Briggs Shoes

A Message from Lord Pickles and Lord Blunkett, followed by Briggs Shoes's best practice article

The ability to listen and learn from one another has always been vital in parliament, in business and in most aspects of daily life. But at this particular moment in time, as national and global events continue to reiterate, it is uncommonly crucial that we forge new channels of communication and reinforce existing ones. The following article from Briggs Shoes is an attempt to do just that. We would welcome your thoughts on this or any other Parliamentary Review article.

Blunkett signature Rt Hon The Lord David Blunkett
Pickles signature Rt Hon The Lord Eric Pickles

Managing Director Tom Powney
More than just a brand: a
Briggs Shoes is a high street retailer operating from bricks-
and-mortar locations, offering a classic-fashion-orientated
product without an online presence. The core operation of
the business has not changed since 1863, when the great-great-
grandfather of the current managing director, Tom Powney,
opened Briggs. Tom tells the
about the company’s
distinct approach.
I often regret not asking my forebears more about their experience of hard historical
times, as they picked up business experience worth its weight in gold. I never asked
my grandmother what she learnt when her younger brother failed to return from
Burma and she had to take over his shoe business – a massive waste of opportunity. If
someone were to ask me what I’ve learnt since taking on the job, here’s what I’d say.
Location, location, location
Our flagship store is located in the seaside town of Morecambe, which Bill Bryson
described as “one of the most beautiful views in Britain”. For 22 years, the store
stood opposite the derelict site of the former Super Swimming Stadium. My
gut told me that with this location and view, it couldn’t be derelict forever. The
£80-million Eden Project North, announced in 2018, vindicated this feeling.
Nowadays, shopping is classed as a leisure pursuit. We ensure therefore that our
shops are located in destination locations where, after visiting, customers can
enjoy the promenade and the wonderful attractions nearby. I believe you should
choose your location carefully and immerse yourself in the local scene. Support
local charities, get involved in the local BID, sweep your shop front and put hanging
baskets outside in the summer.
»Managing Directors: Tom
and Mary Powney and Laura
»Established in 1863
»Based in Morecambe,
»Services: Adult clothing and
footwear retailer
»No. of employees: 17
»Owned and managed by six
generations of the same family
Briggs Shoes
Highlighting best practice
Form relationships
Business is all about successful
relationships with customers, suppliers
and colleagues. Be fair, honest and
consistent. Customers who walk
through your door have made a
conscious decision to do so. Welcome
them and thank them whether they
have purchased or not. Money in the
till pays the bills, so get to know your
customer. Welcome an elderly widow
who is lonely and pops in three times a
week for a chat, and who occasionally
buys a new top. Don’t pressure-sell.
You’re as important to a supplier as they
are to you. If that isn’t the case, you’re
with the wrong supplier. When our bank
put us into liquidation in 2012, I went
to meet every supplier face to face. If
you are struggling to pay a bill on time,
pick up the phone and discuss a plan.
A head-in-the-sand approach doesn’t
propagate good supplier relations.
Colleagues have challenges just like
you. Being in business, you will be
tough and resilient; don’t assume they
are too. Have an open-door policy
to everyone in your organisation.
Be flexible and empathise with
them when they become a parent,
experience bereavement or face the
challenge of their partner being made
redundant. Within reason, help your
colleagues as much as possible –
financially and emotionally.
Establish a clear point of
Know your customers. Ours are
predominantly female aged 50-plus.
That cuts out high fashion, high
heels and high prices. They want
comfort but to look good in what they
are comfortable in. They’re active,
aspirational and financially settled.
“Classic fashion” is where we sit.
Don’t try to be all things to all people.
Product is what you buy, but value
is what you get. We don’t want
customers to be just happy; our service
has to be incredible – customers need
to love Briggs. A lady trying on shoes
while her husband stands outside with
the dog is not going to produce a
relaxed shopping experience. Welcome
clean, well-behaved dogs into the
store, give them a drink and a stroke,
and offer to look after the dog while
she takes quality time to shop. Go the
extra mile. Take a picture of the dog
for the Briggs Facebook page. This sort
of attitude is highly appreciated.
Never trust banks
2012 was the most profitable year in
the history of the company. With bank
assistance, we acquired four additional
outlets as a consequence of the failure
of famous footwear brands, growing
our turnover from £1.8 million to £3.2
million. Nine months later, the bank
placed the company into liquidation,
and in May 2014 I declared bankrupt.
Despite being on track with our loan
repayments and having a healthy
balance sheet, the board of National
Australia Bank had seen emerging
markets as a better investment
than UK retail and commercial
property. Instruction was given to
exit these sectors and £5.4 billion
was pulled, mainly from SMEs. We
were given seven days’ notice to
pay off our overdraft. A massive
failure in government policy meant
no safety net was provided, and this
Managing Director Tom
and his son Luke
A massive
failure in
policy meant
no safety net
was provided,
and this had a
effect on these
had a devastating effect on these
important sectors. For a five-year loan
of £100,000, we could have avoided
redundancies and generated that
amount in tax over the same period.
Having consolidated, we pre-packed
the new company out of liquidation
and carried on very much as before,
only with a few more corners knocked
off us and a tattered credit report.
Trust your gut
It’s easy to overanalyse. You have a
passion for your business and you
understand what makes it tick. All
decisions carry a level of risk – just
make sure the risks you take are
calculated and that you can afford
to lose whatever you are staking.
Compartmentalise the remainder of
your business so it will continue should
things turn out for the worse.
Don’t race to the bottom in terms of
prices. Amazon will sell the same goods
for £5 less. Remember: “Product is
what you buy; value is what you get.”
Your point of difference is why
customers will choose to shop with
you, so don’t become a busy fool
slashing prices to gain turnover. Rather
than cut prices for Black Friday, we
gave customers a free poppy scarf to
commemorate RAF 100. This maintained
margin and goodwill went off the scale.
Every day’s a school day
We’re lucky to have the world-renowned
Management School of Lancaster
University on our doorstep. To better
understand myself and my business, I
joined one of the many programmes
allowing local businesses to engage
with academics and students.
Business is like cycling or skiing – it can’t
be learnt from a book. Don’t be so naive
as to believe you know it all. Find your
local university and engage. Welcome
student projects into your business and
learn from them. Build a peer group
that you trust and who trust you.
Look out of the window
I could spend hours listening to
political debate and economic
forecasts, and it would do me little
good. If I want to know whether trade
will be good, I look at the long-term
weather forecast. If, for example, a
customer comes when it’s raining, they
want to buy. On days like these, you
don’t need lots of customers – just a
few good ones. Don’t waste marketing
resources trying to create a sales peak
in January. Weather the quiet times,
find when your peaks are and up your
marketing spend to make them higher.
I’m of the opinion that parliament
failed in its duty to lead us out of
the EU in an orderly fashion. Those
who ruled out no deal have no clue
how negotiation works. The lengthy
uncertainty was as damaging to the
economy as Remainers claimed the
initial effect of WTO rules might be.
However, there’s positive in every
situation. Morecambe benefited greatly
from the “staycation” surge, with Brits
rediscovering the UK.
This country has a wealth of talented
and aspirational entrepreneurs. We’re
all experienced and resilient enough
to have survived the 2008 recession.
I’d like to see the establishment of a
national small business bank, which
has the clear objective of facilitating
SME growth to its maximum potential.
Rather than
cut prices for
Black Friday,
we gave
customers a
free poppy
scarf to
RAF 100
I’m of the opinion that
parliament failed in its
duty to lead us out of the
EU in an orderly fashion.
Those who ruled out
no deal have no clue
how negotiation works.
The lengthy uncertainty
was as damaging to the
economy as Remainers
claimed the initial effect
of WTO rules might be.
Know your customers

