The impact of online shopping has had a devastating effect on the UK High Street. Recent figures released by the Centre for Retail Research state that over the next five years one in five shops could close, writes Malcolm Storrar.Paul Haslam
One business in Wilmslow is bucking the trend — Haslams Independent Footwear Specialist, a family-run business which has been operating successfully for over thirty-five years.
So confident are they of the future that in March this year they closed their old shop on Alderley Road and moved to new premises on Grove Street, doubling the size of their showroom to include more brands and a wider selection of footwear.
Overall the shop has expanded to over three times the size of the previous one. According to the owner Paul Haslam, the reason for such optimism is simple, “We offer something the internet can’t — good old fashioned customer service. To me shopping for shoes online is a big mistake. How can you possibly tell from a photograph if a pair of shoes is going to fit or not? Then there’s the colour, the style, the feel, not to mention the quality of the materials. More often than not people end up being disappointed and send them back. But at Haslams each person’s foot is carefully measured for the best possible fit. We go to great lengths to ensure customer satisfaction, even stocking half sizes. My staff are experts in the art of shoe-fitting, all being members of the Society of Shoe Fitters.”
Haslams also offer another service, as Paul is keen to point out. “Many of our shoes are suitable for the use of orthotics required for posture or medical reasons, so Chiropodists and Podiatrists often refer their patients to us.”
Paul comes from a family of shoe retailers. “My father first opened a shop in Knutsford in 1980, then a few years later we got the shop in Wilmslow. Dad and I ran the Wilmslow branch while my sister Jennifer took over the Knutsford premises. So we had two shops going until 2006, when Jennifer retired to Spain.”
Joining the business straight from school Paul recalls, “I had to learn from the bottom up. The first thing my father did was send me to a shoe factory in the Midlands for a month. The insight I gained was invaluable. Working on the shop floor I got to see how shoes were made, the different processes involved. I came back to Cheshire quite an expert!
After serving in the shop for a while Dad took me on the road with him visiting the various trade fairs up and down the country. These fairs are important as they showcase the latest designs and fashion trends.
Only recently, I was at the Moda Shoe Fair in Birmingham — the UK’s largest trade exhibition — buying shoes for next Spring. Also, it’s important to see what’s happening in the European market, so once every few years I fly to Dusseldorf for the German Shoe Fair.”
So, what makes him decide what’s hot and what’s not? “It’s all a bit of a gamble really, but nine times out of ten my instincts pay off. I also listen to what my customers tell me. For instance, for the coming 2017 season I’m bringing in a make called Sketchers.”
Proof of Paul’s hard work and attention to detail is evident in the latest brands lining the shelves — brands such as Gabor, Peter Kaiser, Mephisto, Ecco, Waldlaufer, Rieker, Remonte, Van Dal, Joseph Seibel, Fitflops, Sioux, Barker, Crocket and Jones, Loakes, to name but a few.
And its seems to have paid off, as Paul explains, “We’ve built a loyal customer base over many years. People come to us from afar afield as London and Scotland. Our reputation for stocking high quality brands is second to none.”