Louis Katavolos founder of Belmore Bootmakers manufacturers an Australian made shoe collection that focuses on quality craftsmanship, producing a beautiful collection of shoes with an inspiring story behind the collection ‘to boot’. Part of the recipe to this success story is to react quickly to the market, and this is easily done since the factory is only a stones throw away in Sydney.
Please share the story behind Belmore Boot makers.
A great deal of manufacturing was going off shore. Just walking through a shopping centre one could see that every retailer was offering the same things but with different brands on them. I started questioning whether we were competing for price or position. I knew that the customer deserved better products.
In September 2012 we opened our first store in Melbourne at South Wharf. We wanted to produce a high quality product that had longevity. We use Australian leathers like kangaroo and other Australian hides. We are proud of the Belmore Bootmakers story, how the product is made and by whom, so we personalised the factory on our website by using visuals of the factory and the staff.
We received some amazing feedback; with really interesting people coming through our doors wanting to know more about our product. They loved the story and the store fit-out.
The overseas customer is a big part of our business. They appreciate our story because it’s unique, it’s made in Australia and they want to buy original products. We are also getting the emerging middle class Asian consumer who wants to buy a of high quality.
Why was South Wharf chosen as the location for your first store?
South Wharf is a unique space with its narrow, irregular shop frontage. Its massive frontage would not suit a business with a lot of stock. But we felt it was a great showcase for our product. We recently opened a new store at the QV. The new store at QV has been well received; we are trying to get a feel for where our customers are and this is a great spot for us to do that.
Tell us a little about the fit-out you have used?
The fit-out at our South Wharf store is inspired by the sample room at the factory; it is modern industrial. The wall colours, which are Sage and the Ivory; were used in the factories in the 50’s and 60’s because that was all that was available. The massive sample bench, which came from a saddler, we have used large cabinets and a combination of metal, copper and timber.
Our new store at QV is inspired more by a contemporary, luxury store feel. We have used a coir rug and big old timber beams from an old bridge that was demolished in Warrnambool. We wanted to make every store slightly different and interesting. We didn’t want to have that kit box approach where we just drop it in and it looks all the same.
We’re making the retail environment exciting and interesting. Retail must have an element of seduction. People should be able to come into our shop and feel excited, but the environment needs to be right. We want the customers to feel comfortable in our stores, from the music we are playing to the candles we are burning.
We are competing for the customer’ attention now. With so many other channels, smart phones and such for obtaining information and making their purchase, the customer has more power than they have had in the past; the responsibility is therefore on us to make the store environment interesting and exciting and add a scense of theatre.
Our strength lies in the quality of our product, our story and our service. We believe customers want to enter into a bricks and mortar shop and be able to get a feel the product. Retail must acknowledge that the consumer will expect a high level of service, but not just transactionally because they can do that online.
What does the future hold for Belmore Bootmakers?
We must focus on our retail business. Rents are high, especially in the CBD. The right space at the right price is especially important since we are an emerging, developing business. We will be working on our social media and communication channels with our customers. We’ll engage in dialogue with our customers and get their feedback as we are developing our product.
I want to spend more time at the factory, innovating our product. This is where a lot of retailers have lost out. When you’re manufacturing products a thousand kilometres away and there is a language barrier, it is difficult to develop something unique and interesting.
Manufacturing 30-40 years ago meant the designer would be at the factory working closely with them to develop something that was a little more unique. This is what they are doing in Italy and they’ve been able to survive because it is a family business and they work closely to create products, and they’ve been able to innovate.
Every time I go to the factory I uncover something that we thought we couldn’t use or something sitting in the corner that has never been used before, so we pull out ideas from the past and modify them. The exploration process within the factory is important. The factory has catalogues, old machinery and the most important ingredient, the people; because they have been in the factories for over 30 years. They have created a lot of the styles so you can ask them about heel, pointy toe and they have either done it before or know a lot about it.
We work closely with the factory to develop the brand, and importantly, they have the mental attitude that we are in it together. We will do sampling, testing trials and our people understand the need for being quick and responsive.
What is one lesson you have learnt from being in business?
The biggest lesson I have learnt is the trust factor. Being in retail for the past 8 years we have had several manufacturers that talk and never walk, and then others who will deliver on time and go out of their way to serve us. That’s why this business is built on trust with local manufacturers and suppliers. We work together to make something happen.
Trust with the staff; I say something and then follow through. I deliver on my promises. It’s okay to say yes to things, but if you don’t deliver you lose face or trust. It’s also the willingness to work together. Listening to the customer and being in the store as much as I can. The staff appreciates me chatting with the customers because they can see that I am approachable. They are valued customers and I am not anyone special; we are all here to deliver a good experience to the customer.
The last word…
Know what customers are looking for, change, innovate and develop further. Customers are more savvy than ever…honesty and transparency will go a long way.