John Lodge’s love of retail started when he was still at high school. Thanks to a talent-spotter who later became a mentor, a weekend job – at a Virgin Mega record store near his home in Milton Keynes, just out of London – quickly led to a full time position in store management.
By the age of 17, Lodge was managing not just that store but overseeing the opening of eight others in the UK, combing a love of music with a developing talent in the world of fashion retail.
A decade later, with experience in other companies behind him, Lodge used his entrepreneurial skills to set up Rocksax, a licensed bag and accessory range that went global.
Then, in the midst of the COVID pandemic, the 32-year-old Englishman decided to turn his talents to footwear, and, in particular, flip flops, with his sights set on global travel retail.
The Moodie Davitt Report’s Associate Editor Colleen Morgan met (virtually) with Lodge to discuss his steps in the channel.
John Lodge is a quietly spoken English entrepreneur with his sights set on disrupting the footwear category in travel retail.
Many would question his timing but Lodge is adamant that lockdowns and a slower pace of business provided just the opportunity he needed to secure a strong base for his new brand.
“To start a new venture in these strange times you need to be aware that these years are not going to be your greatest,” Lodge says. “However, I have had time to invest in building my plans, making a top class online platform and investing in the future.”
BeachyFeet – the brand with the ‘not just flips flops, a way of life’ motto – has already gained a foothold in selected domestic market stores, including major hotel boutiques.
New distribution agreements in the UAE, Germany, Austria, Netherlands, and Belgium have been finalised and the BeachyFeet team has been bolstered by the appointment of two former Havaianas senior managers to spearhead the brand’s expansion.
“It is fair to say that we have adopted a global approach to doing business,” Lodge says.
“We already have customers in all corners of the world and this network is something we intend to extend through travel retailers. The brand is available in major shopping malls and hotels in Dubai since our launch last summer and we have had interest from a lot of fantastic retail chains.”
Lodge’s passion for retailing dates back to a part-time job when he was still at school.
“I definitely got into something quite serious at a very young age but I was fortunate because I really enjoyed what I was doing. Not just the selling side; I thoroughly enjoyed the customer service aspect as well. Customer experience is what it is all about; I loved that then and still do.”
After years in retail – including management roles with HMV and ECCO Shoes in the UK – Lodge moved into the import/export sector as Managing Director of Rainbow Global early in 2014.
With offices in the UK and China, his company specialised in fashion accessories and Lodge found himself spending at least four months of the year in China. “It was a busy time, a three to four-year journey to build up a strong client base, learning production along with import and export processes. I learnt a great deal from my Chinese suppliers and associates; I even managed to learn some Mandarin.
“In 2016 I found myself a niche market and launched the Rocksax brand, moving into backpacks and bags, all licensed products and dealing with the likes of the Rolling Stones, Guns & Roses, Billie Eilish and Justin Bieber. The brand did extremely well, firstly in Europe and then went global with a strong distribution network.”
Lodge had met his partner and fiancée, Caroline, during a ‘gap year’ in 2013 when he visited Marbella. “It was my first taste of Spain and it somehow suited me,” he recalls.
The couple now have two young boys, and it was this new role, as a family man, which played a pivotal part in Lodge’s decision, towards the end of 2019, to sell Rocksax.
“I went on a real journey with that brand, learning a lot about getting products into the market, expectations and so on. With a warehouse in the UK, I was dealing with the logistics side as well. I took investors onboard who helped grow the business to where I was happy enough to move on to my next product.
“I felt I had reached the end of one journey and it was time to move on to another. I’m wired that way; I want and need to explore product and I wanted to do something that was meaningful to me.”
Lodge sold the company and “did my own Brexit by moving to Marbella with Caroline and the boys”.
“Now, instead of taking evening classes to improve my Mandarin, I am fine tuning my Spanish,” he says.
Lodge’s BeachyFeet takes inspiration from Mediterranean and Andalusian coastal culture. The brand’s product line-up features the simple sandals for men and women, along with bikinis and other accessories. A Beachy XO nail varnish line is also available.
But why the focus on footwear and, more particularly, why flip flops?
“I absolutely love the footwear sector and flip flops are such a brilliant product,” Lodge says. “They are the ultimate feel-good product and they make you happy when you put them on. It’s that feeling of ‘ok, I’m on holiday now: I’m not working and all is good’”.
Flip flops take their name from the sound made by the sandals when walking in them.
