Generational succession: Scarpa
The beginning of 2018 saw the three-store Scarpa shoe retail company passed down from owners John and Barbara Savage, who launched the company in 1991, to their two daughters Liz Savage and Pip Larner. Both women worked within the store with their parents for over 15 years before the takeover earlier this year.
“It’s been a gradual process really,” says Larner. “We’ve been making sure that is everyone is in the right role as we go through a slight rebrand. Every part of management we have now taken over, as well as becoming the face of the brand, as opposed to behind the scenes. [Since taking over] we’ve been having a lot more meetings with our team – just so we can really align ourselves with what is happening.”
Both women share a combined love for quality fashion, as well as inside knowledge achieved only after years within the industry.
“Pip and I have been learning more about how the business runs in the background,” agrees Savage. “Everything mum and dad did, as well as thinking of the big picture in the future. Everything that we’re learning, mum and dad have had in the back of their heads for 26 years. So, everything that comes second nature to them is what we are having to learn. All the little things you don’t even consider we have now had to step up to do.”
Heavily family and fashion orientated, Savage and Larner came into the position with fresh ideas, as well as a desire to pay homage to the solid foundations their parents had set out before them.
“We have definitely been changing things up,” says Larner. “Between our new Teed St location and our bigger focus on ecommerce. But we’ve just been freshening up and putting our own touches on the current business model.”
Yet Savage agrees that the efforts their parents made the last 26 years resulted in a great business, one that the women have been able to continue while including their own influences.
“Our own touches make it feel more personal, it isn’t just mum and dad’s business anymore it’s our business. But we’d be foolish to rock a solid foundation, so we will keep that going.”
Like any generational succession, the women acknowledge there is heightened expectations from consumers, parents and more so what they put on themselves.
“There is a lot more pressure when stepping into a next-generation role,” says Savage. “The expectations are set. And I think a lot of these expectations come from us. We want to prove that we can make it work to the best of its abilities.”
“I think they’re still getting used to us running it,” says Larner. “Because for them it was their baby and this is a big change for them after all this time.”
Both parents have stayed slightly involved in the business, offering advice and services where needed but letting the women handle the bulk of responsibilities with buying and management. Both women have grown up selling within the store, and Savage says they will continue that path.
“Morphing into a hands-on role was easy as I guess we have always kind of done it,” says Savage. “We’ve always been hands-on, our roles are in the shop, selling shoes and making our customers feel the best they can. It’s old school but that’s what has worked. We’re often in the shop selling as we have never really had that hierarchal approach to business.”
With a growing ecommerce section and a new high street store, it is clear that both ladies are taking the new position in their Italian-leather stride. They’re now working with stylists and including new, more frequent, training sessions with staff to improve the overall experience.
“We have a really great team,” says Larner. “We’re now having weekly meetings and bringing in monthly training sessions for the staff as well.”
“We’ve always had great customer service,” agrees Savage. “But now there is more emphasis on pushing ourselves to be better all the time, it’s survival of the fittest out there. We’re including sales training and product knowledge, as well as styling tips.”
Although they are still involved with smaller runnings of the business, Savage highlights that their parents have passed on the store with a ‘figure it out’ mentality.
“I’m sure it would have been more of a challenge if they had stepped away completely. But in a way, they have kind of said ‘figure it out’. They have never mollycoddled us, in fact probably more the opposite. Which I think was better, we work better from the deep end.”
Yet a generational hand-down does not come sans challenges. Both women agree that you need to keep learning and listening to the market, even after 26 years in the industry.
“You got to keep pushing with the market, you can’t become complacent because it’s easier,” says Savage. “Talk to mentors and people you respect, people love sharing advice. But you must be passionate about what you do and the product that you’re selling, otherwise it won’t come through. In New Zealand you can’t be fake, our culture is to be genuine in what you do, and have that passion to do what you love.”
“New Zealanders are very good lie detectors, customers have so much choice out there now so they will go with what is a genuine and authentic experience,” agrees Larner.