Iconic Australian brand, Wittner Shoes, have a fascinating heritage. With over 103 doors across the country, comprised of 73 proprietary stores and 30 David Jones concessions, Wittner is woven into the very fabric of Aussie fashion.
A journey this long and triumphant hasn’t come without its difficulty however. The fact that Wittner continues to grow and push the envelope is testament to the determination and strength of their business. We spoke to Michael Wittner, Chairman and CEO, to hear their story.
Wittner began in 1912 and is still a family-owned business, passionate in the craft of quality footwear. They opened their first store in Melbourne an impressive 107 years ago.
“My great-grandfather came to Australia in 1887 by mistake. He was meant to go to America and got on the wrong boat. Instead of arriving in America four weeks later, he arrived in Australia four months later.”
The happy accidents didn’t stop there. While the Wittner family have carved out a deep space for themselves in their industry, their humble beginnings weren’t without challenges.
“In 1912, my great-grandfather had a horse and cart, he was a trader. And the first consignment of footwear he bought, he couldn’t sell. So, he said to his son, the founder of the business, HJ Wittner, who was all of 17 years old, “Son, you’re in the shoe business.””
Once a young HJ Wittner was flung into the proverbial deep-end, he proved that he could swim. And swim the Wittners have, going from learning the ropes to setting the industry standard.
By now, it’s fair to say that their hard work and patience have paid off. Yet success doesn’t mean that you can stand still. In fact, it puts even more at stake when it comes to consistency – the cornerstone of any good business. With grandchildren Michael and Debra at the helm, Wittner continues to set the bar higher.
“There isn’t a component that goes into our shoes without our approval and our quality control checking. The leather, the comfort, the quality is part of the total package. That’s why customers keep coming back.”
Beyond the systems, processes, materials and team, delivering high-quality products relies upon the people you do business with. For the machine to turn and churn out only the best, all the cogs need to be in place and moving together.
“There’s an interesting correlation between quality product and quality companies or organisations. We at Wittner have always been known for our products, our boots especially. The same applies for the people that we work with. We like to work with quality providers and Octet is just that.”
Even a business as well-established and stable as Wittner isn’t invincible. Everyone can use a little peace of mind. By partnering with Octet Finance, Wittner have been able to safeguard their business for the future.
“Any business, over the journey of 100-plus years, is going to have good times and bad times. And with the view to cashflow-proofing our business, we liked the Octet product when it was introduced to us. We thought it was a very innovative finance product.”
Creating a heightened sense of security about the future and potentially smoothing funding potholes are just two advantages to the partnership. In addition, Octet has helped Wittner strengthen their other business relationships.
“Our suppliers have really taken to it. They love Octet because they get paid the day the shoes leave the factory, and we love it because it provides us with some extra cashflow.”
These relationships aren’t limited to Australia’s boarders either. In fact, Wittner’s use of Octet’s services and support illustrates how much value can be brought to businesses trading internationally.
“One of the things I was surprised about, was how easy it was to actually set up the Octet platform. Not only here in Australia, but surprisingly, in China, in our factories. The fact that Octet has offices in multiple countries was of enormous value.”
Keeping up with the times and ahead of the curve is as important for a veteran business like Wittner as it is for new start-ups,
“The innovation’s been an important part. It’s been one of the three pillars of our company, since day dot. This store is the latest innovation in the Wittner journey. We’re standing today in our new mega, E-store. Which houses about 30,000 pairs of shoes. This is one of three new concept stores that we’re building or have built in Australia.”
Despite the ways in which consumerism is evolving, Michael believes that some things never change. Octet shares in his belief that business is about putting the customer or client and the centre, being flexible and prioritising their needs.
“Today, it’s not so much about the customer more needing to shop in store or online. It’s about providing the customer with the opportunity to do what they want, when they want, and how they want it.”
Chatting with Michael at Wittner Shoes in Sydney was insightful, not only because of what could be learned about their company, but also about business success in general. With the experience, focus and drive the Wittners have already demonstrated, there’s no reason why their business can’t live on for another 100 years. Octet hopes to be there to support them through it.