For decades, the Overland brand has cemented itself as a front-runner for footwear with the all too familiar flagship stores Merchant 1948, Mi Piaci and Deuce Sneakers catering to every footwear need. For Shane Anselmi, shoes have long been etched in the family history, as well as having strong roots to Newmarket with the first Overland store opening in Westfield 277 in 1990. Zara Overton spoke with managing director, Anselmi about the history of the brand and just what makes the company so special. Read the interview here…
N. Footwear has long been in the family history – can you tell us a bit about how you got into the business?
My grandfather, Guglielmo, was an Italian immigrant who settled in the King Country in the 1930s. He worked hard and became a very successful farmer, but he was also quite entrepreneurial and in 1948 ended up with three small shoe stores after helping out a friend in a business deal. My father Tony, who was one of six children, much preferred working in the shoe stores rather than on the farm. So, in the 1950s, he bought the stores from my grandfather and opened more stores that discounted shoes, as well as opening a shoe factory that became one of the country’s biggest. Having spent my school holidays on my uncles’ farms I wanted to follow in their footsteps and become a farmer, but two years into an Agricultural Degree at Massey I realised the farming life wasn’t for me. I got involved in Dad’s discount stores in the late ‘80s and, not seeing a future selling discount shoes out of high rent malls, I came up with the Overland concept. We’ve grown from the eight stores we had, to around 60 now under the brands Overland, Merchant 1948, Mi Piaci and Deuce.
N. The longevity of Overland has secured its position as one of New Zealand’s best-known footwear brands. What role does the heritage of the business play in your wider branding?
It plays a huge role. Customers want to know where you come from and what you believe in. Our heritage talks of the importance of a strong focus on quality over the years, along with continual innovation, which means we are always trying new things. Lastly for us, the family has always believed in the power of engaging our people, knowing that a happy team, who know what they are trying to achieve, creates an environment where our customers are happy and satisfied too.
N. Your store designs have been a carefully thought out component when it comes to communicating your heritage. What goes into the process when it comes to the aesthetic and design of each store?
When it comes to building brands, there seems to be a greater focus more than ever on the importance of history, heritage and provenance. I think people are getting tired of cheap, disposable consumption, especially in fashion, which is why we focus on creating and supplying quality shoes with strong fashion credentials. It’s important that our store design reflects these values. We are always travelling and looking for new ideas and concepts, so when we see a fit- out or concept that fits our aesthetic in another part of the world, we use that as inspiration. We’re happy with our Merchant 1948 store design, but it is always changing and iterating. With our new Deuce sneaker store we wanted to go for a cleaner, simpler look that clearly communicates its three brand pillars: New Zealand Designed; Technical Footbed; and our Young Hearts Project, which raises money to empower and support young New Zealanders.
N. What drove the name change from Overland to Merchant 1948?
Before we opened our first store in Melbourne I was aware that when I told people offshore that we had shoe stores called Overland, there was an assumption that we sold outdoor, hiking- focused footwear. There was a disconnect between the name Overland and the experience. We’ve always sold well-made fashion shoes to women and men wanting the latest designs, so we cast back in history to look for a new name. This took us full circle, back to my grandfather Guglielmo (Bill), who was great at buying and selling, always adding value. He was a real merchant. So, in recognition of my grandpa and the year the shoe company started, we came up with Merchant est. 1948. It seemed to resonate with our values and we are slowly changing all the Overland stores over to Merchant 1948.
N. You opened your first store in Newmarket in 1990 in Westfield 277. What was it about Newmarket that led you to first open your store here?
Newmarket was the fashion capital of NZ and we were one of the first retailers into the new flagship 277 shopping centre back in 1990, with our new Overland concept. The fashion scene has changed enormously over the last 28 years, but we believe in the longevity and future of Newmarket as a key fashion hub. I also feel the new Westfield development coming next year will be great for all of Newmarket and will re- position it as the place to come to for fashion in Auckland and NZ.
