First two months in Marsden..

The finished building at Lakeside


Not written for ages – excuse being the oldest one in the book… Been too busy with work! Time has come now to explain to anyone who’s interested the rationale behind Mountainfeet’s move to Marsden and what the place can offer to serious outdoor types like me and you.

Running a small business in Oldham over the last couple of years has been like stopping the Titanic from sinking once she’d hit the iceberg. Whatever we did and however proactive we were, the business was doomed unless we moved away. Feedback about the service we provided and the level of expertise offered was fantastic but the long and short of was, people just hated coming into Oldham town centre and either put their visits off or went elsewhere.

I’d looked in vain for somewhere to relocate that would give myself and the boys somewhere to develop our analytical style of footwear fitting even more and that customers would find appealing to visit. Despite living in the beautiful Pennine village of Marsden I’d never looked at it as a viable location for a regular outdoor shop even though to many it might seem like the natural place for one. Having over ten years of ups and downs in the commercial retail world, I can tell you that shops are setting up for failure based on that kind of superficial viewpoint – I’ve seen enthusiastic people throw good money after bad because they didn’t understand the dynamics of running a shop and the fact that the climate’s only getting harder…

Several years ago a during a tough financial time at the shop, myself, Marcus and Phil sat down and took a long hard look at what might be the way forward in a business that needed to adapt to changing shopping habits. The internet had arrived in a big way and after a few small outdoor shops had enjoyed a modicum of success plying their trade online, it was obvious that long term, only the big players would have the economies of scale and the logistical setup to endure in a price driven market. As sports mad guys, we were interested in all the ‘wrong’ aspects of the shop – climbing kit, ski gear and other clothing and equipment that was becoming increasingly difficult to deal in! Time to look more closely at ‘the boring stuff’!

We decided that most footwear shops, both fashion and outdoor orientated, didn’t offer anything like the right kind of service and relied on almost a self serve type customer who would spot something they liked and then ask for what they thought was their size to be brought out. We knew that this was wrong straight away as we were all aware that the morphology of the foot changes over the years dependant on things like ageing, weight gain, injury and sports wear and tear.

Tools of our trade…

We also had a session looking at our own feet with consideration to the sports lifestyles we’d had. Not surprisingly, mine were the most damaged! Why was this and what could we offer people to prevent them suffering the same problems? I won’t bore you with too much detail but over the next couple of years we developed and fine tuned a method of ensuring we sold people not only the right genre of footwear but just as importantly, the right size, volume and shape together with an overview of their foot function and a basic health check. The more our knowledge developed, the more convinced we were that working with a sports orientated podiatrist was the way forward. As soon as we had the confidence to converse on a professional level we cultivated an invaluable relationship with an excellent practice in Stalybridge owned by Tony Gavin who has become our friend and dare I say it, mentor…

For three years we watched the footwear side of our shop gradually eclipse every other aspect of the shop as people became aware of what we were doing and travelled increasing distances to visit us. In tandem with this, I put time and money into a niche speciality of my own – alpine ski touring. This provided an interesting sideline and got several local people into a purer version of downhill skiing through courses we ran in France. But by 2008 we couldn’t get away from the fact that the bootroom was now firmly the hub of the business and we even renamed the shop Mountainfeet to reflect our intent to concentrate even more on footwear in the future.

By 2010, the recession had caught up with us big style despite winning two retailer awards but by being really frugal we were coping and just breaking even. But 2011 brought the spectre of Oldham’s Metrolink development into sharp focus and with no transitional assistance whatsoever for small business during the groundworks, the end of Mountainfeet in Oldham was in sight.

Notice was given on the property at Rhodes Bank in July 2011 and for a couple of months I just buried my head in the sand and went through the motions of working out our notice period. For one unworthy moment I thought, “sod it, I’ll just sack it all off and go work for someone else”. Then I realised there was more to it than that. I had staff to think of. Staff who were friends, not just colleagues. Customers who were friends and not just customers. And many of those people relied on us to be open and travelled miles to get their footwear and their feet looked after.

So after a lot of abortive searching for premises we could afford and a potential rescue package from our good friend Tony if all else failed, we found ourselves here at Lakeside in Marsden. Much stress and hard graft has passed under the bridge since December when I took the building on. I had originally spoken to the excellent Alistair Hanson at Hanson Music on Warehouse Hill with a view to moving into a unit like his but nothing was available. Luckily, when I saw the building at Lakeside I was in a reasonably upbeat mood or I wouldn’t have seen the potential of it and would have walked away because of the amount of work needed to refurbish it. (Click the link below for photos of the refurb – I’m warning you, there are a lot!)

Marcus
Phil

Anyway, three months later, all the works finished and we’ve been trading for two months now. Has it been worth it? Well, it’s very early days yet and there’s a lot of build money to pay back to the bank but it feels like a new beginning and we haven’t even begun to scratch the surface in terms of what’s possible here. Every day, someone new gets to hear about what we do and through them, we often get their friends and relatives showing an interest. And although we had one casualty on the staff front which saddened me a great deal, the boys I started all this with, Marcus and Phil, are still firmly involved and I value their contributions enormously. Of more interest is the fact that after those early years of us all studying anatomy and biomechanics in a random and haphazard way, Phil is now most of the way through a podiatry degree at Huddersfield University! And Marcus has just been accepted at Sheffield University to study radiography. I’m proud of my boys!!!

Learn about your feet…

So, going back to my earlier statement, I still firmly believe that a village like Marsden, as has been proved several times in Uppermill over the hill, couldn’t sustain a conventionally aspirated outdoor shop. Anyone trading here needs an existing customer base from further afield and to continually develop more destination type business through specialist expertise worth travelling for. The advantages for Marsden village is that our shop isn’t adding to any traffic or parking issues as footfall isn’t high. Most of the good people who visit us are enchanted by the scenery and countryside on offer and are happy to explore the village and take advantage of Peel Street’s facilities. Hopefully, given time, we’ll dovetail into the local network of other businesses to offer benefits to all.

There will be some who come in the shop who won’t understand the philosophy of the place or why in their opinion we don’t have an inventory of every piece of outdoor clothing and equipment known to man. Some will stay and have a chat and will go away comprehending exactly what we’re about. Others won’t get it but probably wouldn’t have gone further than kicking the tyres of our kit anyway and I guess we’re not for them. We’ll probably get cited as being expensive too by them. But the prices are the standard manufacturers RRP’s and the advice and hands on service we provide doesn’t cost extra and can frequently make a difference to a customers well being. One gent came in a few weeks ago and said he’d bought six pairs of boot over the last three years in internet sales but couldn’t wear any of them as none of them fitted properly. I rest my case on value for money…

Lizzie

There are massive thanks due to many people who pitched in and helped over the last few difficult months with their time and expertise. Probably miss someone out but the main players were Rich and Adele Tayles, Will Evans, Paul Seddon, Hannah Beith and Doc Paul Sydney.

And of course the person without whom there would have been no Mountainfeet over the last twelve years is my brilliant wife Lizzie! Think I owe you a holiday later on this year…

Cap Collie

And now we’re not working 24/7 any more (just 14/5!), it’s time to start cultivating a Mountainfeet dog to complete the staff line up! There’s a sofa here in the shop waiting for the right lad…

Here’s a cracking picture of the original (and best ever!) Mountainfeet dog, Cap.