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Q&A with Jodie Fox, Shoes of Prey

Known as one of the pioneers of customisation in Australia, online retailer Shoes of Prey was launched by university friends Jodie Fox, Michael Fox and Mike Knapp in 2009, allowing women all over the world to design their own shoes. The company went onto open six concessions stores in Nordstrom in the US. Last year, the decision was made to close the stores and focus on being a pureplay retailer.

What’s the journey been like going from a start-up to where you are now?

“It’s been huge. It’s been really interesting. It’s been a huge test on us as executives and making sure that we’re constantly sharpening ourselves.

In our roles as founders, our roles have changed dramatically over the years. On the business side of things, it’s been a magnificent experience to constantly evolve the business, not only in terms of our size, but in terms of what we believe can happen in the space of on-demand manufacturing and mass customisation.

We’ve come a long way from being just a retailer, then becoming a manufacturer to always pushing the envelope of technology to testing offline. It’s been a really excellent experience and I think when you’re pioneering a space, you tend to probably be bolder with the things you want to try. I feel really excited and lucky that we’re still going through those experiences and still evolving in that space.”

You’ve said that Shoes of Prey will always have a start-up attitude. How would you describe that mentality and how has it helped you as the business has grown?

“We never take anything for granted and we’re always really pushing to test and be a very metrics data-driven company. A good example of that was evolving our strategy into making way for offline retail and I think if we were a much bigger company, we may not have had the confidence to do that, particularly when the market has moved towards that hybrid model.

As a startup, we’ve had the courage to leave offline retail for now and focus on pureplay and this is definitely a clear demonstration of a startup attitude, having played in [the bricks-and-mortar] space and from the numbers that we’re seeing.”

Has it been difficult maintaining that fast growth Shoes of Prey experienced in its earlier years?

“There are so many elements that you need to be aware of as you’re growing. Some people talk about how great it is to sell out of something, and that’s true to an extent, but you also don’t want to leave your customers feeling burnt that they missed out. There are always many, many levers that you need to pull. In terms of our growth, it’s still very, very strong.

We’re still in double digits year-on-year in terms of our growth, which is extremely healthy for a company that’s seven years down the track. We’ve agreed as a business to not disclose sales figures, but we have seen healthy sales growth over the last 12 months and since relocating our headquarters to LA, the US has become our biggest customer base, accounting for about 50 per cent of our sales.

We have a positive outlook for the next 12 months, particularly now that we are focusing on where our biggest growth opportunity lies for the immediate future – online retail.

[Since moving to the US], probably one of the key things for us has been realising how truly fragmented the country is. It’s like you’re marketing to a whole series of countries within a continent like Europe, as opposed to Australia, where we really are one market. It’s about understanding not just the language, but learning how to communicate what you want to show to the market.”

Shoes of Prey is often seen as a pioneer in the customisation space. What’s that journey of growth been like for you guys?

“The heart of all innovation is focusing on the customer and their needs and observing them as they evolve and meeting them as well. I don’t think we’ve necessarily picked a particular niche and exploited it. I think we’ve just followed our hearts and watched what our customers need and enjoy the most.”

What are some of the unique challenges of customisation?

“The supply chain is really challenging and we built our own factory to satisfy that. Also, for a lot of companies that already have stock on the shelves, I think immediacy is one of the key triggers that they pull to satisfy their customers. The ability to make things really unique and yours is not always possible, so I think there’s always a struggle with helping customers to understand what those offerings mean.

In terms of the technology we offer, we have to help our customers visualise what the end product is going to look like, and companies that understand that idea are really killing it in that space.”

What have you learnt from retailing in the US?

“There were some great lessons. I think that some of the bigger ones that really pushed us into the strategy we’re in now were from spending so much time in amongst traditional retailers of shoes, like learning about the way they organise merchandise, seasons and trends.We also had the opportunity to watch how customers naturally make purchases

and see what that customer journey looks like. You really are working closely with customers for affirmation, having built an ecommerce site. You’re trying to understand what the next step they’d like to see us make to really meet all their needs. Using metrics and data has helped us understand this holistically and connect with the experience that she is having.”

Is there anything you would have done differently with the Shoes of Prey concessions stores?

“It’s so interesting. I’m not sure it’s possible to answer that, because there are so any differences between they way concession stores operate in Australia and the US. There are different things we would have done there. In the US, everyone operates on commission, so it takes longer for a customer to buy a pair of shoes ….and that price structure needs to be considered.

There are a lot of things that we tested in that space, but for now, we can see our customers truly being in the online space rather than offline and we see her buying more and more there. When we were opening our stores, it wasn’t just about the customisation of shoes. I think that our customer was probably uncomfortable with online purchasing altogether and that’s really started to grow so rapidly, so I think there was a broader trend around that as well.”