N. With four physical stores in Newmarket today (Merchant 1948, Merchant 1948 Man, Mi Piaci and Deuce Sneakers) as well as a head office, what is it that makes doing business in Newmarket so attractive?
Besides the fact that Louise and I live just up the road and are blessed with a five-minute commute, it’s a wonderful place to have our Support Office. We have 50 talented young people charging around our building, taking care of a diverse range of things such as design, merchandising, marketing, honing systems and creating a platform to engage and grow leaders around our network. There’s a real joy and energy in the place and it’s wonderful that our people can visit our four different store concepts within a 300-metre walk from the office, allowing them to innovate, try new displays or processes and get feedback from our store teams.
N. What is the story behind your latest collection ‘The Journey’?
It reflects our belief that life is a journey, with the inevitable ups and downs, but if you embrace it – especially embrace change – you learn new things and importantly meet new people who can positively influence the direction you take.
N. Do you have a favourite shoe from the collection, and if so, what one?
I’m a real fan of our Rosso Fiorentino range made by my friend Enrico in Tuscany, Italy. They are beautifully crafted with soft Italian leather, have a long-lasting Blake stitch construction and are finished with indestructible Vibram soles. They look fantastic with jeans or dressed up. I have a little moment of joy every time I put on a pair of Enrico’s shoes, and can’t seem to wear them out!
N. How would you differentiate Mi Piaci, Merchant 1948 and Deuce Sneakers?
Mi Piaci is a design-led boutique offering for women; Merchant 1948 is aspirational but accessible with a real focus on quality of product and connection with people; and Deuce provides the most amazing sneakers while trying to make a positive difference in young lives.
N. People often say never mix family with business. However, with family being such an important part of your history and the evolution of the company, what would you say to this?
My wife Louise runs our design and buying team. She does an amazing job and works incredibly hard. At times it hasn’t been easy as I get pretty fixed in my views (haha – so does she), but over the years we have learnt to listen and understand each other’s point of view, be prepared to let go and accept being wrong. We travel a lot together and that helps. My dad Tony is still involved in the business, and our kids have been involved off and on over the years. The family dynamic and the way we embrace and support all our people and help them grow is what, I believe, makes this company so extraordinary.
N. Workplace culture is extremely important to the business, evident in the numerous awards Overland has picked up as New Zealand’s Best Large Workplace. You’ve won this award four times I believe and won the overall Best Workplace award three times! How do you continue to create such a successful company culture?
I get asked this a lot and yes, we are incredibly proud of the culture we have created. I put it down to our focus on Values. Values are vital in a business because they guide us to how we treat each other… and how we treat our customers, our suppliers and those we come into contact with. Many companies do what we did 14 years ago and work with their people to identify a set of values to live by. Unfortunately, they then put them in a frame on the wall or in a drawer… and promptly forget about them. We don’t. We’ve found a way celebrate them on a weekly basis and do this in the form of value nominations. An example of this is; imagine if Sally and Brooke worked in one of our stores and Sally decided to drop off a pair of shoes to a customer’s house on her way home from work. That’s the sort of behaviour we want from our people. So, Brooke might nominate Sally for ‘proactivity’ (one of our Values) and describe in a sentence or two just what Sally did. We publish those nominations on a weekly basis in our company newsletter – and believe it or not we get between 200 and 220 values nominations each week! Our people have embraced this and love this process, along with the recognition it brings when they are caught doing the right thing. We also spend a lot of time helping each person grow their skills and support them through the challenges this brings. It’s interesting, but as individuals we grow the most when we are open to feedback given to us, feedback which is often difficult for many of us to take on board because ego is involved. The culture we have is very supportive with this and people leave so much more skilled and capable than when they arrive.
N. Deuce Sneakers opened its first dedicated store on Teed Street last year, and is the driving force behind a charitable initiative called Young Hearts Project. Can you tell us more about this venture?
