Some will survive, others will disappear, admits retail icon

Charles Clinkard of Charles Clinkard, at the company’s Middlesbrough HQ. Picture by Tom Banks
Tees Business Digital Media Pack

The future of retail is going to be tough and there are major challenges ahead but one iconic Teesside firm is optimistic it can meet them.

Charles Clinkard, one of Teesside’s most long-established brands, has been selling footwear for almost 100 years after starting up in 1924 on Corporation Road in Middlesbrough.

It recently re-opened the doors of its shops after lockdown-easing measures were given the green light in England but, says managing director Charles Clinkard, the way ahead is going to be difficult for many in the retail sector.

“The reality is that we are all in this together,” said Charles, the latest Teesside business leader to take part in our Facebook Live Talking Business feature.

“Some of us will survive and recover, other businesses will disappear. I am optimistic we can find a way through this but I am under no illusions of the challenges that lie ahead.

“We have got to be realistic.

“If we are successful and things start to recover globally there will be some great opportunities for our business and those similar to us. Those that are left will be dealing with more customers.

“One thing’s for sure, people will still need shoes on their feet and hopefully plenty of them will be purchased from Clinkards.”

Clinkards was started by his grandparents Charles and Evelyn, expanding into the property it still currently occupies in Middlesbrough just after the Second World War when Evelyn introduced children’s shoes.

The business now employs more than 500 staff in branches on high streets and in shopping centres across the country as well as an online store which launched in 2003.

Recently Which? magazine voted Clinkards the UK’s Best Footwear Retailer, praising the company for its customer service.

That service, and those Teesside roots, are something Charles remains proud of, although he acknowledges the company’s online site has been its main trading point during lockdown.

“It is the one real point of difference we have got with online. You can go into store, interact, pick the product up and physically try it on. If you get the service right, it makes the customer experience a real pleasure,” he said.

“We are an umbrella business for good quality brands, the consumer has voted in our favour which is great. Staff really do make an effort to engage with customers, that really does make a difference.

“Online is a key part of our business. During lockdown it has been a saviour for us. It has been our route to market,” he added.

So far, he said, branches in smaller high streets and market towns are doing ‘fairly well’ – better than the ones inside the bigger shopping centres.

But he’s pleased with how the Clinkards team have handled the situation – and he hopes to be at the helm for the company’s centenary in four years.

“We are trying very hard, we have got difficult decisions to make but if we can achieve that 100-year milestone I will be very proud,” he added.