How Goodwin Smith attracts consumers in the busy footwear industry
10 min read
28 July 2015
Goodwin Smith is fast becoming the next big thing in men's brogues – now being worn by radio presenters and racing drivers. This week, we quizzed its CEO, Tim Smith, about the brand's success.
Give us a profile of the business. What is it you’re selling?
Redfoot Shoes was set up in 2006 to create innovative footwear. The first product we created was the folding shoe. It was a fold-up ballet pump that women could carry in their handbags and put on when they got “killer heel.”
Today, Redfoot consists of hundreds of different footwear products that we sell online. Goodwin Smith was a side project which we launched in 2013 under Redfoot as a separate brand.
We’ve taken classic men’s shoes such as brogues and Chelsea boots and updated them with a modern twist – the inside lining colours are more interesting and the pattern punching on the uppers have more embellishments compared to many traditional styles. We’ve built the insole onto several foam layers which make the shoes more comfortable to wear.
We’ve spotted a gap in the market to offer an on-trend product at an attractive price. The footwear is priced at £80-£110 depending on style.
What sort of people are buying the brogues?
Online, we sell to 25-35 year old professionals, who typically live in the city, like looking good and want to have a good time. They don’t have loads of money, but are very driven. The majority of people that are looking at our website are around 30. They are in city-type jobs.
Offline, we sell to the independent stores where the customer can be in their 60’s. These consumers just want a good pair of brogues at a competitive price. Our independent customers cover a much wider demographic than those who buy online.
Let’s get down to brass tacks. How much money are you making?
Goodwin Smith had sales of approximately £500,000 last year with a profit of circa £100,000. From a standing start that’s a great achievement.
On your website you say Goodwin Smith “design and manufacture quality footwear”. That’s basically the same as Loake, Ted Baker, or Grenson, isn’t it?
Who? Ha. The fact is, there are going to be similar products out there. The point is that our product isn’t priced at £150 plus, but ours are nevertheless high quality. What you find is that below our price level the quality in the marketplace is much lower and that makes Goodwin Smith unique. I don’t know of any other brands that are offering the same quality at our price.
Our branding is critical to our success: it’s aspirational, cool, sexy and men want to be associated with those qualities. No other footwear brand is creating content for social media and a club online like we are.
We spent two years looking for the right factories. We eventually found one run by an Italian family based in Agra, India. Then we spent months making sure all the checks and processes were being done to our high standards – especially the handwriting and attention to detail. Each shoe takes a month to make and goes through 200 processes.
We have also run our unique stag’s head through the product.
What’s the reason behind the stag’s head logo?
The stag’s head is a reference to the Rossendale Valley in Lancashire, 30 miles North of Manchester. It’s where our family company was founded in 1928 and where our HQ is today.
When we created the brand we wanted it to have a connection with where the team is based. When we were looking to create the Goodwin Smith branding and back-story we saw the Rossendale crest has a stag in it so we chose one for Goodwin Smith. A young stag is called a buck, and that’s where we came up with the strapline: Bucking Good Shoes. Plus it has a cheeky connotation attached to it, which we want to stick in people’s minds.
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In the past you’ve used images of scantily-clad women to push your brand and been accused of being laddish and sexist in the process. What’s prompted the change?
We were really keen to be different and we pushed an overly cheeky tone of voice. Having worked on the brand over the last year we saw we didn’t need to be too laddish, we just needed to be cool and stylish with a slightly cheeky undertone which would appeal to both men and women.
So it was sexist then?
Maybe… I’m not sure, it wasn’t intentional if it was. We wanted to be loud and cheeky to get attention, that came across as laddish. People don’t aspire to be laddish and sexist, do they?
You’ve appeared on Dragons’ Den where you were looking for a record £300,000 investment for ten per cent equity for Redfoot Shoes. You were unsuccessful, but it was a publicity stunt wasn’t it?
I would be lying if I said I didn’t want the publicity, as all fledgling businesses need exposure, but I saw it as a challenge and something to put me out of my comfort zone, so this was part of my decision to go on the show.
Also, I genuinely thought that if we could agree a deal with a dragon they could help us. Meeting and having the dragons critique my business and give advice was a fantastic experience. Because of the popularity of Dragons’ Den and personal interest in the Dragons it was great to meet them in person. I felt deflated being rejected but I knew we would get a lot of publicity from my appearance, and we did.
How do you plan to trade in the future?
To increase our business online and on mobile, and increase the number of online influencers we work with, such as bloggers and YouTube stars. These guys help get the word out there. Vloggers are huge influencers online because they’ve built up massive followings. We target vloggers who we feel are relevant to our brand and get them to wear and talk about the products.
We’re getting regular engagement from our followers by the hour and in some cases, when we run a successful campaign, by the minute, so we need to make sure we are responding to them.
A brand takes years to build up; do you ever think you’ll run out of steam?
No, because I like change and a challenge, and business changes all the time. New markets, new products and new ways to sell with technology, it’s exciting. I think it’s important you have to have some enjoyment in what you do. I know this isn’t easy for everyone, as people need an income to survive, but you are less likely to run out of steam if you enjoy what you are doing.
You say Steve Jobs has been your idol. How has the late Apple leader influenced you?
Since buying my first copy of Mac World in 1997 on a family trip to London, I was fascinated by Steve Jobs. I watched his two-hour keynote speeches each year from my bedroom. I was inspired by a man who could market himself and his business very well to the masses.
He always kept things simple. He pushed to work with smart and successful people.
I‘ve definitely seen a massive increase in Goodwin Smith’s success since working with motivated individuals who want to do well.
Jobs also did something he loved and so do we. We design products we want to wear. I believe this is one of the reasons Goodwin Smith has grown so quickly; we enjoy wearing the product and that comes across to the people we meet.
Simon Smith is a freelance journalist.