Back in 1875, the grandfather of the founders of Omoda worked in the shoe business. As a shoemaker in Burgh, the Netherlands, he offered a home delivery service… by horse. His passion for shoes was passed down through generations and, in 1961, Lourus Jan Verton and his wife opened the first predecessor to Omoda. The popularity of the store rose due to the large collection of branded shoes and excellent service. In the decades that followed, both sons of the Verton family entered the business, opening up new shops and starting the family business. In 2000, the brand was established and the Omoda concept was launched. By 2007, Omoda entered the online market. It also crossed borders and began selling abroad for the first time. Jan Baan, Chief Operating Officer at Omoda, talks to us about what it is like to grow a family business and offers some interesting insights into their vision of e-commerce.
Text: Jeroen Leenders, Nico Hoeijmans // Photos: Omoda
A fresh perspective
Baan, the son-in-law of one of the founders, started at Omoda in 2017 with his wife. While it was unclear what his job exactly would involve at the beginning, he was enthusiastic to start in the family business. ‘I am a man who likes to look at things from a bird’s-eye perspective and meddle with a lot of ongoing processes in a company. That is why I supported the founders of Omoda. From the start, it was like jumping onto a highspeed train. The company was evolving at rapid speed and, despite being only 26, I rapidly grew into my current position as COO.’ It means Baan is responsible for daily management of the company, whether it is in marketing, e-commerce, logistics, HR, finance, customer service, or IT. ‘Having this job at my age can be challenging, as you have to manage people who have been working at the business for many more years, and are specialised in what they do. However, it is extremely rewarding to see the opportunities that are available when you can look at all business processes with a fresh perspective. To be a part of that is great. ‘Taking over the daily management gave our founders more time to do what they are good at: focusing on creating a very strong and attractive Omoda collection.
What does a typical Omoda-collection look like? ‘It means we do not offer just any shoe on our platform. We position ourselves as a specialist in shoes. Compared to Zalando, for example, who offers any shoe they can, we say ‘no’ to a lot of shoes and brands that we feel do not fit our image and collection,’ says Baan.
Baan explains the Omoda vision by making a comparison between grocers and supermarkets. ‘When looking at the market of shoes, there are basically two kinds of sellers. On the one hand you have supermarkets – high-volume, fast selling companies with utterly unlimited resources that care less for what products they sell as long as they can sell them. On the other hand, there are specialised grocers, much like us. We, as a family business, have to grow with our own resources. That means growth is realised, but it is done so in a secured manner. We work based on our own strengths and identity, just as a grocer focuses on his. What differentiates us from supermarkets and lots of other grocers, is that we are very, very focused on offering a product or collection that satisfies all of our Omoda-customers’ wishes. We could start to sell some well-performing brands tomorrow if we would like to. However, we are convinced that these shoes do not fit our brand name and do not match the brand identity we are striving for. Our founders still decide whether we will start selling a specific brand of type of shoe or not. They see all of them. With that, the identity of the company is guaranteed. This is why we recently added “passion for shoes” to the brand name.’
As Omoda focuses on a specialised identity, it also creates a profile for what kinds of customers the company will attract. Baan: ‘Women are very important to our business. Firstly, women between 25-45 who aim to dress in a fashionable manner are part of our core audience. These women account for approximately 60% of all sales. A lot of women inspire – or even buy – their husbands’ or children’s shoes as well. That means that if these women can identify themselves with the Omoda brand, they will suggest it to their relatives as well, which results in more sales in our collections for both men and children.’
A single multichannel approach
As of 2007, Omoda has an online shop as well. The company has therefore integrated its offline and online business. When asking what kind of multichannel strategy the shoe retailer is following, Baan answers that multichannel is a misleading term. ‘That is because it assumes online and offline are two separate things. Of course, the practise of selling is a little different, but it is not the case that we approach our customers in a different way online and offline.’ From this, we could conclude that Omoda is using a single multichannel approach for its online and offline customers. Baan elaborates, ‘Look at it from this perspective: Voice search is a very up-and-coming thing. Will we see it as something completely new in the coming years? Most likely not, as we will treat it like a part of e-commerce. Looking at what customers do, we see that they find their inspiration online, but might buy offline as they want to try our products first. The opposite happens too, as it can be very pleasing to get your products delivered to your doorstep, although you have tried them in our stores in the first place. In our case, due to the way that customers have mixed the use of our channels, we cannot treat them as separated sales units. Our channels inform each other, even though the way to approach a customer might differ.’
To illustrate this with an example, Baan highlights that the opening of a new brick-and-mortar store not only creates offline awareness in that area. ‘When we open an offline shop, we see an online spike from that area as well. Conversion rates go up, as well as the number of site visits and more. That way, an offline store is a great marketing tool for our online store as well. It is why we work with one marketing team which focuses on both our online and offline marketing strategies. Just imagine you are in a store, trying to benefit from a discount you saw online, but which only works online. This is frustrating. That’s another reason to treat your mix of on- and offline sales channels as one.’