However, not everyone around the world calls them flip flops. In New Zealand they are known as ‘jandals’ (short for Japanese sandals). They are ‘thongs’ in Australia, ‘plakkies’ in South Africa and in the USA have several names: ‘zories’ on the East Coast, ‘clam diggers’ in Texas and ‘slippers’ in Hawaii.
It is thought that the name flip flops originated in North America in the 1950s. The sandals themselves, according to some experts, have been around for at least 6,000 years, featured in Ancient Egyptian murals which date back to 4,000 B.C.
In Japan, shoes similar to flip-flops are called ‘zori’ and are traditionally worn by Japanese children when learning to walk.
Lodge describes BeachyFeet as “all things Andalusia”, beach-inspired fashion and footwear, from design to production.
Lodge collaborates with Spanish artists, including many street artists in the flip flops’ colours and patterns. “It’s an eclectic mix,” he says, “Everything has to point back to Andalusian culture and meet customer demands at the same time.”
Lodge has identified two distinct flip flop customers. “For those who want something plain, in neutral colours, we offer safe options in terms of colours but there is a much wider option which really shows the creativity within the brand.”
For now, BeachyFeet footwear is manufactured in China. However, Lodge has already gained the support of local authorities and is working with suppliers to progress plans to manufacture locally in Spain.
“The flip flop market alone is worth a staggering US$23 billion per annum. Havaianas have long been my favourite. However, the market is huge and I believe there is room, especially in travel retail, for some Spanish influence, a Europe-based brand. And what better place than Andalusia?”
Lodge’s vision is to manufacture locally. “I believe that’s achievable as Spain is strategically very well positioned and our next door neighbours in Alicante have huge production facilities – the largest in Europe in fact – for footwear.”
The Marbella local authority and Chamber of Commerce contacted Lodge when he first set up his new venture. “I think they thought, hey, here’s this British guy just arrived and he has plans to take his brand, and with it Marbella’s name, global.
“They were super, super helpful and definitely made me feel that I wasn’t being left in the dark as far as local policies and the likes are concerned. They actively encourage new businesses to flourish and stay in the area.
Normally I travel and fly a lot. I know the dynamic style of travel retail and believe BeachyFeet is a good fit for airport duty free stores and, of course, the cruise sector. It’s an easy marriage of a stand-out brand and retail on-the-go.
“We are not yet at the stage where we can push further with building our own manufacturing facility but that is where we are going. It’s a marathon, not a sprint,” Lodge adds.
“Over a short period of time we have built up the demand for the brand and are good to go but, as you know, modern retailers need and want everything tomorrow. They do not want to wait so if you want to succeed as a good supplier you need speed. So production stays in China until we are ready.
“I believe flip flops are perfectly suited for travel retail which is part of my overall business plan for many reasons. Normally I travel and fly a lot. I know the dynamic style of travel retail and believe BeachyFeet is a good fit for airport duty free stores and, of course, the cruise sector. It’s an easy marriage of a stand-out brand and retail on-the-go.
“In order for me to lift BeachyFeet’s profile we need to be in the right places and, of course, the world is a big place. We are not rushing into travel retail, rather taking a methodical approach with the aim of building brand awareness and finding a partner/s who want to succeed mutually.”
BeachyFeet, Lodge says, is targeting listings in airports in Europe, the Americas, Asia and GCC countries. “It’s my goal to have some kind of an agreement in place with a major retailer by the end of this year.
“I know we must differentiate to ensure brand confidence. BeachyFeet is design-driven and on trend. We need to be price competitive and to market ourselves well as a European brand.”
On domestic markets BeachyFeet offers a ‘trade-in’ discount for customers who leave their old flip flops when making their purchase. The brand partners with Spain’s Humana, an initiative which works to protect the environment with resources obtained from textile recycling.
BeachyFeet is also focusing on a tie-up with Save our Seas to prevent rubbish, including discarded flip flops, ending up in the ocean. BeachyFeet will highlight both collaborations in travel retail.
“I believe we are doing everything right. I am well aware that if you don’t take risks, you don’t get very far,” Lodge says.
“I have much to learn about the travel retail industry. But that’s exciting. And, do I want to disrupt the footwear market? Yes, I do, because the opportunities are huge.”
John Lodge can be contacted by email on firstname.lastname@example.org or by telephone: +34 711 010 401.