Clarks pushes new brand strategy

Clarks, one of the world’s oldest footwear brand and known for its ‘Everyday Footwear’, is set on a new marketing and distribution strategy to expand its presence in Asia Pacific, particularly China. RETAIL ASIA finds out more from Doug Searle, vice-president of Operational Development for Clarks Asia Pacific. 

Retail Asia: How big is Clarks’ business in Asia Pacific? 

Doug Searle:Currently, Asia Pacific represents just over 8% of the Group’s total sales. In 2013, Clarks’ Asia Pacific business represented a turnover of £131 million (US$210 million), with particularly strong growth in China, India, Southeast Asia and the Middle East. Over the last three years, the Asia Pacific business has grown at a significant 30% year on year.

Doug Searle, vice-president of Operational Development for Clarks Asia-Pacific

Doug Searle, vice-president of Operational Development for Clarks Asia-Pacific.

Clarks designs, manufactures and sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes every year.

Clarks designs, manufactures and sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes every year.

Clarks designs, manufactures and sells more than 50 million pairs of shoes every year. Operating in over 75 countries we’re already a £1.4 billion business and have ambitious growth plans, that include doubling the size of our international business to position Clarks as a truly global brand. Today, over half of our sales come from outside of the UK.

China is our biggest market. It represents 40% sales for our Asia Pacific Region and is the fastest growing market year on year. The opportunities in China are huge. The Chinese consumer values British brands with a strong history and heritage and also a product which is well-made.

In China, we have 500 stores, a mix of owned retail, department store concessions and franchise stores. We also have online presence with our own website and stores on both Tmall and 

What is Clarks’ current marketing and distribution strategy in Asia Pacific? 

Searle: In line with our ambition to become the leading everyday global footwear brand, we have recently changed our approach to marketing and distribution across the globe.

In terms of marketing, there has now been a significant change to a much more brand-led approach as the business recognises that a more focused regional push to build Clarks’ brand presence and positioning is required.

We are aiming to appeal to a younger target audience group, reaching out to the premium consumer segment which appreciates high quality products and craftsmanship. As part of this marketing strategy, Clarks’ retail outlets are playing a key role, providing essential brand ‘touch points’ for customers looking for a pleasurable, stylish, top-end shopping experience.

Clarks is currently testing a brand new shopping concession store in Shanghai which will appeal to this new, stylish and sophisticated target customer in China. In addition, we have opened a new generation store concept in Beijing Oriental Plaza, one of only four in the world which is testing how we bring our great British brand to life for consumers.

E-commerce also plays a significant role as a sales channel in Asia Pacific.

In terms of distribution, Clarks is investing significantly in its logistics operations and IT infrastructure. There are now four, large local distribution centres in Asia Pacific located in China (Shanghai), Japan (Tokyo), Malaysia and Singapore improving efficiency, ensuring shorter lead times for retail outlets and e-commerce and allowing Clarks to cater for the specific demands of local markets.

We have restructured the business to create four regional hubs: UK & Republic of Ireland, Europe, America and Asia Pacific to facilitate a new, marketing-led strategic direction.

Previously, Clarks has been primarily product-driven, growing organically through a product/distribution-led strategy. The Clarks brand has played a secondary role and has therefore lacked the consistency, strength and integration required to really resonate on the global stage.

Clarks has now set the wheels in motion to build a premium global brand, embedding consumer and channel segmentation and establishing the right mix of fashion and premium footwear collections to inspire consumers.

In Asia, Clarks’ brand history and heritage – particularly our Britishness – is a key selling point and something which we embrace in our marketing campaigns.   

What bold steps is Clarks taking in China? 

Searle:Clarks’ market goals in China are to

  • To build scale and presence in China as a global brand;
  • To grow the Clarks brand by increasing own-store footprint, multi-brand wholesale partners, Internet selling sites and department store concessions significantly, driven by business model changes across the region

To build appeal to premium, stylish and sophisticated female consumers while retaining the core, traditional consumer segments consisting of older demographic seeking practical quality.