Customer experience in a changing market
Due to the rise of online commerce, almost all brick-and-mortar stores in all kinds of markets have seen a decline in visitor numbers and sales. ‘In our market, we have to deal with numerous players who want to benefit from the same audience. Two important parties are general marketplaces such as Zalando and Amazon and the traditional, specialised shoe-selling companies like ourselves. With e-commerce, a third party has become increasingly more important: suppliers of brands more often directly look to sell to the customer. We believe that the share of online sales will increase to 50%, which is hard for the offline market to deal with.’ At the same time, consumer spending has changed according to Baan: ‘People used to spend their money on products. These days, diners, food and events such as short holidays, city-trips and festivals make up a bigger share of people’s disposable income. As the market for shoes is quite steady, this can be a dangerous cocktail to deal with. Our main challenge is to counter the fall of visitors in our offline stores as much as possible. This involves thinking about how you can still have offline added value for your customers in both service and inspiration, despite the online growth. We put a lot of effort in the way our stores look, to keep them up to date to counter the decline of visitors as much as possible. At the same time, your online service needs to be top-notch so visitors who see you online will come into the store as well. We try to do that by providing our customers with fashion inspiration in blogs, on social media and through emails. Doing that continuously, will make customers keep an eye out for us as a brand, visiting our stores.’
As Baan already stated, it does not matter if a customer decides to place an order online or buy directly from the store. ‘It is your service that causes customers to become recurring customers in the future. For us, it is harder to realise that online consumers expect the delivery to be easy and free of charge. Home delivery has to feel like a present you receive and in case a product gets returned, that should be a completely hassle-free experience too.’ Baan cannot emphasise enough that this feeling has to match the feeling when consumers want to look and buy offline. ‘This is why we pack our online orders with great care, in designed boxes that reinforce that experience. When shipping our accessories, we pack them in custom-designed dust bags. It makes the
unpacking experience fun and creates satisfied customers.’
Sustainable packing and shipping
To optimise the unpacking experience, Omoda has been deep-diving into its packing process. It started to collaborate with e3neo, a Ranpak company. ‘They have created the packing solution we were looking for,’ says Baan. ‘Every year, we are sending many packages through all countries we sell. Unfortunately, not all shoeboxes carry the same sized shoe. Due to these inconsistencies, we were shipping a lot of air, up to 50%. This resulted in three main problems. Our transporters shipped trucks filled with a lot of air, our last-mile service provider dealt with the same problem and you are wasting materials you should not necessarily send.
As sustainability is becoming a hotter issue amongst both retailers and customers, it is something Omoda has been focusing on as well. ‘We have been calculating how much air we shipped and, with e3neo, we found a solution to reduce it. With the help of their packing machines, we can decide which box best fits an order, offering the best length to width ratio. The second machine cuts our boxes to the correct height, eliminating air in this dimension. Consequently, we were able to reduce the amount of air by 46%. In terms of trucks, this spared us 25% per truck. That’s a big boost in extra useable space. Our last-mile carrier was pleased with this solution as well. On top of this, we could speed up our packaging processes while our staff is able to focus more on the quality of the shipments and faster processing of returns,’ tells Baan, adding ‘it even improved the orders we still pack by hand, as we get better suggestions for boxes to use for these kinds of orders.’
Omoda is working hard on sustainable processes. A workgroup within the company is working on ideas the company can realise. ‘Whether that is a solar panel roof or eliminating the packing slip in our online orders,’ says Baan. ‘A very interesting pilot we are working on is one with reusable packaging. In our checkout, customers are offered durable shipping for a deposit of €4.95. When they choose this method, their order will be delivered in a sustainable box which, upon unpacking, can be folded into the size of an envelope. The customer then has two options. If he or she wants to return the product, he or she can do so with this box. If he or she wants to keep the order, the box can be folded to the size of a letter that fits in the mailbox and sent back to us, free of charge, and gets his deposit returned. Up to now, the pilot shows that people like to use this way of delivery and these boxes can be reused at least up to 50 times.’
A peek into the future
With these kinds of developments and the steady growth of Omoda, we are wondering where the company will be in a few years. Omoda has already evolved. From a regionally known brand in the Netherlands, to a nationally and, in later years, international known company. Baan states: ‘We want to continue to do what we excel at, our core business: shoes. In light of this, we recently designed and created four own brands, with which we aim to inspire our customers and better fit their needs. At the same time, there are numerous growth opportunities within the Netherlands and beyond, both online and offline.’
This article was previously published in Cross-Border Magazine 11.