Congrats on celebrating 25 years of Dune last year! How did it feel?
The first emotion is surprise: 25 years have flown by.
The second is a sense of pride that we have survived and prospered during 25 years of radical change in the retail sector.
Can you briefly tell me the story of Dune?
I guess I was destined for the footwear industry as my family had been making shoes for three generations.
Initially, after leaving university I became a chartered accountant but ended up buying into a ladies manufacturing business in London. When that became tough I became an importer – one of the largest in the UK – supplying the high street. Finally, during a period of major change in shoe retailing I saw an opportunity for a niche fashion footwear retailer and so Dune was born.
Dune started trading in a 200sq ft concession in a clothing store on Oxford Street called Jane Norman. I answered an advert from the owner in a trade magazine as he was looking to add footwear to his range. At the time, I had a successful import company supplying the likes of Next and Marks & Spencer but I could see more retailers going direct to the factories in China so going into retail, looked like a good move.
“I guess I was destined for the footwear industry.”
The concession was a success and gradually I had the confidence to open a store on the Kings Road, Chelsea. With a few ups and downs we grew from there.
What has been a highlight of your career as founder of Dune?
We have won the Drapers Multiple Footwear Award three years in succession so it is great to be recognised by your peers. It shows that you’re doing something right.
The highlight now is travelling the world and seeing Dune London stores – from Mumbai to Cape Town from Dubai to Belgrade and Zurich. We are now a truly international brand.
In light of recent troubles befalling competitors Jones Bootmaker and Brantano, what does Dune offer that makes it different to other footwear retailers?
We really understand our customer and are consistent in offering them well-designed shoes with a point of difference in a great environment with exceptional customer service.
We have also invested heavily in omnichannel so that we offer our customers a seamless shopping experience.
How is Dune addressing some of the challenges facing the high street?
There is no doubt there are a lot of challenges in retail right now.
On currency, our team have successfully resourced a lot of our buy to more cost effective countries while retaining quality.
On new technology, we are constantly looking at ways of improving the digital experience with the focus on enhancements to the customer experience rather than adopting short term fads.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector, given the current climate?
Brexit has been disastrous for the retail sector. The government hasn’t helped with huge rate hikes, apprenticeship levy, living wages, etc. The list goes on.
Why are we one of the only countries with upward-only rent reviews? This has got to change.
For some reason governments don’t value the retail sector even though it is one of biggest contributors to the economy. The biggest risk is a hard Brexit with no agreement of trade with the EU. The uncertainty surrounding the whole Brexit issue doesn’t help.
Describe your role and responsibilities as founder and chairman of Dune.
Fortunately, I have a great team which makes my life a lot easier. My chief role is agreeing strategy with the team and helping, where I can, to deliver it.
I am also still very involved with the product and spend a lot of time in range reviews. I am a bit of a shoe obsessive and greatly enjoy the product development side of the business.
Finally I spend time visiting stores and factories round the world to ensure our product and service meet our exacting standards.
“Brexit has been disastrous for the retail sector.”
What got you into retail in the first place?
For me it was the natural extension from being a manufacturer and importer. As an importer I had no identity as we put the retailer’s brand on the product. Building a brand and having control over your own destiny was what persuaded me to become a retailer.
I still get a thrill seeing a Dune London bag being carried down a high street knowing all the work that has gone into designing, making, marketing and selling the product.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
There’s no doubt that knowing a lot about the product is a great aid. Plus my accountancy and finance training has been a big help.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
And the most rewarding?
Seeing customers wearing our shoes.
What advice would you give someone who is considering embarking on a career in retail?
Make sure you have a clear point of difference. It’s a very competitive business so unless you can offer something different it will be difficult to succeed.
Online shopping is growing at a fast rate so I would focus on this channel to start with.
When you get it right, it is hugely rewarding.