James Fox of Crockett & Jones – Interview
1. What is your role at Crockett & Jones? And not just a title, what are you responsible for?
I mainly focus on the hands on Marketing & Advertising… that sort of thing! We do print and digital production in-house, so it is one hell of a battle! It takes a big effort constantly creating content for the digital generation.
2. How long have you worked at C&J?
8 years this coming spring.
3. What is your favorite thing about working at C&J?
The product and the factory. Marketing, season by season, is damn hard work. You have to produce so much content that is here one second, gone the next so I couldn’t imagine working for a manufacturer or brand that couldn’t back up all the spiel with a product like we can. Knowing that our shoes are a great value, look good and are high quality, does makes it worthwhile.
4. What have you noticed about the shoe industry in the last 10 years? The changes
There is a phenomenal amount of rubber sole development going on. The amount of different materials and colourways is incredible (from some). But unfortunately, there are less people buying high-quality English made footwear today than before.
I also notice that many brands are focusing on English styled shoes. Core classics that have been made in the UK for centuries are now stocked by every brand under the sun. There is a huge amount of competition, and because of modern day marketing methods – online / social media, brands are able to get up and running without putting in 100+ years of hard work. I recently read an advert by a 3rd party brand that stated ‘Fine Shoes – Straight from the Makers. No middle men’, which rather confused me… That should be a C&J tag line, but it’s rather aggressive, so not our style. Competition is good because it creates an industry, a buzz. Just as long as it is honest and genuine – Like your brand (Thank you James, very kind of you to say and I agree with your sentiment. Competition is good providing it is honest and genuine and not brands copying and undercutting prices).
5. How has C&J changed in the last 10 years?
From a Crockett & Jones perspective (I am talking about price point) the growth of the smart casual (Cool Biz) sector has not only made for a much more interesting business to be involved with, but it has also given us growth opportunity, increasing or customer demographic, whilst making us a slightly lower risk manufacturer. That is not to say we have stopped producing the classics, we have just added to them in abundance and because our shoes are not around the £1000 mark customers can justify investing in C&J for business and pleasure.
In the past 10 years, Crockett & Jones has also seen the next generation join the business, which naturally pushes a few things to the forefront of the minds of the old guard (tongue in cheek). That reflects in the continual product development and also the stockists whom we work with. Having younger management adding to the melting pot of ideas means the company doesn’t stagnate as time passes.
We also have email addresses now!
photo above courtesy of @jesperbrannstrom of IG
6. C&J 5-7 years ago was quite conservative in terms of leather choice options mainly offering a selection of browns/tans/blacks and if you were lucky some burgundy. Now there are greys, blues and greens. What lead to that? Any influences?
It seems (to the outside world) that the English shoe trade is not very good at moving forward. I originally likened it to a freight train with the brakes firmly set to ‘NOT GOING ANYWHERE’.
That was to begin with but as time passed I began to realise that the brakes were not at all on at Crockett & Jones. We are forever developing something, somewhere. Always listening and learning from the world markets we now trade in. Offering numerous lasts, endless MTO styles, seasonal pattern development, end consumer special ordering and a material/colourway swatch list that has taken the best part of my entire career to learn… the one thing we do exceptionally well at Crockett & Jones is to put our egos to one side and listen to our customer requirements. In 2017, that is a rare quality for a brand. It is very English!
The one thing that we don’t really do, is to develop for the sake of marketing. Most, if not all of our development is done for practical reasons and although it is often quickly picked up on by our loyal customers, it can seem that we are not as forward thinking as some. Our recent collection for the 20th Retail Anniversary proves that as long as our marketing development is not too gimmicky, there is a place for it. The shoes were beautiful and the content was very well received.
7. What is your favourite C&J model? What is the best seller i.e in the last 5 years?
My favourite style is always the last shoe I purchased! I have become rather obsessed with Crockett & Jones shoes. More recently I purchased my first few pairs of loafers – Teign in Dark Brown Suede (very comfortable) and Cavendish in Black Calf (Tassel loafers are a force at the moment).
However, I really don’t think you can beat Crockett & Jones’s boots. There is nothing on the market that comes close (regardless of cost). I’d happily own them all… and I seem to be getting there: Hartland (unlined Chukka), Tetbury (lined Chukka), Northcote (that I have butchered by adding an EVA sole to walk the dog at lunchtime), Coniston (had it for years, still looks new!), Chelsea 9, Chelsea 5, Cranford…. I also wouldn’t mind Chelsea 8 in D/B/S, Derwent (because the wax calf is unbelievably comfortable) and Harlech, as I would love to own a pair of Cordovan. I have issues!
The best seller is still Alex on last 348 because of a certain OO agent.
8. With the launch of the new website, what can we expect from C&J? Is it heading towards an e-commerce platform? From the natural progression of being the factory (producing wholesale), to retailer (with shops) it would appear that the next obvious choice would be internet sales, especially with the way the world is going.
You would like to think so, but my honest answer is I don’t know. I have built the site with e-commerce functionality, and my prediction is that the company will suffer in the long, long term if we decide not to offer this service to our customers of the future.
Managing the website is a bit part of my job, so I not only know how it currently performs, I also hear and reply to a lot of the feedback from our customers and potential customers. E-commerce is fast becoming a requirement, an expectation even, that should (by now) be backing up an already very successful retail business.
When you have a finite production, launching online is not as easy as it sounds. We do not want to upset our wholesale distribution or our own retail business, so it needs careful and respectful consideration as to how we go about it.
9. What has been the most challenging thing for C&J in the last 5-10 years? I feel that the industry changed drastically and some makers are finding it hard to keep up.
Keeping prices reasonable is the hardest challenge. Pricing and quality is a fine balance and we seem to be doing a good of it (at the moment). Material costs are going up, as is labour cost and scarcity. Crockett & Jones are not greedy with margins, and are not over-producing. This, along with years of hard work from many people at C&J has resulted in a strong brand and a very loyal wholesale and end-consumer customer base.
10. If C&J disappeared tomorrow what shoe brand would you buy?
If they were half the money, John Lobb (Hermes) Northampton made.
Thank you very much James for this insightful and pleasant interview. I wish C&J much continued success and always love to see the progressing nature of the business in terms of design but also as a business in general (from wholesale to retail etc).
Justin, ‘The Shoe Snob’