Keeping one step ahead at Jones Bootmaker
When York-based Pavers bought Jones Bootmaker, it decided to pay homage to the brand's founding family with a chic new range. Stephanie Smith finds out more. Main pictures by Simon Hulme.
In the right shoes, a woman (or a man) can conquer the world. Own the day, at least. The right shoe can be a heel or a flat, it’s entirely up to the wearer. “There’s not the dress code any more to say you have to wear a heel,” says Kate Clarke, head of buying and merchandising for Jones Bootmaker. “But people love wearing heels. What we do with ours is make them super-comfortable.”
Jones Bootmaker is now based in York, having been bought by Pavers Shoes, a footwear retailer established for 47 years. The Pavers team decided to pay tribute to Jones’s 161-year-old heritage by remembering its founders in the autumn collection.
“Shoes have been named after the original family members to launch the campaign and demonstrate respect for the past,” says Kate. So there’s the Florence (an on-trend leopard- print ankle boot), the Ella (a neat buckle loafer), the Matthew (a sharp classic men’s Oxford) and more, all named after the children of Alfred and Emma Jones, who opened their first shoe shop in Bayswater in 1857. They had 11 sons and three daughters. Nine of the boys went on to open their own shops. In 1955, the company joined Church & Co, and in recent years has undergone changes of ownership, and then came Pavers.
“Pavers is an independent family business, as Jones used to be, and we want to re-establish these traditional family values,” says managing director Stuart Paver. “The acquisition of Jones Bootmaker gave us the opportunity to delight customers in cities with high quality products where we have traditionally been under-represented, grow our e-commerce business and buy a historic family brand with values similar to our own.”
Stuart is the son of Catherine Paver, who founded Pavers Shoes in 1971 in York, taking out a £200 bank loan (which the bank allowed only because she told them it was for a sofa). She began selling at markets, village halls and house parties, always with the aim of sourcing and selling shoes that combined fit and comfort with style and affordability.
She opened her first shop in Scarborough, then York, Hull and Newcastle. Her sons, Graham, Stuart and Ian, helped nurture the family business and now there are around 30 Pavers high street shops and more than 100 discount price outlets in the UK and Ireland, stocking own range, plus brands such as Fly Flot, Skechers, Padders, Barker, Van Dal and Gabor.
Catherine sadly died two years ago but Stuart remains at the helm. His son Jason is sales director and Ian’s son George is gents’ junior buyer. Around 250 people work at the York head office and warehouse at Northminster Business Park on the outskirts of the city, where an eco-friendly distribution centre delivers to stores and customers across the UK. There’s a large IT department, and Stuart Paver’s early recognition of the importance of the internet has led to a strong online retail contribution.
Charged with taking Jones Bootmaker forward is Yorkshire-born and bred Kate Clarke, who joined the business a year ago, fulfilling a long-held ambition. Aged 33, she has a degree in politics, economics and sociology and was previously was head of retail at Coggles in York (when she was identified by Drapers as one of the top 30 people in the fashion industry). She lives near York with her three-year-old daughter.
Kate is heavily involved in the design process at source. “It’s the heritage and the credibility qualities that chimed with the Pavers ethos,” she says of Jones. “Pavers is steeped in real expertise in shoes, which goes back to Mrs Paver. Stuart is very involved with the product and product direction, working with the buyers.” Indeed, when Kate gives me a tour of the operation, Stuart Paver can be found examining new deliveries in the sample room. “He knows everybody’s name,” she says. “He’s happy to pack boxes in the warehouse. To work here, you have to be happy to be involved with everything.”
Catherine Paver saw a gap in the market, says Kate. “When you look at a shoe, you don’t want somebody to say ‘they look really comfortable’. You want them to think ‘they’re fabulous shoes’. When I go to a trade show in Istanbul or Lake Garda or in Spain to see the suppliers, they all refer to Mama Paver.”
Along with the buying team, Kate plays an integral role at Pavers, too. “You have to wear a completely different hat but the central connector is the comfort,” she says. She works closely with manufacturers, suggesting modifications as samples go back and forth until they are the perfect blend of good looks and the feel-good factor. Many shoes are custom-made using exclusive fabrics, available at best prices because of the volume ordered. The buying teams visit the factories, many of which are also family-owned businesses. “So there’s a meeting of minds, a mutual respect, relationships going back 30 years,” says Kate. “It’s all about an injection of modernity but in an appropriate and relevant kind of way. We’re not about to put feathers all over our shoes because feathers are in next season, but what we will do is take a trend and diffuse it in the right way.”
For this season in women’s footwear, there’s snake print, studding and plaiting. “It’s the quality of the detail as well, it’s not in your face,” adds Kate. Deep burnished red is a colour to look out for, as is white and the western trend. “We pay attention to everything. The Jones 24/7 courts are cushioned inside, moulding to your foot, all leather lined and the heels are really comfy. “The newest shape is a modern take on the 1980s pointy look. They make your leg look really slim.”
Flats are on the rise, says Kate, but heels are here to stay. “People love wearing heels. It makes us feel better.”
There are various ways to ensure comfort, starting with the last shape, to make sure it fits the foot and supports the heel. Fitting is vital, as is the footbed, all calf-lined. Comfort technology adds cushioning and shock absorbing in the heel. Foot model Polly and Kate try on every shoe and boot to make sure it’s perfect.
Men’s footwear makes up 45 per cent of Jones Bootmaker’s offer. “Browns and blacks always provide the staples, but what we’re feeling very strongly are those deep colours that can almost act as a replacement for brown, so gorgeous burgundies, deep olives,” says Kate.
Goodyear welted leather soles can be repaired easily and should last for 20 years at least.
The trend towards a casual attitude comes into play. “You can team our boots with anything,” says Kate. “That cost per wear on a boot now is so much less than it used to be. A high ankle boot with a dress looks equally as appropriate as a court.”
There are 120 Pavers outlets offering footwear at cheaper prices. “Some are made in high-spec India and China factories to make sure that we can get the price points,” Kate says. “We have ethical trading standards that we and our suppliers work to.
“Ethics are super-important, the fundamental principles that we practise. We do genuinely have respect for every person around the business, and that goes further afield to make sure that we’re paying a fair price.
“It’s fairness that runs right through the business. People are at the heart of it. You have good people, you get good products, you get good prices, and the customer is happy.”
Jones Bootmaker recently opened a new flagship store in Covent Garden and is looking to open more stores across the country. It’s a great step forward for all those in search of style-conscious footwear that feels like walking on air. Because life’s too short for uncomfortable shoes.
Jones Bootmaker is at James Street in Harrogate and on www.jonesbootmaker.com. Pavers Shoes is across Yorkshire and at www.pavers.co.uk