Shopping isn’t every man’s ideal pastime, so staff at one Chester store have a few incentives up their sleeve to make buying with them an experience to remember.
Loake, the shop that sells the top quality, quintessentially British footwear brand, is pulling out all the stops to make sure their customers get a shopping experience like no other and where the customer is king.
The city centre store has a prime location, on Eastgate Street. Step down off the street and into the shop and you’ll be guided into a plush leather chair, offered a drink and a chat, to find out what it is you’re looking for. It’s worlds away from a footwear chain store. It’s more like a gentlemen’s club, where you can relax, take your time and have a drink – and then maybe leave with a beautiful pair of handmade shoes.
“We try to give the person in the chair a great experience,” says Paul Johnson, Head of Business (pictured, above). “They’re not just buying a pair of shoes.”
“You come into the store, you’re welcomed in, we measure your feet for width and length, we sit you down and find out what the shoes are for,” says Paul. “You can have a glass of white wine or beer, whisky, tea or coffee.”
The Chester store is part of the nine-strong family of The Brogue Trader and is run in partnership with Loake, who manufacture some of the world’s finest footwear. Both The Brogue Trader and Loake are family-owned British businesses specialising in high-quality, handmade footwear.
Paul has worked for the 10-year-old Brogue Trader family for eight years. It sells a small number of quality brands that includes Loake, so it was a perfect business fit when Brogue Trader bosses were approached by Loake to go into partnership.
Chester was the first Loake shop outside of London, opening first in the Grosvenor Precinct where they stayed for five years before moving to Eastgate Street almost three years ago.
The vision was to extend to shoes the shopping experience that people expect when they buy high-end cars, art or fine jewellery.
“That’s what we try to give everyone who comes through the door – an experience,” says Paul.
“We found there was nothing for gentlemen on the high street,” he adds. “The vision was to open a nice shoe shop where gentlemen could come in, have a full experience and it feels like they’re coming into their own club.”
It’s a shop that attracts a certain type of person, although Paul is noticing the customer base is getting wider: “Because of the price point we get a lot of professional people – barristers, lawyers, doctors,” he says. “We do really well on weddings, too. But on the flip side we have leisurewear now so we are seeing a different sort of clientele.”
Paul says people shouldn’t be put off coming into the shop if they think their scruffy dress sense isn’t up to scratch. “We don’t judge,” he says. “It’s the worst thing you can do. We encourage people to come in and have a drink and a chat. We try and see the bigger picture.
“Don’t be afraid to come in if you’re looking for a very different service. We’re just trying to be more than a shoe shop,” Paul adds.
Paul has decades of experience in retail and has been with the Chester branch from the start. Joining him on the shop floor in Chester is assistant manager James and sales executive Alex. Between them they run the shop seven days a week, selling quality belts, socks, umbrellas and luggage alongside the handmade shoes.
They value their customers so much that Blue Light workers and military personnel are offered a 15% discount and they’ve introduced a loyalty card for other clients which is stamped every time they buy a pair of shoes. They get a free pair of shoes after collecting six stamps.
“We have polishing tutorials for our best customers, too. We pick around 10 customers and invite them in. It’s a way of being a little bit different,” adds Paul.
As well as looking after each and every customer, The Brogue Trader group of shops understand that connecting with like-minded businesses is important, so they hold breakfast networking mornings.
Chester has held three, so far.
“The days of opening your door for people to just walk in just isn’t happening any more so you have to go out and engage with your community as well as customers,” explains Paul. “So we thought why don’t we have a breakfast networking morning every quarter with all the businesses that we engage with in the city. It’s their opportunity to mingle and promote their own business.
“There’s no hidden agenda and it’s not just about selling shoes: it’s about networking with the local community, to help each other.”
The events are held in-store and a light breakfast is supplied. Tickets are free via EventBrite with a limit of around 20 participants to keep the gathering friendly and intimate.
Along the way Paul has forged working relationships with the likes of The Grosvenor Hotel, Gieves and Hawkes, Crichton, Moss Bros, Tanners Wine and Penhaligon’s, all top-class businesses that are part of many people’s experience of life in Chester.
“We try and build relationships as much as we can,” says Paul.
- Loake is at 16 Eastgate Street, Chester, CH1 1LF