Funny what results from a bet over a dish of fried seaweed; it certainly was in Adrian Herring’s case.
Adrian is the man behind Herring Shoes, an online retailer selling some of Northamptonshire’s best known shoemaking brands, including Trickers, Church’s, Cheaney and Loake. In doing so he’s acquired some interesting customers, from Leonardo Dicaprio and business guru Theo Paphitis to former Prime Minister Gordon Brown and the Bath Rugby Team.
What makes this retailer different from the others out there is that they also produce their own shoes, made by those same excellent manufacturers. Offering excellent value and coming in three ranges: Premier, Classic and Graduate, they’re a cut above what’s commonly available on the market.
I decided it was high time I found out a little more about Herring Shoes; so a few weeks ago I gave Adrian Herring a call.
Oh, and the seaweed? I’ll explain that as well.
Today Herring supplies shoes to customers all over the world, but success wasn’t always on the cards for young Adrian.
With typical honesty Adrian confessed to being a bit of a “misfit” in his early years. Describing himself as “a wheeler dealer” he walked out of his private school with the high aim of selling juke boxes. As one might expect Adrian’s father was less than pleased at this prospect and set about convincing a reluctant Adrian to come work for him in the family shoe shop.
Despite this change of tack Adrian had no intention of dedicating his life to shoes. But fate was to lend a hand. One day the Loake sales rep visited the shop armed with a pair of shoes in “beautiful Burgundy leather”. Adrian instantly spotted these, but his father, convinced they wouldn’t sell, said “no”. He eventually acquiesced, with the parting shot: “that’s your shoe”. It became a best seller and six months later Adrian was doing all firms buying.
Something I was keen to find out was why they started designing their own shoes.
Talking to Adrian it’s clear this is the bit of the business for which he has most passion. My favourites amongst the Herring range are the imaginative multiple textured and two tone shoes, for which Adrian has a particular flair and interest.
Oddly, it all started around the table in a Chinese restaurant with a wager over a dish of deep fried seaweed, or rather as Adrian thought fried cabbage. His father bet 25 pairs of any shoe Adrian cared to design that it was indeed seaweed. Adrian won his bet and designed a burgundy toe cap with black grain, which they named Seaweed.
What marks Herring’s own shoes out in my view is their exceptional quality and value, whichever range you opt for.
This side of things started when Adrian realised an opportunity to buy the excess leather from shoemaker Loake. At that time the company made shoes for the likes of Harrods and other high end stores. But they always had excess leather left over, which they were naturally keen to sell. For Adrian it was an opportunity to buy higher quality leather cheaply and with it produce shoes of a better grade for a lower price. Today creating their own shoes also allows Adrian to control both the price and the quality. For example, the lining in their shoes is leather and not cotton, as it is with some brands. Likewise, they use leather insoles where many companies use Texon, a substance similar to cardboard. Adrian helpfully explained how you test whether your shoes have leather insoles or Texon; “lick your finger and touch the insole of your shoe where the ball of the foot rests. If it leaves a dark mark then the sole has absorbed the moisture and it’s leather”. Most of the leather for their own brand shoes comes from Europe, but they’re starting to source oak bark leather from Devon. He also has some interesting projects in the pipeline; most notably a collaboration with Cheaney to produce a spectator incorporating genuine Harris Tweed. We can also look forward to a range of luggage complete with broguing to complement their Premier collection.
We discussed Adrian’s father quite a bit during the course of our chat, a man for whom he obviously has the greatest respect; “I always maintained the things learned from father”, he told me. But his father never went easy on him. It was on his insistence that Adrian was sent off to the Barker factory, where he learned to make shoes under the late William Barker. In fact he still owns the shoes he made then, and learned everything from clicking to cutting.
It was also through working with his father that Adrian learned about customer service. The internet doesn’t allow much in the way of customer interaction or personal service, but wherever possible Adrian tries to apply those same personal touches learned in the family shop, even going do far as to handle customer queries himself. But it’s the little things that make great customer service. This isn’t something advertised on the website, but when you buy a pair of Herring shoes each one is polished by hand, boxed in dustcovers and supplied with shoe horn and a tin of polish to properly care for them. All these things are indicative of the passion which Adrian has for what he does and how he does it.
I thoroughly enjoyed my chat with Adrian, of which these are the edited highlights. I was left with the definite impression that here was a stand up guy, and a real character with a genuine love for the business he’s in.