Byline: James Fallon

LONDON — Dr. Martens has stomped into retailing — and is finding out it likes it.
R. Griggs Group Ltd., the brand’s parent, opened its first Dr. Martens store Nov. 25, a six-floor, 13,957-square-foot space in Covent Garden here.
Roger Shelton, managing director of Air Wair Ltd., the Griggs subsidiary that produces Dr. Martens footwear and generally manages the brand, noted that Griggs initially viewed the store as a showcase for the brand rather than a major revenue contributor. However, the company has changed its mind, now that the store is open and pumping up sales. First-year sales for the store, with 8,000 square feet of selling space, are projected at about $7.8 million (5 million pounds) at current exchange.
The venture will still serve as a showcase, though, and will be a model for future stores Griggs hopes to open in Continental Europe, the Far East and the U.S.
“This is an ideal opportunity to display the brand in its entirety,” said Shelton. It will serve as “a major impetus” for further development of the brand’s recent ventures into apparel and children’s footwear, he said.
Griggs has invested about $12.5 million (8 million pounds) in the building, which is located on the main piazza of Covent Garden Market.
“This is such a wonderful location that we now expect to do tremendous business,” Shelton said.
The store is decorated in factory style, with rough concrete steps, brushed steel hangers, wooden shelving, rough brick walls and steel mesh display cases. Banisters are covered in leather, and there are boot-shaped leather poufs for seats. A cafe, Doctor’s Orders, continues the theme with a working-man’s menu and boot-shaped trays and chairs. The huge boots worn by Elton John in the film “Tommy” are on display in the entrance hall.
Prices in the Covent Garden store range from $42 (27 pounds) for shirts to $772 (495 pounds) for coats. Footwear prices range from $62 (39.99 pounds) to $140 (90 pounds).
Shelton said Griggs chose Covent Garden because it is a mecca for the company’s core 15-to-25-year-old customer.
“We think this store will become one of the top tourist spots in London,” he said. “We’ll settle for third behind Buckingham Palace and the Tower of London.”
The store is another step in Air Wair’s continued drive to turn Dr. Martens into a major, long-lived brand rivaling such names as Levi’s, rather than simply a fad.
“We have been looking over our shoulders for the last 20 or 30 years, expecting demand to drop off,” Shelton said. “We honestly believe Dr. Martens has become a classic.
“We aren’t always at the height of fashion, but when it coincides, as it did with grunge, things become crazy. There’s a trend now in fashion for glamour and high heels, but those are passing fads. Nothing can surpass the quality and comfort of Dr. Martens,” he asserted. “We are much more brand-conscious now and realize we must control our image ourselves. Four or five years ago we thought we should be nothing but shoe manufacturers. Now we see that we consciously need to manage the brand.
“For example, Air Wair is becoming more aggressive in promoting the children’s wear element of its line. It recently hired a national sales manager in the U.S. specifically for the children’s business,” Shelton said. “The children’s business is very much developing, but there is great potential there for us.”
The company took control of its apparel design several months ago, dissolving its joint venture with Wayne Hemingway of Red or Dead, a footwear and women’s and men’s apparel designer line. Dr. Martens has established seven worldwide licensees for the clothing. These licensees can produce the apparel locally, based on designs provided by Air Wair, the manufacturer and distributor of Dr. Martens.
The U.S. licensee is Air Wair USA, a joint venture of Air Wair Ltd. and London Underground. The formation this year of the venture, distributing both apparel and footwear, has helped boost footwear sales in the U.S. These sales will be well above 1993’s level of about $51 million out of sales of about $119 million for Dr. Martens products worldwide, according to Shelton.
The brand’s foray into apparel in fall 1992 has not been as successful as planned, Shelton admitted.
“Part of the problem was that Hemingway, who led the design team, was coming from a high-priced designer brand, and the prices of the initial DM clothing collections were too high.
“The clothing must be mass-market, and it will be for the spring-summer 1995 collection. We already are seeing dividends of the change in the U.S.,” Shelton said.
Air Wair’s Far Eastern distributor, Royal Sporting House, has opened a small concept shop for Dr. Martens products in Singapore. Shelton said the plan is to rapidly expand throughout the Far East with stores in Hong Kong, the Philippines and Malaysia.
Air Wair hopes to open DM stores in Paris and the U.S., although no time frame has been set.

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