The story of Frawley Shoe Warehouse (FSW) begins in 1927 on the back of a truck, with brothers Thomas and Joe Frawley selling shoes to miners at Captain’s Flat in Canberra. Two generations later, Stephen Frawley explains how innovation has helped the shoe store prosper in an evolving retail environment…
When my brother Gerard and I took over the Frawleys shoe shops in Canberra with our cousin, Michael, in 2002, we knew the store had to change or there would be no long-term future for us.
With 25 years experience working in the company—managing shops, buying stock, and opening new locations—we had witnessed the rise and rise of shopping malls and discount stores.
We needed to differentiate the company from its competition. We had the innovative idea to open a self-serve shoe shop on a large format, with stock grouped in its own categories and permanently discounted.
After researching our options, both locally and overseas, we decided to have pre-formatted cardboard boxes instead of traditional shelves. These could be stacked up like a grocery store, which was 60-70% cheaper than the average shop set up.
This gives the customer more control in their shopping experience, letting them try on and buy as many pairs of shoes as they wished—without having to engage a shop assistant.
We didn’t rush into implementing the idea and based the decision on research, experience and past mistakes. We knew we had to offer an alternative to most shoes stores, and developed the idea on the following three principles:
- The discount offer had to be genuine.
- There had to be a large range of brands, style and sizes.
- It had to be convenient and comfortable environment for customers to browse at their leisure.
Initially, we named the store FSW, which was intentionally ambiguous—it could be Frawley Shoe Warehouse or Factory Shoe Warehouse. This was because we were unsure how the new store would go and wanted to protect the existing Frawley brand that our customers knew and respected.
The doors opened on 9 September 2002 and we were pleased with just how positive the response was. It was an indication that, after all our years in the game, we knew what to do and what not to do.
Since then, we’ve continued to look for ways to improve on this model. This has included opening new shops in regional NSW towns with populations of more than 40 000, with hospitals, infrastructure and government departments. Not only has this reduced the competition from larger discount stores, but it also provided us with a good customer base.
With everything we’ve done, it’s been important to research our market and competitors, as well as stay up to date with trends and technology.
For example, smart technology and social media have influenced the buying habits of customers. There has been the rise of online shopping and smart phones, as well as other developments, such as apps that allow customers to find the cheapest price of a particular product within a 5km radius.
It’s still early days and we all have to be on our game, researching the retail market and exploring our options, to meet these future challenges.
After all, while today’s FSW offers a vastly different shopping experience to when my grandfather started the business all those years ago, it’s still about finding a shoe that fits.