The CEO of Dune London Talks About the Retail Industry’s Climate of ‘Tremendous Change’

Despite increasing competition from international players and the rise of e-commerce, Dune London has succeeded in keeping customers engaged for the past 25 years, thanks to on-trend footwear that embraces the eclectic aesthetic the city is best known for.

As Dune enters its next chapter, founder and executive chairman Daniel Rubin is aiming to introduce the brand to new markets, where consumers are responding positively to its accessible price points and quintessential London identity. It is also continuing to refine its offer and thinking of fresh ways to engage the customer, both in-store and online.

Here, he talks to FN about his plans to sustain the company’s growth, and addresses some of the biggest challenges facing the footwear and retail industries.

FN: What were some of the brand’s biggest milestones during its first 25 years? 

DR: “Being able to survive and prosper during a period of tremendous change within the retail sector has been an achievement in itself. We’re really proud of having been able to adapt to all the different challenges in terms of e-commerce and the changing structure of the industry. When we started, there were a lot of specialist retailers. Now everybody’s selling shoes. We’ve got competition from the likes of Zara, River Island and Topshop.”

FN: What channels have the strongest growth potential as Dune enters its next chapter?

DR: “E-commerce is going to be absolutely crucial. It now accounts for about 30 percent of our total sales, and we see that growing over the coming years. The key for us is the omnichannel experience. The stores, the concessions and our online platforms all need to be tied in so that the customer can have a seamless experience for the brand. That has been the key investment that we’ve made in terms of technology over the past few years. We are trying to make that shopping journey seamless so customers get one view of our stock; if you see a style in one store and your size is only available in Scotland, we can get it to you very quickly. There is no [difference between] the stores and e-commerce. We’re one business, and we sell through different channels.”

Dune London’s holiday campaign.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dune London

FN: How are you working with your retail partners to fuel growth?

DR: “We’ve been too late to the party in terms of wholesale, particularly international wholesale, and are only starting to see the growth now. However, moving forward, the key driver for our business is certainly going to be international expansion. Such sales now account for around 20 percent of our business, and the target is to reach 40 to 50 percent. Our main activity will be in building partnerships with some of our key international franchise and joint venture partners. We’re strong in Europe and the Middle East, but certainly Southeast Asia is a region we feel we are underrepresented in, and are in active talks with partners in the region. We also recently built a partnership with a department store in Chile, we’ve opened in Serbia and are continuing to expand our joint venture in Switzerland. Strategically, we’re looking to grow in bigger markets so that we can get the scale that we need.”

FN: What are your plans for the U.S. market following your initial initiatives in 2014? 

DR: “The U.S. has been a tough market for us, and we’ve learned our lessons about what not to do in that market. Our mistake was to go in with a range that was too aligned with our retail range, but we have now created a much more focused, more individual wholesale range and a much clearer identity of what the brand is. We do have the intention of coming back and building relationships with some of the key players. We’ll be very cautious about opening shops in the U.S. and plan to focus more on e-commerce.”

FN: How has the brand’s product range evolved in the last few years?

DR: “We have curated the range so that it’s all around stories. It’s much clearer for the customer, who has less time and wants to go into the store or online to find something they can directly relate to. We’ve spent a lot of time on branding details such as the finishing of the soles, the types of materials and trims, in order to create a distinctive Dune look. The move toward a more casual aesthetic means that we’re also developing a much bigger athleisure range. Our offer is becoming much more diversified, from party shoes right down to trainers.”

Daniel Rubin
Daniel Rubin
CREDIT: Courtesy of Dune London
Daniel Rubin

FN: Do you plan to maintain your prices? 

DR: “We’re not [planning] to push up our core prices. In fact, we’re introducing some more entry-price product. But there is an opportunity to [increase the prices] in some of our top stores, like Selfridges, where price isn’t an issue. Our anniversary shoe, which is 250 pounds ($331), has just been released and almost sold out. If the product is special, then there is a market.”

FN: What else is in the pipeline for the company?

DR: “We’re looking at the store of the future and how we could use things like AI technology to enhance the shopping experience. Outlet stores also present a big business opportunity for us, and we plan to open a dozen or so locations such as Bicester Village, which is the second-biggest tourist attraction in the U.K., after Buckingham Palace. Our other areas of focus are personalization and the introduction of a series of capsule ranges, with an emphasis on a wedding capsule for next spring. We’ve had a fantastic reaction to our wedding collections so far, and we feel that there’s a real niche in that market to tap into.”

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