Shoe-Fitter to the Royal Family Targets Asian Expansion post-Brexit

Ian Watson start rite shoes

Start-rite Shoes, the brand young Royal’s wear on their feet, are leading the way for an expansion in to a growing Asian market, a decision galvanised by the referendum decision last June.

CEO Ian Watson is the new Captain at the helm of the 225-year old company who was appointed in February 2016 to implement and deliver a long-term business plan.

One of the immediate target areas he identified was the Asian school shoe market, Watson explains, “School shoes are a leading portfolio for our business.

“There is an expansion of the private school network in Asia and it is therefore an obvious route to market and makes absolute business sense for us to work with strategic partners in these territories.”

Ultimately the plan to rapidly expand in to new markets has been down to the Brexit vote, as Watson cites external factors as behind driving the decision.

He says, “Our three-year plan will acknowledge external factors affecting the business and help us to remain resilient to a potential economic slowdown by repurposing the business to meet these challenges.”

The business itself is a well known brand that has held two Royal Warrants, (in all, children of the Royal family have been fitted with over 1,500 pairs of Start-rite shoes) and has been in business for over two centuries. So it must feel quite a challenge to secure its financial future?

Watson agrees, “2017 will be a challenging year with expected single digit growth, with so much uncertainty it will be a bumpy ride but we have a clear strategic plan to focus on.

“We are heavily investing in our brand and product development. This will ensure we continue to offer value for money and drive consumer demand for our products over the next 12 months.”

Known as a premium brand, the company’s next step is to hone their product line,

delivering exactly what the customer wants. Watson tells

“Consumer demand is key and having products that meet their demands is too.

“We are currently conducting a study of 1,000 consumers to gain further understanding of exactly what their children’s footwear needs are and what more they want from Start-rite.

“This will inform ongoing and new product development. Further investment will give us an even stronger position in the market place, ensuring consumers know exactly what our brand and product proposition is - quality premium fitted footwear.”

Established in the UK the company now employees 80 people and has a network of commission agents in multiple countries, something which it has no plans on changing despite the current currency concerns.

Watson says, “We source our product in predominantly USD and Indian Rupees. The devaluation of sterling drives our costs up so therefore a stronger pound would be beneficial to us.

“The US is an untapped market for us. A better trading relationship can only help. However, this is not a focus market for us at present.”

Indeed, concentration on new product and innovation is certainly at the heart of Start-rite’s new business plan. Something that was created after the referendum and driven by its results.

Watson explains, “It’s about evolution rather than revolution. The children’s footwear market is evolving at pace, we are focused on ensuring the brand and products are relevant in 2017 and beyond.

“Parents demand products they know will last. Retailers demand ranges of products that will sell.”

Watson’s earlier point around citing external factors hints at not just a Brexit hiccup, but a battle of high street vs online shopping which has left the company with only a small growth this year.

He comments, “One key challenge for us as primarily a wholesale brand is the demise of Britain’s high street. It is important that children’s shoes are fitted properly, so we will continue to support the shoe industry and invest into our relationships with high street retailers whilst continuing to drive footfall to stores.”

Previously, Watson held the position of European Managing Director at Britax Childcare, where he oversaw the full profit and loss responsibility for the market-leading European business. Under his stewardship the business experienced top-line growth in core categories and in the market position of new categories, geographical expansion into Eastern Europe and a sales increase from €7M to €20M.

For Start-Rite, a brand with such an established history, it is hoped this new venture under Watson’s stewardship will only help to secure the future for this changing company in turbulent times.