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17

INNOVATE

what they listened to at college, whether that

was The Smiths, or The Cure, or Nirvana,”

Murray says.

The sale to Permira left the Griggs

family with just a 10pc financial stake in

the business. Murray says he has never met

them. “I think they took the approach that

they’ve sold it and have moved on.” However,

the Funck and Maertens families regularly

attend company conferences and make the

most of their lucrative royalty rights to Dr

Martens’s intellectual property.

Only two out of 15 senior directors

who were there before Permira’s takeover

now remain. “Virtually everyone on my

team has worked and lived abroad at some

point in their life and I think that helps

to change perspective from what was a

family-owned business,” Murray says. Of

Permira’s ownership, he says: “There will

clearly be a sale at some point, but I think

the first year was all about seeing what they

had inherited, the second year making the

necessary changes and as we enter our third

year Permira are still investing. There’s still a

lot more to go for with the business.”

Murray has also taken the broom to Dr

Martens’s cluttered wholesale arm, and axed

around 250 accounts which he thought were

damaging the brand with staid displays in

shop corners. The clean-up resulted in sales

falling by four per cent last year to £232.4m,

but the new boss says he believes it was

necessary to protect the company’s brand.

He is now focused on pushing investment

into its burgeoning online business and

targeting expansion in Europe where the

brand is under-represented, with fewer than

10 shops at the moment. “I feel like we could

add 50 shops in Europe and 100 new stores in

the US as well as a few more select locations

in the UK.”

Dr Martens is also about to commit to

new offices in Camden, the north London

area that remains a mecca for tourists of an

alternative persuasion.

“Dr Martens is all about rebellious self-

expression and we want to ensure the brand

is about that, it’s essential that we protect

that culture,” Murray says. “For the past 30

years Dr Martens has been associated with

the bad boys of rock, diversity, rebellion,

nonconformity, we’re all about that.”

It has not escaped Murray’s attention that

there are celebrities who use Dr Martens as

a shortcut to rebellion: “If you’re say, Miley

Cyrus, and have come from Disney and she

wants to shake that image off and tell the

world she’s a grown-up bad girl… then taking

her clothes off and wearing Dr Martens helps

to toughen up that image,” he says, as a PR

looks on nervously.

Murray was more than delighted when

Beyonce’s dancers were dressed in heeled

“Persephone” Dr Martens boots during

their controversial, Black Panthers-inspired

routine at the Super Bowl last year.

“One of our mottos is ‘stand for

something’, and the performance certainly

did. We’re hearing a lot of female customers

refer to DMs as empowering now, which is

slightly new.”

Aligning Dr Martens with music has

always been a company strategy and it

happily provides free boots to bands that

fit its ethos and sponsors festivals. Murray

is also consciously trying to ensure Dr

Martens appeal to a younger audience who

may associate the boots with their parents’

generation.

For the first time in around four decades

Dr Martens shoes have had a “technology

upgrade”, which includes lighter soles and

softer leather boots. Stripping out all the

technical details, what it means is that there

are several new pairs of white-soled shoes

which look nothing like the toughened, hard

boots that made the company famous.

Is this a first sign the brand’s “hard” image

is being diluted? Murray insists not, and

says that the lightweight collection, which

launched two months ago, is a step towards

the younger generation, which has grown up

in trainers rather than formal footwear.

So far the sales are going well, he says, and

drawing an equal mix of male and female

customers. “I wouldn’t want to work for a

“For the past 30 years Dr Martens has

been associated with the bad boys of rock,

diversity, rebellion, nonconformity, we’re all

about that”

retailer that had to chase after trends. Dr

Martens doesn’t have to do all that because

it is a mixed model of fashion and industrial,”

he says.

A huge part of the business is still selling

industrial, heavy duty boots to builders and

workmen. In the US the group’s industrial toe-

capped boots are the biggest revenue driver.

Meanwhile in Asia, and particularly

Japan, the brand has been adopted by the

fashionista Harajuku crowd.

Thirteen years ago Dr Martens came very

close to bankruptcy and in an effort to rescue

the business the company shut all but one

factory and moved manufacturing to Asia.

“We now sell six million boots but only

60,000 are part of our Made in England

range. We were one of the last shoemakers to

go offshore,” Murray says. A pair of eight-hole

boots made in Yorkshire now cost around

£195, against the £105 standard issue. “But

they are better, hard-wearing leather.”

As he gathers his belongings to leave the

store, he lets slip that a company perk was

recently seeing ska legends The Specials play

and that he and his colleagues were bouncing

around in their Dr Martens at the front.

Being boss of the bootmaker is an easy

way to relive those teenage kicks.