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Edition 344 – Boots

I’ve always been a “shoes” person over “boots”. I’ve found boots heavy to wear and a bad purchase decision more than 20 years ago to buy steel capped boots was a memory that is hard to forget.

Two years ago, I ventured into my local independent shoe retailer in Camden. As always, Eddie and his team were ready and willing to answer any questions. For some reason, Eddie showed me a pair of tan RM Williams boots. They were a special order for another customer and the manufacturer had applied the wrong sole. Eddie was ready to send them back however, serendipitously, I was the same size 10H as the disappointed customer. Eddie is a smart operator and after encouraging me to try them on, he offered me a sweet deal.

For a few weeks, I wore them in. At first, they were incredibly difficult to pull on and take off, so high is the mouth of the boot and so taut was the leather. What struck me, however, was the comfort, the support and the warmth. I’ve long suffered from cold feet, a hereditary medical condition from my mother’s side of the family. It was a revelation.

RM Williams happen to have a retail outlet in our nearest shopping mall, so, now settled into my boots, I ventured in to check out the range. For 15 minutes, I stood around waiting for someone to serve me. Other customers came into the store, had a quick peek, then went. The two sales assistants, whilst busy with others, didn’t take the time to either acknowledge me or apologise for the wait. Though I was tempted by a boot in a beautiful blue-green leather, in the end, the complete lack of attention meant I  gave up and departed. That was a $500 purchase they missed out.

Recently, I had reason to venture in to see Eddie again and, without fail, someone has either acknowledged you or asked if you require assistance within 60 seconds of entering the store. The contrast with the corporate store in terms of customer service could not be more stark.

I mention to Eddie I’m thinking of another pair of RM Williams boots. His immediate response was to advise that whilst he’d love to take my order, he’s becoming increasingly frustrated at the poor customer service that RM Williams offer him, as an independent retailer. He leaves messages with the local sales representative, through whom an order must be placed. Phone calls aren’t returned. Emails aren’t replied to. He shows me an order book of recent requests from his loyal customers, most of which are over two weeks old. He simply can’t get a response from anyone at RM Williams.

I can’t figure out whether we’re dealing with:

  1. Your typical large corporate that treats the consumer as a number, not as a person; or,
  2. The consumer is deliberately being diverted away from the independent retailer to a corporate store; or,
  3. The company is trying to force smaller purchases online – and in the process, take out the independent retailer.

In the end, the time will come when the Eddies of the world start recommending an alternative product. The large corporate probably won’t notice the gentle erosion of sales via independent retailers. The suits in head office, driven by spreadsheets and Instagram, will no doubt champion online retail or the success of their corporate stores. Except, it’s hard to try shoes on virtually and clearly their retail staff need a lesson from Eddie in terms of how to treat a customer.

This Week’s Tip

A message to the large corporates – one size does not fit all!