Once upon a time, fashion dictated a single look and people bought and wore what they were told. Then came the revolution and individuals wanted to be exactly that, demanding choice, colour and diversity. This was the early ‘80s and at the front of that revolution was a small independent shoe shop by the name of schuh.
Well it very nearly wasn’t. Until the eleventh hour, Edinburgh’s newest shoe shop was to be called Lizard Shoes. But just as the sign writer was preparing to write the word Lizard above the door. Sandy had a change of heart and noticed a German fashion footwear magazine called Schuhe.
From that day forward, schuh was born with a name that most people couldn’t pronounce and those that could, just assumed we were German. Either way, there was something different about it. And the early success was down to celebrating those differences and shaking up the ‘shoe shop’ by challenging the carpeted shop floor, 50 shades of brown, and toe pinching world of family run shoe shops.
The first schuh opened in 1981 and although a million light years away from today’s schuh, it still had the familiar atmosphere of the organised chaos that we’re famous for today. schuh wasn’t a shoe shop, it was a fashion store that sold shoes. The volume of stock and colours in such a compact space created something previously never seen in the footwear market.
A second shop in Edinburgh was quickly followed by Glasgow and then Newcastle and the schuh story was beginning to unfold. Into the ‘90s the market turned from looks and styles to brands. schuh was quick to adapt and brands like CAT, Kickers, Converse, Vans and Dr. Martens were introduced and prominently featured in all stores. There was some early resistance from sports brands who didn’t want to see their products alongside stilettos and thigh high boots. We helped open the brands’ eyes that people wanted to buy sports shoes for night clubs as well as sports clubs.
It was around this time that footwear ceased to be just something you wore on your feet and became a lifestyle accessory. Accordingly schuh launched its own magazine in 1997 and promoted footwear brands like never before. After several years, when other retailers started doing similar magazines, it was time to move on. The idea that schuh was much more than just a place to buy shoes had now been embedded into the company’s make up.
With the millennium came a new digital focus with retailers clamouring to launch websites. schuh was quick to go online, launching a transactional website before almost all other retailers. By this time, schuh was almost exclusively a branded environment and the identity of the must-have brands was constantly changing.
The schuh website grew and grew as customers became more comfortable shopping for shoes online. This growth was happening alongside our store growth and by the end of the decade there was a schuh store in more or less every major city in the UK and Ireland.
There was still scope for more growth and so it approved in 2011 when schuh was acquired by Genesco Inc. a Nashville-based speciality retailer. Genesco Inc. sells footwear, headwear, sports apparel and accessories in more than 2,455 retail stores throughout the U.S. and Canada, principally under the names Journeys, Lids and Johnston & Murphy.
This marked an exciting new adventure for schuh and so began an accelerated period of store openings and in the five years that followed there are now twice as many shoe stores as before including a brand new concept. In 2012 we opened our first kids only store in three shopping centres: Lakeside, Braehead and Liverpool. These would be positioned alongside a schuh store and offer the same great brands in a similarly colourful and energetic environment – just for smaller feet.
While all retailers claim to put the customer first, schuh has always tried to go above and beyond to exceed customer expectations with initiatives like 365 day customer returns and making the whole product inventory available to every customer in any location. This thinking was crystalised in our core service values which were unveiled later in 2012.
All that changed in 2015 when we opened our first store in Oberhausen in Germany (where no one struggles to pronounce our name).
The schuh story goes from a tiny shop to a powerful retail brand that always did and always will offer choice, alternative styles, diversity, brilliant shoes and all the chaos that goes with it.