Footwear firm takes steps to walk the right path

IF you live in the North of England, chances are that Wynsors World of Shoes is a familiar brand. Now more than half a century old, this footwear chain has evolved from a handful of market hall stalls to a successful business with plans to further expand.

Today Wynsors employs nearly 700 people across 41 sites. But it hasn’t been all plain sailing. The demise of Kwik Save in 2007 forced the closure of Wynsors’ concession stores within the defunct supermarket group, and the shift in consumer spending habits to the internet has also proved a challenge.

A solution to the loss in footfall after the collapse of Kwik Save was found: the company started buying freeholds and building premises of its own. As for the growth in online shopping, the firm took the plunge and launched its own website. That was six years ago.

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“I understand retail business but I’ve had to reinvent and relearn when it comes to the web,” said Mark Richardson, managing director of Wynsors World of Shoes.

“We have seen a migration (of customers) from stores to the web, the internet is a big growth area for the business.

“We are doing really well on the web. But there’s no doubt that it’s taking sales from the stores. “

Website marketing is a far cry from the company’s genesis back in May 1956.

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At that time, Courtesy Shoes was a small part of The Sutton Group, trading from market stalls and high street shops.

By the 1960s, Courtesy had purchased two chains of shoe stores, called Seftons and Lees, based in towns outside of Leeds city centre. The company adopted another name for this part of its business – Medina – before, in the mid 1980s, taking on the name we know today.

Wynsors was born out of the transformation of retailing more than 30 years ago, as out-of-town shopping grew in popularity in the late 70s and early 80s,

Courtesy responded to the demand and opened a couple of new premises. The second of these was in Thurcroft, near Rotherham. The previous owners of the building were called Wynsor House Discount Carpets, and so a brand was born.

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A sprinkling of celebrity helped to boost the new name when Martin Shaw, star of the enormously popular TV show The Professionals, cut the ribbon.

Lewis Smith, Shaw’s co-star, was on hand for the opening of the third store in Bradford some 18 months later.

Mr Richardson, 44, is proud of the fact that, as the company has expanded, the staff have grown with it. He joined Wynsors aged 18 and worked his way up.

“Wynsors is the sort of business that has always promoted from within,” said Mr Richardson. “However, as it has evolved into a bigger business over the past 10 to 15 years, we have had to adopt a bit of a different strategy in terms of almost buying in staff.”

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A desire to stock well known sports footwear fuelled the firm’s ambitions, despite a reluctance by the big groups such as Nike, Adidas and Reebok to trade with non-sportswear specialists.

Cue the first ever Uni Sport shop. In 2013, every Wynsors outlet has a Uni Sport department.

While the Wynsors website is doing well, and there are plans afoot to open two new stores each year, the company has suffered during the adverse economic climate.

Mr Richardson said: “I’d be lying if I said trade was easy, far from it. But when the recession first hit in 2007/8, we up-traded significantly.

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“People had had a shock, downgraded and went for more discount products. So we had an initial spike (in sales).

“But, for the last two years, trade has been difficult. But it’s difficult for anybody. We are managing to hang on in there. We know what we are and who our customers are.”

Looking ahead, Mr Richardson is “optimistically cautious” about the future.

The company is looking at “all types of sites” for new stores and is still seeking to expand.

“The sites will be smaller than they were five years ago because of the change in (the retail) landscape and people going online. But hopefully the future is bright.”