If the shoe fits, sell it to your database…

I’m cleaning out old files and came across some sample catalogues of a client of ours at O & M Direct.

In 1973 Peter Sheppard opend his first shoe store. He offered a unique range of brands from Europe and other parts. But his secret weapon was his mail-order business – his database. It was built mainly through his retail store(s).


In the 1980’s our agency wrote and designed his catalogue and mailings. The catalogue was called “Shop at Home” – he was way ahead of his time in the virtual shopping world. Not only did the catalogues offer deals on shoes, but also special offers from complementary third parties such as Sportscraft, David Cardigan, Gilchrist & Soames and others. Customers could shop from the comfort of their home, or visit a store.

He mailed two seasonal catalogues a year, usually at least 1 month before the retail season started. The reason was simple. The mail-order sales determined what shoes he should stock in his retail store. The brands and styles that sold well via mail, became the shoes that were featured in-store. This ensured good sales volume and minimal overstock of unpopular lines. It also meant he would have the right shoes on display as the new season started.

Peter Sheppard 2

His mailings followed all the rules. They were packed with multiple pages to make them tactile and encourage involvement by the recipient – now known in these digi-days as customer engagement. The mailings included a catalogue, inserts with special offers, extra order forms, introduce-a-friend offers, even a free calendar with its own special offer printed on the cover in the Christmas mailing.

Peter Sheppard 1

Peter Sheppard 3

I looked at his site today – it still follows the classic rules of direct marketing, has a digital catalogue, shoe bling and a mail-order service amongst other things. Online retailing is just a remote ordering service that delivers the products by mail or courier. The Peter Sheppard site is simply an evolution of its original offline mail-order business.

The site even has a separate brand www.slippersdirect.com.au so you can have your comfy foot warmers delivered direct to your door.

If you work in retail your customer database is your most valuable asset. It took Amazon years to make money, but once it had a sizable customer database it became profitable – because it’s cheaper and easier to sell to someone you know (your customer) than someone you don’t know. Repeat business is now the lifeblood of Amazon.

Their database drives repeat purchase
Their database drives repeat purchase

Through testing, your database can reveal insights that can mean the difference between profit and loss. And that goes for physical retail stores with online businesses, as well as pure online businesses that only sell via websites and other digital channels like email and social media.

The problem for many retailers is they don’t have a database of their customers – it’s stuck in the POS system, or the accounts software. And they rarely use their website to capture data and gain knowledge about their customers – even though it’s easy to do so.

These are often the businesses with managers complaining about sales or the economy. Yet if they just invested some time and money into creating a customer database they’d be in much better financial shape and minimise the peaks and troughs in their trade. And it only needs to be little data – not BIG data.

Peter Sheppard has been thriving for 40 years through smart use of customer data. And by adapting to technological changes he has continued to enhance his personal service. His business is still a hard core retail one and it still uses the way of direct marketing to succeed, even in the digital world.

What’s that adage again – what’s old is new again…again?


  1. Malcolm,
    All great points about business fundamentals. The previous owner of my old apartment in Sydney was on that mailing list. Regular as clockwork the catalogue would arrive in the mail. I guess my only observation would be that the company doesn’t appear to do any list cleaning. Despite sending the catalogue back twice with a “no longer at this address” note, it kept coming!
    On a broader point, as you suggest most retailers don’t understand the business they are in. Too many seem to think it’s about the shop, rather than the customers. Without a proper list, they don’t really have a business.
    Thanks again for a great post (as usual)!
    Kevin Francis

    • Thanks Kevin

      Interesting that you remember the mailing after all these years. The power of tactile media. He’s on eof those very successful people who have stayed below the radr. Unlike most he focuses on the basics, because without them it doesn’t matter what marketign fashion you follow, you don’t succeed.



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