This may be a risky post as I know there are some avid Clarks bashers out there but I feel that as an ex-employee–yes, that’s right, 8 years at Clarks with 6 as a manager– I need to stand up for them because even though I left back in 2012 I still feel very strongly about the service that this store has to offer.
Every year, usually around this time, the same stories come out in the media whether it is via a blog post, a tweet or an extensive, angry Facebook post poor Clarks gets the raw end of the deal just because of their ‘status’. This, you may then argue is precisely why they are targeted but who has put this store up on such a high pedestal that no other high street shop can do as wrong as Clarks seem to be able to year after year?
The last few years it has been the usual story about the styles not being suitable or how girls shoes are not robust enough. This debate will probably go on for many years to come because at the end of the day not every taste can be catered for and someone will always be unhappy. But, guess what? Other shoe shops DO exist! It seems as though when the back to school period starts, customers forget that there are plenty of other places to visit too… ones that also offer a fitting service, such as StartRite and Deichmann. You are not limited to one store and you are certainly not limited by the styles if you choose to shop around. Of course, Clarks won’t want me saying this because they will want to keep their customers but from a logical, parenting point of view I am offering up my opinion. Hey, I’ve even had trouble getting shoes for Jake in my local shops because he has a narrow foot but I don’t get on Facebook and write a public ranty post about how crap Clarks is. Instead, I look for a solution which is usually a trip to my nearest Clarks outlet to find older styles that will suit is foot shape. Yet, I have to admit that one year his winter boots came from Next because those were the only option to find a style that fit.
This year, in fact just this week, the latest rant has come about due to the names of the shoes. When I read the post I read it as an ex-employee who had to learn hundreds of names of shoes each year. I did not read it and at any point think the name of a shoe implied that Clarks is calling little girls ‘Dollybabes’ or boys ‘leaders’. The name of the shoe, as with every shoe that is made, is there for one sole purpose and that is to make it recognisable to the staff, to have order in a stock room and for ordering purposes. Without a name, it would be impossible for a store to run smoothly and efficiently.
Over the years, shoes have had all sorts of names, some have been hilarious– I will always remember the year of the Del-boy, Trigger and Rodney range and I can still picture those shoes in my mind now– some didn’t make much sense and others were a bit dull but they are just names and in no way imply that your child is of the character of the shoe they wear… imagine if we had a Del-boy now, would parents be in uproar over the idea that the shop were calling their sons wheelers and dealers?! I think in the situation of the ‘Dollybabe’ shoe it is also very important to point out that in some areas of the UK ‘babe’ is used affectionately amongst family and friends and is seen as a positive and in no way a negative. As Clarks cater to a wide range of parents we have to remember that names and styles will receive different responses depending on how you were brought up, how you speak in your area, what is seen as stylish in your area and so on.
I understand that some girls don’t like dollies, don’t like princesses and prefer to have a tomboy look. I completely get that we are of an age where gender equality, gender discussions and being politically correct is high in importance but at times are we not just going a bit far?
We may believe that we are pushing children one way or another by putting them in pink girls clothes and blue boys clothes or because we buy certain toys but I remember what it was like to be a child and I remember knowing my own mind– probably more back then than I do now! Kids are resilient, they have big personalities and they have clear views of how they see the world. As a child I adored Disney princesses, I wanted to be sleeping beauty, I wanted my Prince Charming and I loved my little ponies. At the same time, I loved riding my bike, climbing trees, investigating wooded areas and getting mucky. I could be both types of little girl and I could enjoy that.
My son loves tractors, trucks and dinosaurs– all chosen by himself. He also adores the film Frozen, he has a pushchair and a dolly to go in it. He shows a very boyish side and a sensitive side and this has all been developed by him alone. I would never discourage him from being who he is.
If I bought him a shoe that was called ‘little dude’ I wouldn’t bat an eyelid, I may not even notice to be honest because we often choose not to take a shoe box home and this is usually the only place the name is visible. I am pretty sure I will feel the same if I ever have a little girl, the name of a shoe will have no bearing on who she is, what she may be and I would never believe that a shop is implying something.
You may be reading this and thinking that I am missing the point of the original argument but I like to think that the name of a shoe does not and should not have such an importance in life!
What I would love to know is what other shops call their shoes? Do any of these people even bother to check? Well, I did…
StartRite girls range includes the names Runway, Princess Elza, Sunflower and girls names. The boy’s range includes Flexy tough, tough bug, Extreme, climb and like the girls’ most are named after boys. So, why is no one complaining about these differences and stereotypes eh?!
Answer: because it isn’t Clarks and this story from my own days working in a shop speaks volumes:
A man came into my shop with a pair of shoes in a Clarks box. He was complaining that they had fallen apart. As a Clarks employee it was my job to investigate what the style was, how old it was, to provide an option for the customer and get him to leave my store happy. However, I just could not for the life of me identify the style. I had worked for Clarks for many years and still didn’t recognise them. I asked the usual how long have you had them, where did you buy them, was it an outlet store? And so on. You see, in order to process a refund or an exchange I needed the code of the shoe to put it through the till system and to discover the last selling price. Of course, by this point, the man was becoming more impatient and angry. His temper rose and he was shouting that he deserved a refund because we had sold him faulty shoes and I was the one at the end of that. I tried all I could to find the style using old catalogues and asking my colleagues and as I was about to call customer services to gain their opinion I looked inside the shoe and I finally found an answer… Marks and Spencer’s was printed and just about visible on the side. The man immediately went very sheepish and began to apologise for his outburst. I tried to make the situation lighthearted and laughed but inside I was very upset at the way he had come into my face and yelled at me. I said he had better pop a few doors down and explain to Marks and Spencer’s about the shoes and see if they could replace them for him and do you know how he responded?… ″Nah, it’s ok I will just buy a new pair from you in here, could you pop these in the bin for me?″
I was left speechless. So, because I worked in Clarks it was ok to come into my store and become angry with me in front of my staff and other customers but as soon as the shoes turned out to be from a completely different retailer it didn’t matter?
And there, ladies and gentlemen is where the problem lies. Clarks’ customers expect so much more than any other and the complaints about this company will only continue as long as people have this attitude. In my view, there are many more important things to worry about in life than what a shoe may or may not be called and I think it is time to celebrate how hard the teams in Clarks work, especially at this time of year. Believe me, I’ve been there, I’ve practically lived in my shop at times and I can honestly say that it was the most exciting, tearful, exhausting, fun yet rewarding job I have had. Until you’ve worked in retail you have no idea!