ve always been aware that we needed to make an I impact with our shop window to get noticed. So, since we opened we’ve made a big effort to give our cool and colourful shoes a great showcase with creative window displays that tell a story. We’re now planning to extend our windows outside this spring and will soon be creating a cool garden area outside the shop with a grassed floor and oversized lollipop tress to reflect our logo. So watch this space!”
Anna Swift Cooshoo
tel: 0121 444 1808