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CATEGORY  |  Retail

The sole of success

There’s no single reason for the well-heeled success of Australian icon Peter Sheppard Footwear. But unsurprisingly, their print partner had to be one out of the box.

Staying ahead of trends is key for Australian women’s shoe icon Peter Sheppard Footwear. Founded 45 years ago, the eponymous family-owned business has won several industry awards and today is one of the largest importers of women’s footwear in Australia. Its seven group stores include flagship shops in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane, each displaying some 2,000 options on the shelf.

Chris Sheppard, who has taken over the CEO role from his father Peter, says as well as staying on trend, personalised service is another key to the business’s success.

We don’t just sell shoes, we care for the foot, and we make sure that the lady has the best shoes that suit her foot, and that she’s going to have a lot of success from them.

The revered catalogue

Twice yearly the company sends out a 56-page catalogue to some 85,000 loyal customers.

But this is no ordinary catalogue. The coffee-table, quality publication is revered by customers.

It’s something they don’t throw out. We hear them saying, ‘I leave it out or share it around because so-and-so might want to have a look’. The catalogue is kept and passed around within families and friendship groups because of the quality of the document.

Chris relays a story to describe its draw. I was in the Sydney store recently and a lady was very upset because all her friends had their catalogue but she didn’t. I checked her address and the PO Box was one digit out, so I corrected it and said I’d have one in the mail to her that day. That’s the testament. Even people who have seen the catalogue online still want the hardcopy because they like to go back and research and choose.

Sales growth from the catalogue

Peter Sheppard has been doing the catalogue since 1981, and while the business has continually grown, over-the-phone sales directly from the catalogue have grown an average 10% each season, with two seasons a year.

The catalogue goes to converted customers; it’s not a mass-produced, letterbox-drop, it’s very high quality. The feel of the front and back cover is more like a magazine, as is the stock inside.

Chris buys months in advance; the team then selects around 700 shoes to showcase, with photography taking three weeks. Shots are plotted onto pages over a fortnight and then the files come to Finsbury Green where printing takes two to three weeks. All up, each catalogue takes three carefully planned months.

The result is a delicious combination of a beautifully produced printed piece that transports a product to customers who already have a strong attachment.

Print is the cornerstone

Social media has become a part of our business now, but print is a cornerstone. This document is so important to us, and that’s why we need to make sure we maintain it. The quality, the design, the printing; we need to make sure that customers are never let down, because the time they see something substandard is the time they turn their nose up a bit, and we never want that to happen.

Each season we sit down with Finsbury Green and talk about the catalogue. Sometimes we make changes so we work with them on that. Sometimes they’ve said to us there’s better stock coming out from another merchant, so we look at that and see how it prints. Two seasons ago they suggested we improve the presentation with a change to the spine.

The way we work together, it’s definitely a famous partnership – Chris Sheppard

We don’t go anywhere else because we’re happy with our print partner Finsbury Green’s consistency, quality, service and very quick turnaround. We’re very happy with the partnership.

Targeted

Besides using the catalogue on the floor in-store and direct mailing the loyal fan base, Peter Sheppard Footwear also sends several thousand catalogues to registered podiatrists across Australia. The podiatrists show patients with foot problems which particular type of shoes they need, then when they come into our stores we fit them appropriately.

Last November, we launched an e-commerce website, but people buying over the phone is still a very big part of our business.

So big, in fact, that for weeks after each catalogue is sent, five people man the phones to take orders.

People like to speak to someone about the products or brands. They want to talk to someone about their purchase. That two-way conversation is all about customer service and that’s what we do and that’s why our phone-order department is inundated every day with sales that are often multi-pair.

Effective

Chris says, We’re very proud of the catalogue. We put a lot of effort into it, but if it didn’t work, we wouldn’t do it. A lot of competitors shake their heads. Every quarter Australian  family shoe-retailer businesses catch up over lunch. We talk about this catalogue and they say ‘what a waste of money’. But the way we do it, it most definitely works for us.

The next step we’re working on is opening up our format in London. We’ll roll out the catalogue model there. That will be very important too!

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