With a history that spans centuries and paints a meaningful portrait of a brand that fully appreciates the value of tradition, Church’s is a high-end English footwear manufacturer that was founded in 1873 by Thomas Church. In this interview, RLI sits down with company CEO Anthony Romano to discuss how the company has evolved and what the future holds.
Back in 1617, a legacy was born with the earliest traces of the Church family tree when the company’s great, great, great-grandfather, Anthony Church was born in Northampton. Over two hundred years later, the official birth of Church’s Shoes took place on 1 May 1873 when Thomas, his wife Eliza and their two sons, Alfred and William decided to set up a small factory. More recently, the company was acquired by the Prada Group in 1999, a paradigm of artisanal excellence and the ideal partner for the brand to take the next step.
Today, the company operates 62 directly-owned and operating retail stores across the globe in major locations such as London, Paris, Milan, Berlin, Chicago, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo, Seoul, Shanghai and Beijing.
Every period of running a retail business can be a challenge, and the Covid-19 virus has introduced a whole new set of challenges, according to Anthony Romano, CEO of Church’s.
“The new market condition Covid-19 has created has meant that rather than changing our strategy, we have used this time to accelerate important short and mid-term projects. This has included the implementation of a sustainability program, making improvements to our production process and key product development. There has been the continuing digitisation of the company across e-commerce and marketing and delivering an omni-channel customer experience,” Mr. Romano explains.
The most recent store opening for the brand was the renovation and expansion of its flagship store on Regent Street at the beginning of 2020, which houses a new dedicated women’s section and reinforces the company’s objective to expand its womenswear offering.
“Our continued strategic focus will be on Japan and China, whilst continuing to maintain our brand presence in our traditional markets. With an already established worldwide network, our focus will be to increase sales per square metre within our existing stores, rather than investing further in bricks-and-mortar expansion,” says Anthony Romano.
As for new markets, the company sees China as its main expansion focus. They also see large opportunities for growing their retail and wholesale reach in some of the biggest luxury markets in the world where their presence is still low. These are markets such as South East Asia, Americas, Middle East and Russia.
Church’s continues to develop women’s and men’s collections that are unparalleled in their craftsmanship and luxury positioning. Mr. Romano explains that it is important to Church’s that their product development remains balanced so that they can create modern luxury shoes with a timeless aesthetic that is unmatched in construction and quality.
“We have a strong and loyal customer base, bolstered by an appreciation for the brands’ heritage and the legacy of previous generations,” Mr. Romano comments. “Our sales associates are also shoe experts and we continually look to improve our systems, which will allow our selling team the ability to provide a complete omni-channel experience.”
Social media continues to be a critical way for the business to communicate with new and existing customers as well as increase brand awareness. Partnering with influencers and its work on social media feeds into their omni-channel strategy with the primary objective of providing their customers with a seamless and engaging shopping experience.
Throughout their long history, the company has been able to diversify its product offering, enabling a contemporary fashion appeal whilst staying true to its heritage and its core value of craftsmanship. With an extensive range of men’s and women’s shoes and a communications strategy that targets different audiences, it is these factors that differentiate Church’s from the crowd in the market.
“By generating content that not only speaks directly to the wearer but also connects with them, we have and continue to build a community spirit and brand loyalty,” says Anthony Romano.
When asked what the key drivers are behind the brand’s success thus far, Mr. Romano replies with four clear drivers that have propelled the company forward. These are excellence through manufacturing expertise and a dedication to craft, the fact that the company has stayed close to its English roots and still to this day makes its shoes in Northampton, the timeless products they design that fuse legacy with modernity and innovation in design and product development that allow Church’s to lead and be at the forefront of their industry.
“The luxury footwear market is continuing to grow, but this growth is driven by casual shoe styles. Formal shoes are still a very important part of our offering but we see the greatest opportunity in the development of our casual shoes, sneakers, women’s footwear and leather goods,” explains Mr. Romano. “Church’s DNA is not only about formal shoes, even in the 1890’s Church was producing a vast variety of footwear for men and women and we look forward to bringing that rich and diverse shoe offering to new and existing Church’s customers around the world,” Anthony Romano concludes.