The value footwear retailer is already closing in on the 10-store mark for its larger concept, which stocks branded lines as well as own-brand products, and plans to open a further 10 in 2018 as a central part of its growth plan.

The new-look stores are a departure from its usual high-street sites. The perimeter walls are dedicated to Shoe Zone’s usual private-label footwear, with men’s on one side, women’s on the other and children’s at the back.

But in a break from tradition, brands including Skechers, Wrangler and Hi-Tec take up the centre of the store with dedicated gondolas, while more space is also given to accessories such as handbags, purses, socks and slippers.

In a video interview with Retail Week at its first big box store in London, at Gallion’s Reach in East Beckton, Davis said: “Shoe Zone has had lots of success on the high street but we really wanted to move onto a new concept that had good appeal, broad appeal, and that we can roll out across other city centres and high streets that we are not in already, as well as taking some out-of-town space.

“We are really trying to build a concept that brings together brands and our traditional Shoe Zone range. We are trying to attract approximately 400 branded lines to complement our 400 existing Shoe Zone lines.

“We’re really pleased with it, it’s an early start, but it’s very much a concept so we are still shaping it as we go along.”

Growing slowly

Davis has been encouraged enough by early sales trends in the big box stores to set his sights on a wider roll-out.

“I think next year we’ll open circa 10 stores again and hopefully we are expecting that we may have 50 stores over the next few years and, from there, we’ll see. The sky is the limit really”

Shoe Zone boss Nick Davis

“We’ve currently got eight stores and I think, like all your concepts, you want to get them right, so we are not rushing to get to any target number. We are trying to grow slowly and successfully,” he said.

“The eight stores will be 10 stores very shortly, with two that are about to open, and we are hoping to close the year at around 12 stores.

“I think next year we’ll open circa 10 stores again and hopefully we are expecting that we may have 50 stores over the next few years and, from there, we’ll see. The sky is the limit really.”

Best of both worlds

In the wake of the Brexit vote, the general election and an already turbulent trading environment, inflation has begun to creep in and consumer confidence has been left fragile.

Discount retailers such as B&M boss Simon Arora believe consumers will tighten their purse strings amid that landscape and flock to value.

But others including Hotel Chocolat chief executive Angus Thirlwell insist there will be a “flight to quality” as shoppers make “more considered purchases” that they know will deliver value for money.

Davis believes Shoe Zone’s new format, combining own-label options with more expensive branded alternatives, will leave it well-placed to succeed no matter what path the consumer takes.

“The traditional Shoe Zone range obviously has a strong price and value focus to it, which appears to work very well across cyclical retail or consumer behaviour,” Davis said.

“The new branded proposition, hopefully, does the other bit and has a bit more appeal when people have a bit more to spend.

“So far the experience in-store is that the 50-50 split seems to work well. We are experiencing approximately 50% of our sales on brands and 50% on the traditional range.

“Hopefully the model we are developing can work in any space and any fiscal event.”