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Kinky Boots, A Rebranding Story!

Updated: Apr 6, 2018


I was in New York over the weekend to watch the award-winning Broadway show, Kinky Boots. The musical was colorful, uplifting and sent audiences dancing out of the theater. And it was inspired by a true story. After some research, I found myself reading the story of how a guy named Steve Pateman saved his father's shoe factory in the little village of Earls Barton in Northamptonshire.



The Kinky Boots Story


The shoe factory, WJ Brooks, struggled to stay relevant in a time when changes in fashion and competition from abroad disrupted the industry. The company was on the brink of closure when Pateman received an unexpected call from a fetish store owner and everything changed.

Sue Sheppard (or Anthony) was the owner of the fetish store, Laces in Folkestone. After having difficulty getting women’s shoes that would fit men, Sheppard called Pateman to explain the situation and convince him to produce a new line of shoes.


Initially, Pateman was skeptical and insisted that for a century his company had only made men’s shoes. Eventually, Pateman was persuaded and that was how Kinky Boots or the Divine line saved the little factory in Northamptonshire.



Branding Lessons From Kinky Boots


From every heart-warming story, there are lessons to be learnt. The story of Kinky Boots offers marketers with insights on how to rebrand a business.


1. Find Your Niche. Kinky Boots was clearly a niche market at that time. With few competitors and excess demand women’s footwear for men was a great opportunity for W J Brooks. Pateman could meet the needs of a previously under-served market with his Kinky Boots. Niche products often earn higher margins and have higher barriers of entry. Read more about Niche Marketing.


2. Conduct Market Research. Every business should conduct market research regularly to understand if the market and/or customer preferences have changed. In the case of W J Brooks, they were no longer competitive when foreign competitors flooded the market with cheap shoes. Before Pateman introduced Kinky Boots, he did market research to size the market and understand his target audience.


3. Create Your Brand! Pateman introduced the new Divine Footwear line or “Kinky Boots” for the niche market instead of using the traditional W J Brooks brand. The new brand appealed to the values and desires of the target market, transgender males who wanted to look sexy!


4. Be Bold. When Pateman first launched his signature “Kinky Boots”, he needed male models for their product. When none of the male employees volunteered, as the business owner, Pateman wore his “Kinky Boots” and modeled for the company brochures and catalogs.


5. Never Stop Innovating. As a business owner, you should constantly review the market, engage with your customers and keep competitors in check. Develop new products to meet the changing needs of customer. And innovate products to meet a future need.



What's Next?


But, what happened to W J Brooks after Kinky Boots? The company did well for several years, enjoying the profits of a niche market. Again, cheap foreign imports caught up, eroding margins and the business folded. The factory was later sold off for housing and Pateman now works as a full-time firefighter.


As a business owner, it is important to be aware of the market situation and customer preferences. You need to be driven, look out for new opportunities and under-served markets. Conduct proper market research and rebrand to stay ahead of your competition.



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