Becky Lawson

Values matter to Visualsoft client Charles Clinkard

Longstanding Visualsoft client, Charles Clinkard has made it into the press this week!

The footwear specialist appeared in the nebusiness supplement due to it’s increasing turnover and fast business growth in recent years. The success of the business has been partly down to the company’s online store, which was designed and developed by the team here at Visualsoft, and has seen sales online increase from £200,000 to over £4m in the six short years since becoming a client. The Clinkards group also utilises a number of other services, including mCommerce, PPC marketing and SEO, in order to keep the company’s online presence strong and help guide high street sales in the mean time.

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Values matter to Stockton-based Charles Clinkard

CHARLES Clinkard believes his grandfather would be pleased to see how he has grown the business his ancestor opened as a modest shoe shop in Middlesbrough in 1924.

Now the Stockton-based Clinkard Group runs one of the UK’s largest independent footwear shop chains with 36 branches from Bristol to Kirkcaldy after a series of acquisitions.

Its boss has stuck broadly to his grandfather’s values, putting customer service first and selling upmarket brands, including Church’s handmade shoes as well as more fashionable ranges like Timberland.

But his ambitions have seen him slowly buy more stores – and occasionally quickly, as with 12 Stead & Simpson branches four years ago – and make a success of online trading.

After last year announcing a rise in revenues from £32.1m to £33.5m, Clinkard expects to reveal this year that sales have risen to £35m despite the weakness of high street spending.

“We have been expanding as the opportunities have arisen by buying independent stores and we are still looking around this year, but we are expanding at a sensible pace,” said Clinkard.

“There is no doubt that it is tough out there and 2008 was not an easy year for us.

“We had to make one or two redundancies and had to step back our expansion a little.

“But we are seeing sales go up now, and profits too, and finding there is still a good market out there.”

The firm has not had to cut prices and pull in big promotions to boost sales, finding there is still a market for a respectable family brand. “We have not gone in for big promotions or cutting prices,” Clinkard says.

“We sell well-known brands and we try to stick to the recommended retail price. We are price sensitive, but we do not discount even online. Once you start a price war, you lose margin.”

“Although we do take on ideas, the values are very much the same as when my grandfather was here.

“What we do value is good customer service. If someone has a complaint from the shops or online then I will deal with it personally, although we do not get many complaints.”

Despite its emphasis on old-fashioned values, a new website has driven online sales from £200,000 to £4m over the last six years.

“Again it is down to looking after our customers,” Clinkard stressed.

“People can phone up and talk to our staff if they like and we do a lot of follow-up on sales.

“The retail environment is going to continue to be challenging, but we are positive about it and believe we will have customers who keep coming back to a brand they can trust.”

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