jamuna lifestyle desk: For many years, Clarks Shoes has been a mainstay of the British high street. Its position has long been supported by a reputation for robust, well-made shoes and the occasional iconic style the desert boot was launched in 1950. Innovation too, was part of its brand strength, with technical developments in shoe manufacture and marketing initiatives.
However, the British shoe industry experienced a rapid decline in manufacturing from the 1980s and, at a time of booming retail expansion, focused more on building branded store portfolios.
Now retail has also become problematic, leaving Clarks, like many other retailers, with some serious thinking to do about its current store portfolios.
Following a 65 per cent fall in profits, Clarks has announced that it will comb its portfolio of high street shops to identify savings in its 550-store retail empire.
In part, the company’s problems lie in changing patterns of consumption and shopping journeys. A trend towards online shopping has gained momentum in recent years and fashion retailing in particular has felt the impact of changing shopping habits as consumers find online ordering, delivery (and returns) increasingly easy.
Shoe retailing itself has changed as shoes are now regularly sold in multiple clothing retailers, which places more pressure on specialist shoe shops.
Moreover, consumer preference for athletic and sports shoes, and “athleisure” generally, continues to erode the market for more traditional styles. Brands such as Nike and Adidas have a strong global presence, supported by powerful endorsement and market communications strategies that are difficult to replicate. By contrast, traditional men’s shoe brands, such as Church and Barkers’ shoes, which are still made in Northamptonshire, can command higher prices through their quality, worksmanship and niche market positioning.
However, Clarks occupies a more mainstream position, competing with the likes of Office and Dune, which leaves it open to competition for the middle-market spend. The brand still claims to be a leader in terms of trust and reliability, and its strengths in childrens’ fitted shoes a particularly British concern have contributed to its resilience.