This article was sponsored by Briggs Shoes. The Parliamentary Review is wholly funded by the representatives who write for it. The publication in which this article originally appeared contained the following foreword from Rt Hon Michael Gove.

Rt Hon Michael Gove's Foreword For The Parliamentary Review

By Rt Hon Michael Gove

This year's Parliamentary Review comes at a momentous time for parliament, as we collectively determine the destiny of the United Kingdom. 

On October 31, the UK will leave the European Union. The successful implementation of this process is this government's number-one priority.

Three years after a historic referendum vote, we will deliver on the decisive mandate from the British people. Trust in our democracy depends on it. Until that final hour, we will work determinedly and diligently to negotiate a deal, one that abolishes the backstop and upholds the warm and close relationship we share with our friends, allies and neighbours in the EU. But in the event that the EU refuses to meet us at the table, we must be prepared to leave without a deal.

As the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, it is my job to lead on this government's approach, should that scenario happen. Preparing for Brexit is my department's driving mission. But while I am leading this turbocharged effort, the whole of government is committed to this endeavour.

Ministers across Whitehall are working together to ensure that every possibility is considered, every plan is scrutinised and every provision is made. A daily drumbeat of meetings means that we are holding departments accountable, so that preparations are completed on time.

The chancellor has confirmed that all necessary funding will be made available. And we have mobilised thecivil service, assigning 15,000 of our most talented civil servants to manage our exit from the EU.

We will make sure that on November 1, there is as little disruption to national life as possible. Our trade relationships will continue to thrive, thanks to agreements with countries around the world worth £70 billion. Our country will remain secure, thanks to nearly 1,000 new officers posted at our borders. And the 3.2 million EU nationals now living and working among us can remain confident, with absolute certainty, of their right to remain in the UK.

Above all, our goal is to be transparent. Soon, we will launch a public information campaign so that citizens, communities and businesses are ready and reassured about what will happen in the event of “no deal”.

In my first few weeks in this role, I have travelled to ports and tarmacs, borders and bridges, all across the UK –from the seaside of Dover to the rolling green hills of County Armagh. I have heard from business owners and border officials, farmers and hauliers. They are ready to put an end to uncertainty. And they are ready to embrace the opportunities ahead.

Our departure from the EU will be a once in a lifetime chance to chart a new course for the United Kingdom. Preparing for that new course will be a herculean effort. But this country has made astounding efforts before. We can do it again.
Rt Hon Michael Gove
Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster