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Centuries of shoemaking in Norwich coming to an end as final factory prepares to shut its doors

PUBLISHED: 10:21 22 August 2018 | UPDATED: 08:45 23 August 2018

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Parent company Florida Group has announced the factory will close at the end of August. 
Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Parent company Florida Group has announced the factory will close at the end of August. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2017

A proud history of shoemaking in Norwich stretching back centuries is set to come to an end.

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Cherry London taking the boxed shoes to the warehouse.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Cherry London taking the boxed shoes to the warehouse. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Van Dal, operating in the city since 1936 and now its only remaining shoemaker, is shutting its factory in Dibden Road at the end of the month after rising costs and a drop in wholesale trade made it unviable to keep the facility open. Around eight people stand to lose their jobs.

But parent company Florida Group has insisted it is committed to a future in Norwich, with plans to move to a new office and warehouse in the city next year – where some factory staff could be redeployed.

READ MORE: How Norwich made its name in shoe manufacturing

Tony Linford, managing director of Florida Group, said only around 15% of Van Dal’s manufacturing was still done by its small team in Norwich, with most taking place in India and Italy.

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Cherry London 'socking' the shoe.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Cherry London 'socking' the shoe. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

But he said the fall in the value of the pound since the EU referendum had pushed its costs up by around 20%.

The decline of independent shoe retailers has also dealt a large blow to the company, which has lost around 60% of its customers in the past eight years.

Mr Linford said: “Our traditional retail business has disappeared so that has been building up over time, and then combined with Brexit and the devaluation of the pound which hit our costs, those two factors have pushed us over the edge.”

He said the factory’s workforce had been reduced from “hundreds” to fewer than 10 as production moved abroad.

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

The £9m-turnover company still makes around 250,000 pairs of shoes a year – far fewer than the 400,000 it was making at its peak.

But a new retail strategy is helping Van Dal to sustain itself and its margins.

Van Dal helps run the shoe departments in stores like Jarrold in Norwich and Fenwick in Colchester, employing its own staff and stocking the shelves with its products.

In a first for the company it also recently opened its own shop in Cardiff.

The Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich.
Picture: ANTONY KELLYThe Van Dal shoe factory in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Mr Linford said the higher margin on selling direct to shoppers, rather than selling wholesale to other retailers, enabled it to sustain its level of income.

“Our traditional business model of manufacturer selling to independent retailer which sells to the end consumer has broken down and the industry has become more vertical,” he said.

“We have had to put our emphasis on going to the end consumer and that manifests itself in ways like e-commerce, which is growing very rapidly, and then acting as a retailer.”

As part of its new strategy Van Dal is moving to a new warehouse next year, where at least 20 people will be employed to pick and pack the company’s ever-increasing number of online orders.

And Mr Linford has resolved that the firm will not leave its home city. “We are looking at different options but it will definitely be in the Norwich area.”

He added that Van Dal’s design and technical team, employing around five people, will also remain in Norwich.

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