Shoe shops `languish in the Dark Ages'

MANY BRITISH shoe shops are poorly run, lack differentiation and are overly dominated by factory-led procedures rather than design, a new survey says today.

The report by Verdict, the retail consultants, says that UK shoe shops have historically been owned by manufacturers and served purely as outlets to sell whatever the factories produced. This culture is only gradually being turned on its head, says Verdict, after years "in the Dark Ages".

The lack of innovation has left the market wide open for new entrants such as the supermarkets and Matalan, the fast-growing out-of-town retailer. Competition is also growing from overseas groups such as Pied A Terre.

The report shows that the UK footwear market fell by 3.2 per cent last year as a result of huge stock clearances, the slump in consumer confidence and a lack of enticing fashion trends. This year will be difficult as well, says Verdict, with major supermarkets and clothing retailers such as Next and Marks & Spencer continuing to attack the market. The problems at M&S had an effect on the group's footwear sales last year, resulting in an unusual fall in market share from 9 per cent to 8.7 per cent.

C&J Clark, the privately owned retailer and manufacturer, has continued to grow its share, up from 9.1 per cent to 10.1 per cent last year. The company has invested in new designs and has been advertising heavily.

The major losers in the market are the independents, whose share has fallen from 40 per cent in 1994 to just 23.7 per cent.