Shoes 4 School
Camberley schoolwear retailer Brenda’s opens a standalone school shoe shop.
By Laura Turner
7 October 2016
Brenda’s in Camberley, Surrey, is a well-established and highly regarded school uniform independent with a heritage that dates back to 1949. Today, Steve Optix, grandson of the business’s founder Brenda Francis, is at the helm alongside his mother and business partner Jan Green. Over the years, Optix has honed the business with a proactive, forward thinking approach, combining the best of bespoke customer service with the convenience of digital and e-commerce.
Optix’s latest enhancement to the business is somewhat different, however. In fact, it’s a whole new retail venture in the form of a school shoe shop, Shoes 4 School, which opened in July opposite Brenda’s.
“It’s down to the opportunity that presented itself to us: the location of Brenda’s in relation to the new shop, our footfall readymade to convert, and the lack of a local supplier,” says Optix, on the motivation behind Shoes 4 School’s opening.
“We’ve sold school shoes as an add-on in our main store for over 10 years, but as we’ve taken on more and more school uniforms, the space to sell footwear diminished almost entirely. It pained us that we had a readymade footfall of customers wanting to purchase school shoes at the same time as uniforms, but because we didn’t have space for the stock, they were having to purchase shoes elsewhere.”
Shoes 4 School is the solution to this dilemma, allowing Optix to capitalise on demand. Now, he is able to direct customers purchasing uniform at the main store straight across the road for their footwear requirements at Shoes 4 School.
Completely tailored to the needs of the school footwear customer, Shoes 4 School currently stocks POD, Just Good and Hi-Tec and also has accounts with K-Swiss and Kickers. In addition to footwear, the store carries related accessories, including a large range of school bags, socks, tights, drawstring bags and footwear related sundries.
“All of our shoes are aimed solely at school use – durable, hardwearing, stylish and not too contemporary – with some strong traditional styles,” says Optix. “All of the shoes are either a leather upper, or a full grain leather, with an overall price range of £19.50 up to £55,” he continues. “We stock boys’ shoes from a junior 9 to an adult 11.5, and girls’ shoes from a junior 7 through to an adult 9, covering Velcro, slip-on, lace up and T-bars. We also sell trainers, plimsolls, wellingtons, ballet shoes and winter boots.”
While some footwear stores’ USP is in being completely customer centric, accommodating all specialist footwear requests, Shoes 4 School intends to provide a more straightforward service: a core range of functional school shoes at good prices, in a convenient setting, and with a basic fitting service; Shoes 4 School’s niche isn’t in width fittings nor overly complex sizing.
“We have a local footwear independent within five miles who is a lot more specialised than us and covers a larger range of requirements across children’s footwear,” says Optix. “We know the owners – they’re lovely people – and our ranges don’t cross over much, if at all. Our aim is to take market share from the well-known high street retailers.”
Displays of shoes feature around the store, which totals around 800 sq ft, with large product detail signs for clarity. A telling sign of a schoolwear retailer’s mind being behind the shop layout are the efforts made to reduce waiting times and provide a speedy service. All stock, for instance, is available on the shop floor, together with plenty of seating, thus ensuring busy customers who don’t need assistance can self-serve if they so choose.
In addition to the convenience of its proximity to Brenda’s, Optix is further incentivising sales at Shoes 4 School via 10 per cent discount cards, which are being given to every customer at the till point in the main store. “It’s an unlimited use card aimed at getting customers in the door,” he says. “Shoes 4 School is directly opposite our schoolwear store, one of the main reasons we considered this venture, so we literally can just point across the road to show customers where it is. Thus far, we’ve found customers very happy and relieved at not having to trudge into town centres to queue with ticketing systems. It’s a daily learning curve, but we’re enjoying engaging with parents to find out what they want.”
Having stocked some school footwear in the past, Optix already has some long established footwear supplier accounts, picking up others in recent years through the Schoolwear Show and Moda Footwear.
Going forward, his aim is to frequent more related trade shows to ensure the store is offering the best products on the market at the right price points. As digital plays such a large part in Brenda’s service, online is also in the plan for Shoes 4 School and will be fully addressed when the Back to School rush subsides. In the meantime, the store can be found on Facebook.
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