Kurt Keiger on the front foot: the shoe chain opens new stores
At a time when Covid-19 has hit a string of big name retailers, shoe chain Kurt Geiger is defiantly opening new brick and mortar stores.
“We strongly believe in the High Street and we put our money where we are,” said Managing Director Neil Clifford.
Kurt Geiger, owner of the Carvela and Shoeaholics brands, reopened all of his UK stores after the last lockdown was lifted, along with nine new ones.
Geiger expects return to High Street: Shoe chain boss Neil Clifford is confident people will come back in droves once locks are fully lifted
They include a Shoeaholics branch in Westfield in the White City of London, which is the UK’s largest shoe store, as well as a Carvela store launch in central Trafford in Manchester.
The new stores will create around 50 jobs. Clifford wants to rehire some employees at the Debenhams dealerships who lost their jobs following the bankruptcy of the department store.
“We have lost over 700 people in the last 18 months, mainly because of the collapse of Debenhams,” he says.
This may seem counterintuitive considering how the pandemic has devastated traditional retailers and boosted online sales – and especially since Kurt Geiger is privately owned, which has been linked to a series of meltdowns. in the area.
But Clifford, 54, is convinced people will come back in droves once the locks are fully lifted, as Britons love to shop – and love their shoes, whether stiletto heels, sneakers, slingbacks, sliders, espadrilles or courts.
“Did you know that the average person in the UK has between 30 and 50 pairs of shoes? he asks.
He joined Kurt Geiger, then owned by the Fayed family, in 1995. The channel was established in 1963 on Bond Street in London – “Yes, there was a real man called Kurt Geiger,” he explains.
Today it stands out as a growing private equity firm creating jobs in the retail sector, at a time when many High Street victims, including Debenhams, have been blamed on the buyout barons.
KurT Geiger is majority owned by the private equity firm Cinven, which owns 79% of the capital. Clifford and the rest of management own 21 percent.
“Cinven has been fantastic and very supportive, just like Lloyds Bank,” says Clifford.
His personal approach during the pandemic, when he gave up his £ 500,000 a year salary and embarked on a huge shoe giveaway to NHS staff, was also at odds with the stereotype of privately owned businesses as uncompromising and uncompromising. ruthless.
“I’m getting paid again now that our stores have reopened,” he says.
It helped Kurt Geiger get into the crisis from a position of strength.
Before the pandemic, annual sales rose 3.7% to £ 347million and pre-tax profits fell to just under £ 36million from £ 30million.
He also set up the program to donate shoes to health service workers after his niece, Kerry Morrison, who works as a specialist nurse at Queen Alexandra Hospital in Portsmouth, said it would be good for them to ‘have free shoes.
Expansion: Kurt Geiger, owner of the Carvela and Shoeaholics brands, reopened all of its UK stores after the last lockdown was lifted, along with nine new ones
“ There was a lot of debate about whether we could afford to do it, but in a way that we couldn’t afford not to do. People will remember the behavior of companies. ”
Having been a retailer his entire adult life, Clifford has an old-fashioned faith in the resilience of the great UK buyer.
He left school in the 1980s with an O level in art and started working on a youth training program at Debenhams in Portsmouth, so he feels an emotional tug over the channel’s demise. so loved.
“Despite all the problems, I absolutely believe in the High Street. I come from the era of stores and the era of analog. I was a store manager so it’s in my blood. I think shopping is our national religion.
For Clifford, the pandemic represents an opportunity, as it did after the banking crisis more than a decade ago.
“Downturns are an opportunity to open big stores and that’s what we’ve done in the past. Our biggest growth came after the financial crisis, when we opened almost 30 stores, ”he says.
Traditional stores and digital sales are not mutually exclusive, but complement each other.
“When we open a store, we do a lot more business online in that community. Of course, you have to open in the right places, which is the million dollar question.
“We opened a store in Cardiff 18 months ago and our digital business is up 60% there.
The average person in the UK has between 30 and 50 pairs of shoes
Clifford says there has been a shift to large malls where there is cheap and easy parking, as people still avoid public transport.
“Easily accessible centers are twice as efficient as normal streets,” he says. “The shift to large regional shopping centers has been going on for some time, but since Covid it has gained momentum.”
Likewise, the trend towards the Internet has accelerated. “We sell twice as much on KG.com as in the 56 Kurt Geiger stores,” he says.
Clifford has negotiated new rental deals with most of the chain’s owners and says curtly, “I think they understand that they have to share our profits rather than take all of our profits.
He is also betting, he says, on government reform of corporate tariffs, which is a major burden.
“We only had one loss-making store, in Covent Garden. When we took it over in 2008-2009 the rent was £ 250,000. By the time we closed it in January the rent was £ 500,000 plus an additional £ 500,000 in business rates.
“We are betting on Rishi to deal with trade tariffs. We think there will be a change in a year or two – we hope so.
“You can get premises on Oxford Street and Regent Street for rent below the rates. It’s crazy, around £ 450,000 in price for a shoe store.
Locked out, people initially bought slippers, but women now slip their feet into higher heels.
He says, “We are very busy designing new heels. Ten years ago, 70% of the shoes sold were heels. It’s down to 3% locked out, but it’s now back to 15%. ”
Instead of saying that the hems reflect the fortunes of the economy, wearing the heel is a sign of confidence in the return to normalcy.
“Economically, we will rebound very quickly, we will all be complaining about inflation in a year from now. I am incredibly optimistic now about the future. ”
Clifford is determined to do his best. If he is successful, he will have proven to skeptics that the High Street has a vibrant future and that private equity ownership does not necessarily mean throwing a business off the wolves.
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