I’ve always been involved in the shoe business in some way, shape, or form. I worked in the factory during Yr. 10 work experience. I accompanied Mum on sales trips during our school holidays and on weekends, helping her when she struggled working seven days a week.
When I finished high school, business was tough. It was the late ‘90s and we were struggling. My parents told me I had to do something else, so I went and drove ships. I thought I wanted to be the captain of a cruise ship, but I realised pretty quickly that wasn’t my passion.
I became intrigued in the business side of shipping and gained far more enjoyment in trying to understand how that business made money. I had an opportunity to come back to work for the family in a business that was starting to grow again and an industry I’d known all my life.
When you’re in the shoe industry- ‘shoeys,’ my Dad calls them- it gets in your blood, and you really don’t care about much else. We all have a habit of looking at a person’s shoes as soon as we meet. We can’t help it!
…you can actually tell quite a bit about a person by their shoes: where they shop, the value they put on shoes, how they see themselves … more than people might realise.
A Brief History
Our company, Munro Footwear Group, has had a few iterations since my Dad launched the Gamins brand. This was in the ‘60s and kids were starting to dress up and go out, so he made a brand that was directed at young girls and that still thrives today. He claims it was the first brand aimed at teenagers!
Gamins was the beginning of 30 years of manufacturing in Australia. They were the halcyon days of Australian production, but they came to an end in the late ‘90s when economics necessitated that manufacturing shift overseas. Since then, for the last 20 years, my Mum has driven the business which is now focused on importing wholesale and retail brands.
Our main wholesale brand is Django & Juliette, which is sold predominantly to independent shoe stores in Australia and New Zealand. We also have brands like Mollini, Top End, and Silent D that sell in over 1000 stores across the country. And we have our own network of 300 retail stores eg. Midas, Mountfords, Williams, Mathers, and an online channel called Styletread.
The first 10 years of our post-manufacturing existence was aimed at wholesale, as it was pretty much what we knew. We had a few retail stores until we acquired the Midas and Mollini business, which took us from 10 stores to 30. That was a massive jump for us. Everyone in the industry told us we were crazy, but we went ahead and did it anyway.
Then we acquired the online shoe store Styletread (www.styletread.com.au) because we knew how important that was for the future of retailing and we wanted to get in early.
We were already selling to Styletread as a wholesaler and had a couple of their top 10 brands. We saw the opportunity of expanding and starting to learn about online.
It was another risky move. People told us we were crazy for buying Midas, then they told us we were really crazy for buying Styletread, but we could see how important it was going to be and thought it made sense for us.
Over the last eight years we’ve now done seven acquisitions of varying size and shape. With all those acquisitions we keep an eye on consolidation. We question every day whether we have too many brands or too many channels to market.
Early in 2018 we closed the Diana Ferrari concept stores. We still keep the brand but we didn’t need the direct-to-consumer storefront so we closed 20 stores. The decision was big, because the stores were profitable, but it was mission based.
Our mission is to be the best footwear company in the world and about half the Diana Ferrari sales were clothing, so it didn’t fit with what we’re striving for and what we’re focused on.
We’re still very much a family company – my Mum, Dad, and two brothers are heavily involved in the business. I was made CEO last year whereas we never really had one before that. It was always just the family, and it’s still run very collaboratively.
Being the CEO of the company that bears your name is a bit strange, but it’s nice and I’m proud of it. While it’s an amazing thing for me personally, the credit will always go to my Mum and Dad who built this amazing company.
We’re not big on hierarchy, although we’ve had to corporatise a bit with the acquisition of Fusion Retail Brands (Colorado, Diana Ferrari, Williams and Mathers), because of the size and structure that came with it. So we certainly have a bigger team at the executive level than we’ve ever had before, and we’ve recruited some amazing people.
Our CFO has come from a Retail and M&A background.
Our Chief Merchandise Officer had been with other significant retail businesses and grown them tenfold.
Our Chief Retail Officer built their career within Target in different roles and has brought those skills and disciplines to the Munro Footwear Group.
It’s who we are and it comes from our parents. My mum is very passionate about the business, about her family, and about her shoes…She’s a shoey through and through.
Her story is not that different from Phil Knight and the Nike story. She’s a shoey through and through. When the factory days were winding down, she saw that trend. We were really struggling. We lost our house and some week we couldn’t put food on the table. I was in my last couple of years at high school. It was not a great time.
To put food on the table Mum went out and became an agent for others. With all her knowledge and experience, she would go and sell some other brands of shoes to all the independent retailers and quickly rack up a million dollars in wholesale sales.
They were paying her 10% and then they’d work out that they could pay a salesperson $50k and give Mum the boot (so to speak) once the business was established. By the third time this happened in a couple of years, Mum said “bugger this, I’m going to have to do something on my own.”
She went off to China and started buying. It started with one container of shoes for a whole season, which was the start of the current phase of Munro Footwear Group. We now average 8 to 12 containers a week.
The family is very lucky in the fact that we’ve always gotten along and always stuck together. Even when we were young Mum and Dad took us with them wherever they were going. If they were out with clients we would go too. We’d often sleep under the table as the night progressed, but we’d always be there.
We ate dinner together around the family table every night. When I was 17 and we were living in a beach shack we’d get home at 9:00pm, but we would still sit and eat together. We fight, there’s no question about that. We have our moments. But we always come back and understand each other’s opinion and thought process.
I think we’re all quite different but we want the same thing at the end of the day. We come at it from very different angles but we’re all trying to get to the same place. We appreciate and respect each other’s views which helps us move toward common goals.
I think we’re all quite different but we want the same thing at the end of the day. We come at it from very different angles but we’re all trying to get to the same place.
We talk a lot about our goal, which is to be the best footwear company in the world.
We’re mainly in Australia and New Zealand now. A little bit in the US and in Japan through our wholesale channel and a bit in Canada, but mostly Australia. We have an amazing set of products to suit every woman, anywhere in the world, so we’ve laid the foundation for a global market.
We have an amazing team of people building the product. We’ve got a great supply chain right throughout the world, particularly in China, that we’ve been working with for 20 years.
We’re excited about where we can go and we really think we can get there.