I became very concerned with the incredibly high rate of youth suicide we have in this country – one of the highest in the world – and wanted to do something about it. This led us to create the Young Hearts Project with its mission to empower, support and inspire at- risk young people. Every time we sell a pair of full price Deuce sneakers we donate $5 to the YHP which then distributes money to our three partners here in NZ; Great Potentials, Youthline and The Graeme Dingle Foundation. They do an amazing job and our people couldn’t be prouder of this initiative and the young lives they are helping. We’re just launching YHP in Australia and partnering with Headspace over there. We were thrilled earlier this year when we hit the milestone of having raised 1 million dollars for this worthy cause!
N. What are some of the upcoming footwear trends that we can expect to see this season?
The move to athleisure is a firmly cemented trend, as our lifestyles get more casual and we have become very used to the comfort involved with this trend. Women’s ankle boots are huge for us at present, and we are seeing the Kiwi guy focusing more on quality and style and happy to spend to look good.
N. It’s 10am on a Sunday morning. Where will we find you and what are you doing?
If I’m not offshore, I’m probably off jogging around the Orakei Basin with Lou (she walks so fast I need to jog to keep up)!
N. What is Newmarket’s best kept secret?
There is an amazing food and café culture here, all within five minutes’ walk from office. These include Bambina, &Sushi, Little & Friday, Maison Vauron, SIP Kitchen, Altezano Brothers and The Candy Shop which has recently opened.
N. With the expansion of Merchant 1948 and Mi Piaci into Australia, are there any key differences in the Australian consumer in comparison to NZ consumers?
There are some differences and a lot more competition being a bigger market, but often our best sellers here are also our best sellers in Australia. We find we need to range slightly differently and have found our men’s offering is particularly well received there.
N. The challenges faced by bricks and mortar stores in an increasingly digital age has meant that consumers have access to more choice when it comes to online shopping. How have you adapted to the pressures of the online retail environment?
We’ve come a long way in the last 18 months but still have a huge amount to do. Our online sales are two to three times what they were a couple of years ago, but we firmly believe in the power of our bricks and mortar stores. Our mantra is to create an emotional connection with our customers. We all make our buying decisions based on emotion and connection and there’s no better way to do that than give amazing service and a unique experience in store.
N. What are some of the biggest challenges you have faced with building the brand and running a business?
Deciding what to prioritise and do first. I have a manic mind and can see potential everywhere, but I’m not good with detail. It can be exhausting for those around me trying to get me to slow down, because they are tasked with taking care of the detail. We have the most amazing team of leaders here and thankfully they are quite good at this.
N. Name 5 things you can’t live without.
1. Meditation (I practice Transcendental Meditation)
3. Morning coffee
4. My books – I love reading and have a huge library
5. The joy I see in our people’s faces when they achieve a new milestone
N. If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t give up meditating, as I did in my late twenties. I got back into my twice-daily practise three years ago and now couldn’t be without it.
N. How has social media changed the way you work?
Personally, not a lot. It’s a vital part of our business, but thankfully we have a young team that understands this, and they do a great job.
N. With shoes in the blood from such a young age, you must own quite the number of pairs by now! How many pairs of shoes do you own?
I’ve lost count. Lou says I have more than she does, but I don’t believe her…
N. What’s next for Overland (Merchant 1948, Mi Piaci, Deuce Sneakers)?
Keep focusing on our Purpose which is, ‘Together we Create to Inspire’. This is the reason we come to work. There’s something grounding and up- lifting to our people about these words because they talk of working together in teams, being creative in their daily work with the output or goal from this work to be inspiring to those who see it or come across us. The more our people can love and celebrate their craft, whether it’s creating beautiful shoes, stunning imagery, uplifting stores or service levels that really connect, the more pride they have and the more our customers resonate with us. I’m confident if we continue to embrace this Purpose we have a big future!