YOU could say she’s followed in her father’s footsteps.
But Vicky Devlin has stepped up the pace at family shoe shop Shaw & Hallas Ltd.
Vicky, who is managing director of the well-known Huddersfield retailer, is proud of its status as one of the town’s best-known and longest-established independent businesses.
The company dates back to the 1860s when John Shaw began to make and repair shoes from premises at Westgate and Elliott Hallas opened a small footwear shop in Holmfirth.
When John’s daughter Emily married Elliott’s son George, the two firms merged in 1914 to form a limited company.
Shaw & Hallas moved to John William Street in 1923 and in 1946 focused on retailing rather than shoe-making. In 1961, the company moved to Market Street and opened a specialist children’s shoe shop at New North Road.
Seven years later, the Shaw family acquired the whole of the shares, but kept the Shaw & Hallas name. It occupied several premises in the town centre before moving to Market Walk in 1994 and opening a clearance outlet, The Shoe Shelter, at Denby Dale.
Vicky, who lives at Marsden, is the fifth generation of the Shaw family to be involved in the business, having taken over from her father, Michael Shaw.
She stresses it was not a “blind” sense of duty that led her to join the family firm, but adds: “I didn’t want to see the business finish when my father retired.
“However, it was my choice. I used to work in the shop on Saturdays when I was at school. I worked in the children’s department and learned to fit children’s shoes – which remains my passion.”
After studying at Huddersfield Technical College, Vicky chose to work elsewhere, taking a number of sales jobs – and learning the business of selling the hard way – before joining the family business formally in 1980.
“I was a very shy little girl,” she says.
“Working in sales was useful because it gave me some backbone! That experience has been invaluable because now I deal with people from all walks of life – customers and suppliers.”
Vicky succeeded her father in 1994 when the business moved from Market Street to Market Walk, where it has been ever since.
With the arrival of Kingsgate and a “shift” of the heart of the town centre to neighbouring King Street, the move proved a good one, putting Shaw & Hallas at the centre of things.
“We are a destination shop,” says Vicky, “People make the effort to find us, whereas they might not have made the effort to go to Market Street.”
She says: “We are up against competition from the multiples and the biggest challenge to an independent retailer like us is the amount of discounting. That is why the high street is struggling.
“Our secret to success is customer service and range of products. We offer shoes for all the family in different width fittings so we can usually fit up almost any shape or size. We really work hard at getting that right.
“We are very grateful to the people of Huddersfield because we have some very loyal customers. We have had six generations of families shopping here – often three generations at one time, grandmothers, mothers and daughters.”
Historically, the firm was best-known for its men’s and ladies’ shoes, but Vicky has made Shaw & Hallas synonymous with children’s footwear, saying: “The children’s department is our saviour during difficult times!”
Back-to-school time brings throngs of parents and children to the store. Parents are always keen to ensure their children have good quality, comfortable, properly-fitting footwear – and the firm’s commitment to the cause has also found favour with Huddersfield University.
“We have three podiatry students from the university working on Saturdays,” says Vicky. “Laura, Sara and Oliver joined us in the summer and will spend a couple of years with us. We are training them to fit shoes properly, so as well as earning some money, they are learning about another aspect of foot care which will complement their studies. They are interested in the problems different shoes can cause.”
Shaw & Hallas also has a strong following for its men’s shoes department and numbers Baker Shoes, which has a factory at Northampton, among the brands growing in popularity.
At a difficult time for retailers, many traders opt to “sell cheap”. But Vicky sees no future for independent retailers who take that route. "You either give your products away or you make people want them," she says. “We are constantly looking at what we buy. We choose to buy good quality shoes that fit and are comfortable and that is the direction we take. Our suppliers are very supportive and we make astute decisions. As an independent business, we can also take quick decisions without having to refer them to the boardroom.”
The company is a member of Huddersfield Business Partnership and recently donated thousands of empty shoeboxes to be filled with gifts and games for the Samaritan’s Purse Christmas appeal.
Vicky’s ambitions are to continue steering the business forward – one step at a time.
“My drive is to be successful and to keep my very loyal staff employed.” she says. “I’ve achieved my personal goals – I met and married a lovely man and we have two lovely children.”
Vicky’s other keen interest is horses.
“I was one of those children who liked to play with animals,” she says. “I was an outdoor person and as long as I could ride my pony I was happy.”
Now Vicky has four horses, who take up much of her spare time. She has even studied horse relaxation techniques and “equine body work” to improve their well-being and performance.
Holidays include long-distance rides with a group of fellow horsewomen dubbed The Marsden Moody Mares.
“We go trekking for four or five days on a circular route, staying at bed and breakfast places on the way,” says Vicky. “We have done parts of the Pennine Way and there are lots of bridleways that you can ‘link up’. It’s great fun.”