While a long and distinguished history is undoubtedly something to be proud of, it is no guarantee of ongoing business success. That depends on innovation, ambition, customer focus, strong partnerships and an understanding of the market and the opportunities it offers.
As the seventh generation of the family that has owned the iconic Golden Boot store in Gabriel’s Hill in Maidstone Town Centre, Edward Martin could have been forgiven for relying on the shop’s history to bring in new customers.
Instead, he has vastly increased the size of the store, added a range of top quality country clothing and footwear brands, developed a successful online operation and become a regular attraction at the Weald of Kent Ploughing Match and other ‘pop up’ locations.
While it has always been a magnet for customers looking for expertly fitted quality footwear, with generations of families having trusted Golden Boot, particularly for children’s shoes, it has now become a “destination store” for farmers and growers looking for well-made, reliable, practical lifestyle countrywear, with many travelling long distances to seek out a favourite brand.
From Schoffel, renowned for making the ultimate shooting jacket for the UK climate, through R. M. Williams boots and clothes to Fairfax & Favor, with its quality boots and handbags, Holland Cooper, Dubarry, Le Chameau, Hunter and Barbour, Golden Boot has a golden selection of country-focused clothing.
Most of the ranges are only available through selected retailers, which highlights Golden Boot’s focus on building strong partnerships with suppliers. The same is true of shoe brands such as Dr Martens, which has now cut its network to 60 stores, one of which is Golden Boot.
Golden Boot’s commitment to its customers and its community is highlighted by its recent expansion into running shoes. As well as stocking shoes from On Running and Hoka, Edward has begun sponsoring Maidstone Harriers and is planning to sponsor the Maidstone Half Marathon.
It is a measure of the strength of the brand that Golden Boot isn’t actually the name of the company but refers to the large golden boot hanging outside the shop. Originally aimed at reaching customers who couldn’t read when the shop opened in 1790, it’s since become synonymous with what is certainly the oldest independent shoe shop in the country and probably also the largest.
The company name is actually F W Randall and Co, having been founded by William Randall at 29, Gabriel’s Hill before being taken over by Frederick William Randall in the mid-19th century. His daughter Henrietta (‘Etta’) married Robert Martin and the business has stayed in the Martin family ever since.
Edward, who helped in the shop as a teenager before studying for a degree in business retail and then working for Clarks in the US and Charles Clinkard in the north of England, took over the management of the shop from his father Lawrence in 2005.
In 2011 the men’s shop doubled in size to allow the introduction of clothing, and in 2018 Golden Boot moved into what was the Ship Inn, latterly the Strawberry Moons night club. Doubling in size again, it created the space for top quality women’s brands including Holland Cooper, Schoffel and Dubarry alongside top hand-made European makers such as Gabor, Panama Jack and Hispanitas.
Many farmers and growers will already be familiar with the range and quality of the Golden Boot offering, having come across Edward and his team at a Weald of Kent Ploughing Match, where the pop-up shop has been a staple for many years.
“Our products are popular not just with farmers and growers – both male and female – but also with land agents and other professionals who spend time outdoors in all kinds of weather,” said Edward. “We attend the show not just to sell product and make new customers but because we value their feedback. It helps us to evolve our product range and stay relevant.”
As well as the customers, Edward values his team, many of whom have been around for many years. With 25 years’ service under her belt, general manager Clare Wigston has been with Golden Boot for longer than he has, as has women’s manager Jane Taylor, while men’s manager Trudi Hood, now 34, joined the team when she was 16.
“We make sure our employees are well-trained and highly skilled people,” said Edward. “When you have customers travelling for several hours to spend several hundred pounds on a pair of boots they deserve to be well looked after – and we make sure they are.”