Congrats on the recent launch of Quarter & Last! How does it feel?
Like the job has only just started. The planning and build-up to launch have been fairly smooth as we have a great team with a clear vision of what we’re trying to achieve.
Since launch we’ve been adapting our offer and message based on the reaction we’ve had, which is much more challenging and will be ever-present now. There have been elements that we’ve felt so strongly about in the planning that haven’t worked as well as we’d hoped, so having to change some of these has been tough.
Tell me a bit about the Quarter & Last’s backstory.
The Clinkard Group has been selling quality footwear for over 90 years, but the nature of the high street and therefore our offer under the Charles Clinkard banner has changed enormously in recent times. Traditionally we’ve sold a large amount of quality Goodyear welted shoes to men, but as price has become a key focus for the high street customer and this type of product has moved into a niche and more exclusive direction.
As such we felt a new fascia was needed to appeal to this customer in a different way, and the planning of Quarter & Last began.
What gap in the UK retail market does Quarter & Last strive to address?
There seemed to be a gap for a specialist men’s formal footwear offer, where customers can shop in one place, that was presented in a premium and contemporary manner, and one that relays the story behind the craftsmanship that goes in to the construction of great shoes.
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How is Quarter & Last’s business model different to its main competitors?
The service offer and the premium presentation of the website and products sets us apart. We offer the highest level of customer service as standard to our UK customers, free next day delivery, free 365 days’ returns, a price match promise, the assurances that over 90 years of experience provides – and a surprise or two when your order is unboxed.
What’s in store for 2020?
Plenty. We’ve just launched a spring/summer range and will use some new marketing channels to reach more new customers. We’re also working with a great PR company who have a long list of things they’d like us to try across the year. These include working closely with our influencers and hosting event days to let people know what we’re all about.
How is Quarter & Last addressing challenges facing the retail industry?
We’re working hard to push the benefits of sustainability in this area of the market. We’re the antithesis of fast fashion. Our products have timeless style and could be worn in any era of fashion.
The shoes we sell are built to last, and if any wear and tear appears in later years these can be repaired by the brands to ensure every last ounce of each pair is fully utilised. I have several pairs of welted shoes and boots that I’ve had for many years and they’re still going strong.
“We’re the antithesis of fast fashion”
Our packaging is also fully recyclable and no plastics are used as wrapping or filler in the parcels we send out to our customers.
What would you say is the biggest risk for the retail sector at the moment?
There are so many risks, it’s hard to point to just one as the biggest. Customer confidence is probably the main one – the uncertainty caused by the protracted Brexit situation has lead to people keeping their hands in their pockets for now until they know what the medium-term future means for them in terms of finances.
Retailers are therefore reluctant to invest as working out likely returns on those investments is almost impossible or at least unconvincing. Once rising costs are factored in due to the rise in the national living wage, a business rates scheme that’s not fit for purpose, and landlords who are scrapping to keep value in their portfolios, this adds up to difficult times for retail and sadly I think a few more big names will disappear this year.
Describe your role and responsibilities.
I’m trading director at Quarter & Last, which means I’m responsible for the supply chain and also the overall performance of the business from a trading perspective. As such I’m involved in all aspects of the website to a degree. Fortunately we have great people working on the detail in all areas as crucial components such as marketing and website technology are a long way out of my comfort zone.
Tell us a bit about yourself and your background beforehand.
“The longer you work in retail the more you realise that a focus on your customer is absolutely key”
After finishing my degree I worked in supply chain roles for Disney Store and Debenhams. I then made a move to the North East 10 years ago and joined the Clinkard Group, where I’ve been since in various roles.
What got you into retail in the first place?
I went to a few recruitment fairs while at university and found the traditional careers seemed fairly narrow in skill requirements and a bit pedestrian as a whole. Retail supply chain looked a lot more varied and fast-paced, and also very relevant to people – it’s easy to have an interesting conversation about clothes or shoes with your friends, not so much when there’s a change in insurance practices or tort law.
How has your previous experience aided your current job?
My background is all in retail in some form or other so my previous experience is all relevant. The longer you work in retail the more you realise that a focus on your customer is absolutely key. It seems obvious but plenty of people I’ve worked with get lost in figures and theory, when simply asking yourself ‘what do our customers want?’ a couple of times a day is far more effective.
What is the most challenging aspect of your job?
Trying to retain a focus on the things that really matter. In retail, and in ecommerce in particular there are a huge number of statistics you can look at, and the temptation is to get lost in all this and forget the simple things that will make your customer smile and have a great experience.
And the most rewarding?
Getting great feedback from our customers on social media, particularly when it’s about our unboxing moment as it’s something we’ve tried really hard to make special. For all the negativity that can surround social media at times we can forget that it’s a fantastic point of communication with our customers and reading positive things gives you a huge boost.
What advice would you give someone embarking on a career in retail?
Be prepared to work hard and make mistakes, but always focus on why your customers shop with you – if you lose that you lose everything.
Any last words?
Despite the uncertain nature of retail at the moment, it’s still a great industry to be involved in. When times are tough retailers seem to have an ability to bite down hard, be even more innovative and mostly get through it somehow.
It will remain difficult in 2020 and probably 2021, but for those retailers who survive there are exciting times ahead in the proceeding years once we have some economic certainty.