Name: Michelle Lane
Shop: Soles With Heart, West Malling, Kent
Brands: Petasil, Hush Puppies, Keds, Riccosta, Sketchers, Primigi, Camper, Joules. Birkenstocks, Bo Bell, Pediped Leli Kelly, Superfit, Hi-Tec, Umi
Home Town: West Malling, Kent
Family: Husband David and son Oliver age 9

How did you get into footwear?
Tell us about your background and your current business?
I had been in the same field for 25 years and decided I needed a new direction in my career. I decided children’s shoes would be a great idea as I found it hard to find different footwear for my son. Unfortunately after two months of being open I was diagnosed with cancer. This has been so hard a new business, a family and cancer, luckily all three could not survive so I got rid of the cancer!

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?
We are in a Kentish village with 98% of the shops being independent this is fairly unique. Our customers are of a wide diversity. The main comment we have from the customers is that they can pop in after school and still be home by 4’ish.
Having free parking is an absolute advantage too plus fantastic fitting and stock of course. We opened in April 2013 and are staff are great and very loyal

Do you have an online shop/website and do you use social networking for business?
We find that Facebook and Twitter help us immensely.
We are starting our on-line business, hopefully, in April.

How are you finding the footwear market currently?
We have little experience in the past market but have found people really do want quality footwear and good fitting.

What’s selling well? Any particular trends?
Which are your best selling footwear brands – and why?
Petasil and Ricosta are selling fantastically well for school shoes. The quality is great we are constantly being told by parents they are amazed by the quality and softness of the leather.
We use Superfit for our casual and shoe trainers – they are continually being purchased and are approved by the podiatrist we work with. Sketchers sell easily, especially for boys as they offer fun design and good value.

Does your shop sell other items besides footwear, bags, gloves, tights, socks, below the ankle products?
We were requested by customers to get in ballet shoes tights and socks so we have. Parents also said what about ladies footwear, so we are launching women’s shoes in April, with the addition of Joules & Crew clothing.

Any difficulties/problems?
There are always problems! Mind was being diagnosed with cancer two months after opening, but I had great staff to get me through that’s why were have not gone online yet.
We have also had problem gaining certain accounts but are now not worried as we have found better ones!

Any tips on stock offers, novel ideas for clearing lines or advice for independent shoe retailers who might be feeling the pinch?
We have done lots of promotions with face book which were great – also encouraging children to send in pictures for a competition and naming the Croc man was a good one.

What is your favourite children/ladies brands– and why?
I like Petasil , they are not the cheapest, but offer great quality, lined in leather. Equally I like Bo-Bell for they offer different designs and quality, also both companies are so unique to offer more or less what you want when you want it. Sorry that was two! We have started using Ravel for ladies, which are working out well for a good price point and the ability to order in season.

How do you select your products – which criteria do you use / what are your customers looking for?
I try to go for stock that is not the typical look on the high street. School shoes for durability, but lightness too. I am also really keen to have good arch supports. For younger boys’ shoes, it is essential to have good scuff protection for the toes, as they trash them so quickly.

Which footwear/fashion shows do you attend, how do you rate them?
I have been to Moda & Bubble . It’s great to have the amount of people there to be able to compare styles and quality from various companies.
Usually, Louise Wiltshire and I drive to Moda have a look round on the Sunday, then stay overnight at the Crown Plazza, as it’s so close. We have a meal nice bottle of wine, then we are ready to go for it the next day and then drive home non-stop chatting about what we have brought.
This season we have booked a different hotel, as we were nominated for Best New Indepedendent Shoe Shop Of The Year Award 2014. I decided that my husband should be there to celebrate and Denise Cheasly, who is a big part of the business. New dresses all round, with the exception of David! So this Moda four of us will be buying!!

Do you have a favourite footwear agent?
All my agents are great, although we do have a very helpful one who pops in to visit us to make sure we are ok. He helped the girls while I was very ill, thank you Simon Baker from Sketchers

Have you always had a passion for footwear?
How many pairs of shoes do you own? Do you have a favourite pair? I am a nightmare for shoes I have loads. My husband is concerned that selling ladies I will increase my collection! I tend to go for comfort and love the Sketchers go walk.

Any famous customers?
All our customers are famous to us!

And, the next step? Any plans for the future, new lines, retail systems/new technology, etc.?
I would like to look at an epos system. We are introducing four new brands this Spring/Summer and I would like to stock Converse, if they ever respond to emails HINT, HINT !!

Soles With Heart
3 Swan Street
West Malling
England ME19 6JU
01732 845292