A certain snobbery has always attached to gentlemen's outfitters, with their hefty prices. English gents Alastair Baxter and James Cookson decided to find a way of providing the same quality without the price tag. They set up Shipton & Heneage in 1989, selling high-quality shoes via mail order. 'We have the same suppliers as most famous stores in London's Jermyn Street, the Savile Row of outfitters,' explains Baxter, 'but because we are not sitting in expensive premises, we can charge up to pounds 70 less per pair.'
Two years ago, the partners introduced online ordering to supplement the half-million brochures sent out each year. 'It was shaky at first, but we've pushed hard with the engines to get in the top two or three search returns,' says Baxter. Internet sales account for 15% of a fast-rising annual turnover - now pounds 1.8 million.
The design of the web site reflects the products' high quality. Clarity is the most important facet, Baxter believes. From clear illustrations and full descriptions, you can choose from 120 different styles. All are made in Northampton, Britain's shoe capital, by the Goodyear welting technique, using the finest full-grain aniline calfskins. The firm also offer handcrafted personalised slippers, a ladies' range and a Paris collection linked to its Paris boutique.
Orders are now being placed via shiptonandheneage.com from all over the world, notably America. 'We're talking to a rather well-off church over there about outfitting all their ministers,' explains Baxter. Nice to see clergymen saving their own soles for a change.