Out of the ruins of Faith comes Hope
It’s always good to hear of a retailer that is rising from the ashes, Wellworths-style, so I was pleased to read in The Appointment magazine about the enterprising staff of the former Faith shoe store, in Chelmsford, Essex.
Faith, you may recall, collapsed into administration in April, putting the jobs of 362 full-time staff and 1,382 part-time staff at risk. Since then, all 78 standalone stores – including one in Newcastle’s Eldon Square – have been closed, though I understand that the 100+ concessions in Debenhams are continuing to trade for the moment.
The Faith ‘closing down’ signs in Debenhams’ windows have caused me to do a double take every time I’ve seen them (Sunderland, Newcastle and Stockton-on-Tees to date), given that you have to look twice to realise that it’s Faith that’s closing down, and not Debenhams itself.
For that reason alone, one assumes that Debenhams will be pleased once Faith’s fate is resolved one way or another; possibly, if Drapers is to be believed, by Debenhams buying the brand itself and undertaking a Principles-style relaunch of the name as an own label. If Faith does survive, it seems certain that the business will focus on the more profitable concessions model rather than making a return to standalone shops any time soon.
Over in Chelmsford, however, the former staff of the closed-down Faith store are taking matters into their own hands. Impressively, the former branch support manager, Justina Pay, her supervisor, Roxanne Ransom, and the rest of their old team have decided to go it alone, reopening the store as an independent company – Hope Footwear Ltd – this coming Saturday, 3rd July. The Appointment article has Justina explaining the thinking behind their new enterprise:
“We’re doing this all ourselves. We’ve contacted the old suppliers, ordered stock, fixtures, fittings, signage and paint. We wanted to reopen the store because we knew how popular and well loved it was, just because Faith went into administration didn’t mean it all had to end.
“We were inspired by Claire Robertson and her success in turning her old Dorchester Woolworths store into Wellworths; a great example of someone who has had a massive success from a very sad redundancy.
“Customers were genuine in their sadness that our stores were closing and were concerned as to where they could buy quality shoes from, we knew we had to ‘do a Wellworths’ and try and bring it back. We’re having a grand opening on Saturday at 10am, a ribbon will be cut, we’d love to see you there.”
It’s a brave move – after all, Dorchester’s Wellies was able to tap into the affection, over almost a century, with which Woolworths was remembered; Faith, though it has been around since 1964, barely provokes the same emotions. Still, just as Dorchester’s Woolworths was always profitable, so there are successful branches that get brought down when the ropier bits of a retailer, such as Faith, drag the entire business into administration.
With Justina and her team seemingly having the bottle, passion and retail knowhow to turn Faith into Hope, you can only commend their entrepreneurship, and wish their new business all the very best. Crucially, already having a great relationship with their customers – and knowing what those customers want and expect – will surely give Hope a really strong and exciting foundation on which to build its success.
UPDATE, 16 September 2011: I’ve just found out from the Meadows shopping centre that the Hope footwear store closed down over six months ago. A shame, as it was – at least to begin with – a positive and inspiring retail story.
Many thanks to Allie Hyton for the use of her image.