Being in a crowded market ensures a high demand for your company’s products or services if you are able to stand out. Danielle Wathes of Percy Stride – producers of men’s footwear handmade in Northampton – told us how modernising old concepts and sticking to core values allowed her to position Percy Stride against its competitors.

To say it’s difficult to introduce a new brand into an already established market is an understatement. Especially when the footwear market is over 100 years old and your competitors are well-established.

I founded Percy Stride in 2015, starting out by designing a small range of men’s Oxford shoes with a unique design signature. Over the past three years, I’ve found that everything is a progression and in turn has a chain reaction. One of the biggest challenges for me in such a competitive market is trying to form business and marketing skills when my true field of expertise is in designing.  

Despite these challenges, in order to set myself apart from my competitors, I really focused on the quality and look of the product itself.

Joining a marketplace

I needed to be visually aware of what direction my market was going in and provide something that could challenge what was already on the market. That’s why I decided the best way to use my skills was to put my own personal spin on a classic design. As a result, this would attract the current market as well as a new era of clients. After all, there are benefits to joining a marketplace rather than creating a whole new one. As a designer I create things, I can take something fictional and make it physical, put a new spin on an old concept. So that’s exactly what I did. I built a new brand on top of an old concept.

I created a small, manageable range of men’s Oxford shoes in a classic pattern, focusing on the shape and the selection of leathers. By doing this, my premium range of shoes would be recognised as long-lasting and of the highest quality. I teamed up with the Northampton Productive Society (NPS) factory, who advised me on how my shoes could deliver the key product aspects I needed, such as longevity, repairability, functionality and flexibility.

Unlike a lot of my other competitors, my product was made using different design techniques I implemented, such as heat embossing and handmade screen printing to each pair. These techniques were based on a definitive theme in hopes of creating a conversational pathway between client and brand.

Standing out

It became essential that the product I was introducing brought something different to the table. I have a lot of people ask me “why that design?”, or making comments such as “how different”, and this interaction is what intrigues and begins a relationship between brand and client.

By modernising an old concept with new designs, I am able to open doors into an already established marketplace and add more variety to existing brands. However, in order to grow, it was essential to appeal to another audience as well. Through the use of different social media avenues, drawing information from current news and providing reviews from reputable sources such as bloggers, I’ve been able to tap into a younger audience who use these channels.  

To reach other target markets who are completely new to the Oxford shoe, I’ve created blogs and engagement collateral to demonstrate the key aspects of my product, promote value for money and offer valuable fashion advice.

Our values

While establishing my brand, I was always very cautious about sticking to a certain set of values I wanted to instil into Percy Stride. I knew my designs were desired but that they wouldn’t be enough to push the business far enough to play with the big boys.  

If people believe they share values with a company, they will stay loyal to the brand.” – Howard Schultz, Starbucks CEO

I had to be able to say my brand provides “these elements”. I knew those elements had to be within my own control and provide something my current competitors didn’t or didn’t provide strongly enough. These elements were:

  • The shoes are a 100% British-made product
  • The promotion of repair and longevity of the product
  • A relatable and personal communication between client and brand
  • Quality manufacture and value for money
  • A unique design and design focus

To put this into context, when I first said that I wanted to make my product in Britain, I was almost immediately laughed out the door and I had a lot of “little girl with big dreams” moments when I was starting out.

People will want to work against you, make it harder for you and “bring you into the real world”

I don’t do it all on my own. People do help people. I had to learn that building a brand and a customer base required people to buy into me and my vision. I always thought that I had to be a certain way or project a certain finesse, but that couldn’t have been less true. With everything out there moving at the speed of light and digital content having so much power, there just isn’t the time to be anything but who you are. Being myself gives me the ability to make sure I am doing everything I can for the client and makes Percy Stride approachable.

This relatability is what sets me apart from my competitors. The bottom line is: create a product or service you love and be yourself.  

People will respond when you want to form relationships and you’ll start building an army of dedicated followers.

Visit Percy Stride to see their range of men’s Oxford shoes.

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