In conversation with… Martin Mason of Tricker’s

Date 1.03.2019

We recently caught up with our special guest lecturer, Martin Mason, managing director of Northampton’s shoemakers, Tricker’s. Tricker’s is the oldest shoemaking company in Northampton’s luxury shoe industry and a maker of shoes for Royalty that this year celebrates its 190th anniversary.

Martin delivered a lecture to students from MBA, Marketing Management and Fashion programmes – covering a range of business and fashion related topics. Martin described his approach to rejuvenating the Tricker’s long established brand in today’s highly competitive international shoe industry, with anecdotes from his career in international luxury brand building.

We grabbed five minutes with Martin to get his thoughts on Fashion and the future of Northampton’s town centre…

What was your lecture about?

I was invited by Adrian Pryce (Senior Lecturer in Strategy and International Business) to speak to the MBA Students about running a local business, Tricker’s, a shoe factory in Northampton; a town that was built on the shoe industry. I shared my experiences working for Tricker’s as a Managing Director, the history of Northampton and the industry, our business strategy, what and how we compete in a modern environment. Tricker’s might be a 190 year-old company, but we are progressive in some of things we are trying to do. I focussed in on export, which is a big part of our business and export is something that tends to frighten people – in terms of how do you do it – I shared my experience which has been very heavily in exporting and giving some tips on that. Then I shed light on the future for both Tricker’s and Northampton and some of the challenges ahead.

How has fashion evolved over the years?

Crikey that is a big question. I actually started my career in banking – but it wasn’t for me, I got rather bored very quickly. I then worked in sales for a Danish menswear brand in 1988 – and in those days there were lots of independent boutiques, you didn’t have the same amount of large chain stores that you have now, where the high street is dominated by a few names. You go into any shopping centre and see the same shops, you see a department store in the UK or Europe – you walk in on the ground floor you see the same brands on each floor and very few brands have individuality. Years and years ago each shop had its own identity, it was curated by the individual or small group that owned it and it allowed a lot of variety and choice. Nowadays, the high street chains are so dominant, somehow that little bit of individuality has been lost along the way.

This may be a bit of a sweeping generalisation, as there are still incredibly good designers out there – that we work with and have worked with at Tricker’s – such as Commes des Garcon for 32 years, we’ve also worked with Paul Smith and Margaret Howell. These are real purist designers that are true to their ethos, heritage and history.

But I think the challenges these days are that people are looking for value, not just price but something that holds a real identity and a provenance, and also something that is going to last. I use my daughter as an example, who’s 22, she’d rather own fewer things but better quality things, than necessarily having wardrobes rammed with whatever they can get their hands on. And I think that applies to brands like Tricker’s – we’re making luxury footwear, we’re not cheap – a pair of shoes may cost you £400, which is expensive but they will last 50-60 years if you continue to maintain them. Which is value for money when you compare buying a cheap pair of cemented shoes that will disintegrate after 12 months. So I think value and provenance and especially environmental sustainability are very much on the current generation’s mind.

What advice would you give to students looking to follow in your footsteps?

They should follow their own goals and apply what they can do. It is much easier today to set up in business – there is a lot of support, a lot of opportunity and the world is a lot smaller. We might be a very old company but we still rely on selling abroad and eighty per cent of everything we make here gets sold abroad. So if you’ve got an idea, product or service that is viable and holds value to people – then there are all sorts of opportunities available to people. A lot of entrepreneurs have paved the way for others to follow and carve their own paths – but ultimately have fun, things can be quite dull and depressing in this world so business should be fun and enjoyable.

What are your thoughts on Waterside and its role for the future of Northampton?

Oh this place is phenomenal. This University is a key part of the regeneration of Northampton – for one reason – it has brought thousands of new young people into the town. The location of the new campus means that people who are studying here are going into the town. And that’s a key part of Northampton’s regeneration goal – we’ve got to get people living and coming into the town centre. A lot of UK town centres are ghost towns, people come into a town, they work, buy a sandwich then go home at night and the town centre is dead. The town centre should be a mix of retail, residential, cafes, lifestyle and entertainment. The fact that the campus is now situated where it is, is the beginning of the regeneration of a town that is really important in the history of Great Britain. Northampton was and still is the home of shoemaking – it is truly epicentre of the world for this industry – it is unique and we should be proud of that.

For more information on studying an MBA, you can visit the course page.