There are a few pureplay retailers like ASOS and Booktopia who really don’t ever see themselves going offline. Do you think it’s better to stick to one area and do it really well?

“I think it depends on who your target audience is, depending on the age of the your customers and their shopping habits – all of that plays a big role in determining whether customers want to shop on- or offline and I think that’s a pretty normal observation. If your target audience is older, you may find that they’re not going to shop purely online as often as they are offline.”

How do you guys make sure you’re keeping up with the latest technology? What trends do you have your eye on at the moment?

“We always keep our ear to the ground for new technology. Being based in LA, a hub for tech innovation and startups, it is one of the prime places to really immerse yourself and be a part of what is happening next.

3D technology is a big focus for us. The Shoes of Prey experience is built on our custom 3D design platform. We’re always looking to ensure that it’s easy to use and understand. We look towards feedback from our customers to know how we can improve it and make it the best experience possible. We have been experimenting with 3D printing for some time now too and we’re excited about the potential to take mass customisation even further with 3D printing.”

What plans do you have for 2017 now that you’re a pureplay retailer?

“Our focus for the business is to continue building the Shoes of Prey online experience. We’re focusing strongly on on the products now and you can see the investment we’ve already made on the website with the rebrand and new designer. We’re focusing on making sure it’s fun, helpful and the best experience she can have online as a consumer.

On the manufacturing side, there are a lot more shoes and styles and trends in the market. We recently launched boots for example, and we’re just trying to get into those spaces we haven’t been before, especially in places like the US where it gets so cold that you can’t wear ballet flats – I didn’t realise that! There are a lot of things we can do in that space and we’re really excited about it.”

Tell us about the strategy behind the rebrand last year. Why was it time to have one?

“Shoes of Prey is constantly evolving, whether that’s tweaking our 3D custom design platform, or offering updates to our classic styles, to launching new lines, like we did with customisable boots, a truly exciting moment for our business. As our business continued to develop, we reached a point that felt like the right time to reflect on our business holistically, from who we were as a business, how we see ourselves now and who our customers are.

As a whole, we felt that we have really matured. This has happened from both a business standpoint and in the sense of our customers. Our customers have grown alongside us, and naturally, their tastes and expectations have developed in tandem with how we have continued to develop the business.

The rebrand is a reflection of this maturing that we’ve all undergone. It’s sleek, mature

and modern, but still has an element of timelessness to it. This, we think, is a true

reflection of what Shoes of Prey is about, and of our customers. They’re not bogged

down in trends, but comfortable in their tastes. After all, trends come and go, taste is something that continually evolves, but is anchored in the timelessness of what we find innately appealing. It’s a reflection of who we are as a whole now.”

Can you tell me about the thinking behind your recent influencer marketing campaign and what the strategy involved?

“At the heart of it, through our rebrand,we thought about what we believe in and obviously we believe in beautiful shoes, but it’s about the women who walk in those shoes who really inspire us and tell us about the world that we live in.

So in realising that, we wanted to choose women who we’ve met in the past that we can celebrate through the shoes that they do walk in. It’s a much bigger proposition than saying, ‘This beautiful model is going to wear our shoes.’ It’s got to be someone that we’re really connected with and to be honest, we want to work with people who we can have a wonderful relationship with and who we believe in and want to share our story.

There are so many kinds of women from all walks of life that we want to celebrate. It can be anyone, just as long as they are doing something that they’re passionate about and taking the lead role in their life, which is the core of what Shoes of Prey is about.”

I’m excited about our recent Inspirer Collections campaign where we recently collaborated with luxury fashion house illustrator Megan Hess, international travel and fashion influencer Kim Jones, and the editor and founder of beauty magazine GrittyPretty.com, Eleanor Pendleton.

Each of these women have a similar story to my own and there was a real connection. We all left the safety of our original jobs that were well-established but not what we were passionate about. We all had that moment where we wanted something more fulfilling than what we were doing everyday and eventually took that leap into the unknown.

We chased our passions and can all say that we’re all doing what we truly love now. We each produced a signature collection of shoes that paid homage to the people, places and things that inspire us. The Inspirer Collections were created to encourage women everywhere to find what it is that they love and to have the courage to follow that. It’s not just about marketing, we believe it’s a bigger idea to celebrate and it’s part of the DNA of Shoes of Prey.

“The strategy was nine months in the works. We sort of took a step back and it was about getting back into the DNA of the company and why we started.”

Where would you like Shoes of Prey to be in five years’ time?

“Shoes of Prey has really matured in the past few years, so our goal is to grow even more. We’re an agile business and more than that, we’re very customer-focused. Welisten closely to customer feedback and experience and we’re constantly pivoting to meet their needs.

While we have an overarching plan, we still operate in a very fluid way — and that’s exciting. It gives us so much opportunity to chop and change what we do and gives us that room to adjust as we go to create the best experience for our customers.”

 

This article first appear in Inside Retail Weekly

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