- These local shoemakers are not taking the Covid-19 pandemic lying down - rather, their stock is attracting the attention of international investors including celebrities like Ashton Kutcher.
- VELDSKOEN is currently selling in 23 countries, including via independent online platforms.
- The team takes service seriously - in fact, during the pandemic, the team wrote every single client a personalised email.
SA shoe retailer VELDSKOEN did not allow the coronavirus (Covid-19) pandemic to unhinge the business - in fact, it used the crisis to learn some valuable lessons.
When the national lockdown was announced four months ago, creating devastation for traditional retail, the management of VELDSKOEN brainstormed and decided to mobilise all their networks and technical skill.
VELDSKOEN started in a 3m³ office in Woodstock, Cape Town, about three years ago, and now sells its shoes globally. Furthermore, the pandemic has been the catalyst to start its own in-house "agency".
CEO Nick Dreyer regards himself as a late starter as an entrepreneur, having started his first business at 37 years old - an art advisory business called Auriti. Then came VELDSKOEN.
"VELDSKOEN started off as a conversation between two friends and within three years it has become a global fashion brand, worn by (now ex) royalty, sporting icons, music legends and - more importantly - folks who love South Africa," says Dreyer.
"We quickly identified that we had a great product idea, but the big gap in the market was that nobody - that we could find - had shone a fashion light on the veldskoen as a South African icon. We felt there was a real opportunity to create a positive brand around the veldskoen that celebrated all the great things, places and people of South Africa."
The brightly coloured leather "veldskoen" shoes quickly became popular locally and in 2019 it gained the attention of international celebrity investors Mark Cuban and Ashton Kutcher, and a US leg of the business was started.
VELDSKOEN is currently selling in 23 countries, including via independent online platforms.
O, veldskoen! What about lockdown?
Dreyer says of course the lockdown ban on retail had a massive effect on company's revenue.
"Thankfully we started out as an online shoe retailer so to move our focus to online [again] was straightforward. We went back to our core skill set and started telling great stories, made great contact and spoke directly to our existing customer base. The strategy worked and we had record months during lockdown and amazing feedback from our customers," he adds.
"We moved toward our online business and pushed that hard. We also rapidly moved forward our global expansion plans and built out our distribution partners, including in Italy, the Netherlands, France and Portugal."
During the pandemic, the team wrote every single client a personalised email, which offered resources designed for families to stay "sane" and entertained during lockdown. It included links to kid's stories, digital puzzles and games and included a discount code for a pair of shoes ordered during lockdown, with delivery to come later.
Global distribution has always been seen as a potential growth area for the business, and pandemic became the catalyst, which forced management to bring this forward to ensure multiple distribution channels to mitigate the inherent risk to retail in South Africa.
They also launched the DORP agency during the lockdown. VELDSKOEN has always created its own content, managed its own digital ad spend and has built a strong e-commerce platform that was ready to be scaled on a global level.
"During lockdown we bundled these strengths into an offering and launched our agency. The agency created television and radio content for Sorbet, Score Energy, Sportsman's Warehouse and Outdoor Warehouse in the middle of the lockdown," says Dreyer.
He says they have been "inundated" by entrepreneurs and established businesses looking to get online or to improve their e-commerce businesses. The new "digital agency" is already providing 20% of the revenue of the business.
"Our advice is always to make sure that you have an authentic brand or service narrative. It is getting really crowded online and successful brands will be authentic, resonate meaningfully with their customers and provide near perfect (we try our best) customer service," says Dreyer.
His second piece of advice is to ask for help. Dreyer says:
Another key component during the lockdown has been having the company accountants, Iridium Business Solutions, create an integrated inventory management system between the stock system, the online "store" and the accounting software.
This ensured that the business is 100% SARS compliant and they could successfully claim Covid-19 TERS relief.