Karen Williamson, left, with Retailing Focus business partner Christine Cleaves

Two former senior managers from leading shoe retailer Clarks International have launched a new business to help transform independent footwear retailers, while living at opposite ends of the country.

Retailing Focus has been set up by former colleagues Karen Williamson and Christine Cleaves to help shop owners as they rebuild following the Covid-19 pandemic and accompanying lockdowns.

Officially launched on International Women’s Day 2021, the business has seen the experienced pair join forces to engage with clients by making use of digital technology. Online tools mean distance is no barrier with Christine based in Street, Somerset and Karen based more than 350 miles away in Morpeth, Northumberland.

Karen and Christine Cleaves are senior leaders from the Clarks European business having worked together for more than 20 years. Both have gone on to launch their own businesses, utilising their knowledge and experience.

They believe their understanding of trading planning, buying and merchandising, business strategy, customer service and operating shops will help smaller retailers embrace future changes.

They aim to offer a system of review, upskilling and growth which is affordable to even the smallest independent retailer or within funding options. The new government restart grant provides up to £6000 per premises which can be used to build retailers for the future.  Retailing Focus have bespoke packages available to support and build on your existing skills to create new ideas and fresh thinking for your shop and customers driving performance.

Their passion and drive are born out of a desire to support the independent footwear retailer with the skills, knowledge and experience that the big High Street retailers have within their large teams, without getting bogged down in the slow pace of change which can often hamper bigger organisations.

Christine said: “Footwear is one of the hardest hit sectors through the pandemic and our mission is to help independent retailers move from surviving to thriving. The last year has been particularly difficult for retail and we are here to help, guide and support to drive growth again. For anyone feeling a bit lost, and unsure of what to do next we can help you refocus your business.”

The approach of Retailing Focus is to understand the current business position through a diagnostic tool with an overview of the owner background and skill set. After completing a personal action plan with clear goals, measures are set to ensure success. An exec summary will be prepared and presented for each client with next steps agreed.

The partners aim to offer a warm and friendly service and their approach is to support, with no question being considered “crazy”. They will recommend a list of interventions to get each business and owner “fit for the future”. The list may include a set of masterclasses with other retailers, business coaching & stock planning however the options will be created bespoke to your needs.

Christine said: “The mission of Retailing Focus is to provide expertise and fresh new thinking to independent retailers nationally, driving continuous improvement by enabling, upskilling, and delivering a world class retailing proposition to move from survive to thrive. We mean business!”

Karen Williamson says: “The headlines have been dominated with news about store closures and the issues on the high street. A lot of money from central government is being used to change the infrastructure of the high street and unfortunately not enough is going to supporting the actual retailers improving trade”.

“We have all seen comments about shopping local and we want to ensure this happens in every town nationally. I cannot imagine a High Street without shops, it is unbearable to think about!

“We need to save the retailers from closure and support with tactics that delight the customer every time ensuring they have choice of where, when and how they shop that meets their needs.”

Retailing Focus is also preparing to work with BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) nationally and independent retailers from all other sectors.  With the skill set, training packages and ongoing support models that Retailing Focus have tried and tested they know they can also support independent retailers and larger corporate businesses that want the extra dedicated business support.