Local footwear chain Merchant 1948 opened its first in-store repair service in New Zealand last month at its Newmarket flagship in Auckland.
The store-in-store concept, called Merchant Workshop, offers repairs for any shoes, not just those bought from the retailer, with the aim of prolonging the life of boots, heels, sneakers and more, so consumers buy less often.
“The fashion industry is one of the biggest polluters in the world and we’re committed to doing our piece,” said Shane Anselmi, CEO of Overland Footwear Group, which owns the Merchant 1948, Mi Piaci and Deuce chains.
Merchant 1948 opened its first Workshop at its Chadstone store in Melbourne in 2017, and says the concept has been a success since day one.
“We definitely see a high rate of returning customers, especially those that are more sustainably minded and want to give their shoes a new lease of life,” Sophie Tyrrell, Overland Group’s operations lead, told Inside Retail New Zealand.
Some other retailers might hesitate to encourage customers to repair rather than replace their products, but Merchant 1948 sees things differently.
“We take a long-term view,” Tyrrell said.
“Quite often we find customers who come in to have shoes repaired, walk out with a new pair of shoes also. When they buy that new pair, they also can upgrade the soles at the time of purchase, so they last even longer.
“Bottom line, we believe if we do the right thing by our customers, we will have their business in the future.”
“The cost of this is considerable”
But it’s not as simple as just setting up a repair bench in the back of a store. According to Tyrrell, the concept requires a great deal of planning and investment, including cooperation from the landlord’s design teams.
“In terms of fitout and the procuring of machinery and materials, the cost of this is considerable,” she said.
Finding the right people to carry out the repairs has also proven to be difficult, because they require a specific skillset as well as retail experience.
Steve Monks is the on-site cobbler in the Newmarket store. After honing his craft at the iconic shoe repair shop Shoe Sherriff for 10 years, he now offers shoe shining, repairs and replacements and even monogramming in silver or gold foil to selected styles at the concept.
“Setting up the Workshop hasn’t been a straightforward process, but that is often the case with anything worthwhile,” Tyrrell said.
Take-back scheme in the works
The Workshop concept is just one aspect of Overland’s sustainability approach. The New Zealand-owned company has set up a sustainability committee and has full oversight over much of its China manufacturing thanks to the fact that it owns its factory.
“The next area we’re tackling is packaging and we are trialling a take-back scheme in our 277 store, where unwanted shoes can be passed forward to those in need,” Anselmi said.
Merchant Workshop prices start from $20 for a basic repair through to $55 for a full resole and heel fix. Loyalty members get a 15 per cent discount on repairs to shoes bought from any Merchant 1948, Mi Piaci or Deuce store.