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Dec 6, 2021
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Digital growth, comfort focus: how Hotter is crafting a strong turnaround

Published
Dec 6, 2021

It could be the ongoing sneaker trend at retailers from JD Sports to Kurt Geiger and StockX, or news of comfort-focused men’s dress shoes label Perlie expanding in the US, or the impressive turnaround seen at Hotter in recent periods. But in all cases, it seems that the comfort shoe trend isn’t set to run out of steam any time soon. 


Hotter Shoes



Fashionnetwork.com spoke to UK brand Hotter’s Chief Commercial Officer Victoria Betts to hear the huge potential it still sees in the market and how it plans to exploit that.

The company has reported strong trading for this year and told us said that sales on the key Black Friday period were up 10% year-on-year. And it’s particularly interesting that sales of men’s footwear have risen by 70% year-on-year in the latest season. Men’s casual shoes have performed very strongly, with a 118% rise in this product category. That’s key given that until now, about 90% of the firm’s output has been women’s footwear.

In fact, 2022 should see the firm more actively targeting the male customer who Betts said he been “under-served” until now. This is interesting because that’s also the gender that the aforementioned Perlie is going after (albeit at a much high price point).

The issue in the past has been that men are traditionally more limited in their shoe choices. As Betts said: “‘Mr Hotter’ typically has about five core styles whereas women may have more. Men might have a trainer, a walking boot, a smart shoe, a slipper and something for holidays, and they're in a neutral tones”.

But she added that “we think that we can do more and we've been getting closer” to what they might want, working with designers on an approach that should bear fruit in 2022.

DIGITAL-FIRST

It’s clear that the company is focused on growth and it's particularly interesting that it's achieving this growth by taking what some might have seen as a risky digital-first bet on a consumer group not traditionally known for being big fans of the online experience.

Betts explained: “We serve over four million customers globally. As a consequence of the pandemic, we’ve changed our routes to market and we’ve accelerated our digital part of the business. This is now the largest part of our overall sales. About 75% of our overall transactions come in through the website. 

“Our target audience is 55+ and what we’ve seen is a huge adoption of digital. So where the 55+ market is 38% of the UK population, when we look at internet sales, they now generate 30%. So it still under-indexes, but we've seen huge growth for the 55-65 group and more acutely, for 65+.”

And she expects that to continue. She added: “We’d already decided that we wanted to do more digitally pre-Covid, but the pace at which consumers have adopted digital has accelerated because of the pandemic.”

What it means is that the company is in something of a sweet spot. From having launched a 2020 CVA as a physical stores-based business and having closed many of those stores, it now has a growing digital business and huge potential to grow further, not just in the UK, but abroad too.

Its main market remains Britain, but it sells to the US too and to Europe, both directly and with partners (it currently partners with names such as Amazon, Next and eBay). 

With international currently making up only 15% of sales, the firm is looking at expansion opportunities. It’s in talks with some major European names and is looking at some of the logistics considerations to help drive US growth. 

PRODUCT IMPROVEMENTS AND MESSAGING

Whatever market the company targets — women or men, British or international — the key thing is to get the product, experience and messaging right, and it has done a lot in these areas in recent periods.

It has what Betts calls a “commitment to an uncompromising focus on customised comfort”. This has involved adding a wider variety of fits, and creating “comfort families”, such as Stability+ and Cushion+ (two collections where its biggest growth has been seen).

But also part of the brand’s transformation has been a subtle boost to the shoes’ trend element, and a conversion of its remaining stores into experiential centres. 


Hotter Shoes



Betts explained: “The internet is a great transactional space, but it's in stores where you can get some theatre and understand the brand better. We now call store staff ‘comfort technicians’ rather than sales advisors and within the stores themselves we've got technology to help with shoe fitting. “What we’ve got in our stores now is what we call ‘footprint technology’. That's a 3-D scanning solution. We’re using the retail environment to offer an improved service and added value”, Betts said.

And with fewer stores now open, the company is also laser-focused on its messaging. It's making good use of the dominant social media platform for its demographic (Facebook), but also Pinterest and Instagram, towards which those consumers are also gravitating.

And it’s taking an active approach to influencers as Betts knows that it’s fine “when a brand tells you it's nice, but when a person you admire says it, that’s better”. It’s working with “small but very engaged and relevant influencers in our social space and showing how to wear the shoes. The way the influencers style [their looks] has been very powerful”.

And with its parent company Electra Private Equity planning to list on the AIM stock market next year (under the rebranded Unbound name) and target the 55+ market with even more products that those consumers should want, it seems Hotter could well be a springboard into many other categories. Watch this space.

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