The Clarke Family and Footwear

Date Posted: 14 July 2017 

 (L-R: Dale, Ron and Glenn Clarke - 1996)

Family is the cornerstone of Sky Soles’ foundations. The Clarke families association in a footwear business began in 1972 with Ronald Clarke. In the 45 years since it is has developed and evolved into Ron Clarke & Sons Pty Ltd, a family business that now spans three generations.

Ron started his career in footwear retail throughout regional Victoria in 1956 and from there developed his skills in customer service, style and fashion knowledge working his way from retail assistant to regional manager of a footwear outlet chain.

As Ron was getting established in the industry he met and married his wife Meryl. They had several shifts from town to town and interstate before the arrival of first born son, Dale in 1966.

The family moved to Hamilton, Victoria as Ron was given an opportunity to run a chain of four shoe stores called “Walkers of Hamilton”. With the outbreak of the Vietnam War, Ron soon found himself commuting between Hamilton and Portland assisting a friend in his footwear business who had been called for National service leading to slight changes in the operations and Ron, Meryl and Dale made the move to live in Portland settling there until 1972.

During their time in Portland Ron and Meryl’s second son Glenn was born. This settled period in the family’s life allowed Ron to make significant inroads in his career building on his solid footwear retailing background. Meanwhile Meryl also pursued her career in banking administration. Ron received numerous accolades from colleagues and completed multiple training courses including a fitting masters qualification.

In the late 1960’s in Australia a change in the perception of footwear occurred and the industry entered a significant growth period. With the business growing and his expertise becoming well known in the industry, Ron was offered a partnership in an agency business based out of Melbourne in 1972. This agency business was to cover a territory including all of Victoria and parts of New South Wales.

Capitalising on a geographical advantage, Ron and Meryl felt a move to Bendigo would be in the best interest of this new career and also beneficial for the family’s opportunities. Ron travelled weekly all over Victoria until 1978 when the changing dynamics and growth in the agency business forced him to part ways.

Ron’s significant retail experience allowed him to use this knowledge to great use in the agency world. He often challenged manufacturers on range building giving them clearer feedback of the retail perspective which allowed Ron to achieve better sales. Ron Clarke Agencies often worked with womens, mens, kids, golf, basketball and various other resources for footwear.

In the 1980’s there was a global expansion in the Golf industry, thanks to the popular Greg Norman. Ron became the agent for Niblick Golf during its inception and this brand soon became one of the most important parts of the Ron Clarke Agency business. Niblick’s rise was attributed to a technological advancement in injected moulding as well as significant exposure from well renowned golf professionals. As this expansion occurred, Ron realised that the business grew too big for him to run as a sole operator. It was in 1986 that elder son Dale joined the business and Ron Clarke & Son was born and began working with new suppliers like Slatters, Pacific Brands and Clarks.

 ( Meryl and Ron Clarke during Clifton Hill Renovations - 1994)
In 1990 Glenn joined the family business as more expansion was occurring in their market. Glenn soon moved to Melbourne and began to pursue the agency work that suited his new locality. In 1994 a new way of doing business by “showings” meant that an office/showroom was essential. They soon purchased anoffice/showroom/residence in Clifton Hill, an inner suburb of Melbourne, Australia. After renovations were carried out on the Clifton Hill premises it became a great platform for doing footwear business.
 
In the 1990’s headwinds began for the first time in 20 years in the Australian textiles industry, brought about by technological evolution and the start of what is now known as “disposable fashion”. The ability to manufacture cheaper, mass produced products changed the dynamics in the footwear industry significantly. With his manufacturing expertise Dale began working more closely with overseas importers and Australian businessman with their own import programs.
 
Ron and Glenn still directed their attention to the agency business as brands came and went, but a downturn in commissions from local manufacturers began to occur with footwear and textile brands moving to lower cost manufacturing environments offshore. These changes affected the agency and brought about new directions in their footwear business. This enabled Glenn to change his focus to importing and Ron continued with the agency business throughout country Victoria.
 
In the early 2000’s Ron Clarke & Sons Pty Ltd were appointed as the agents of a strong Sydney based importer called Sapato Imports. Dale was involved with the range building and design of the footwear collections that they sold. His involvement saw this business triple within a year and spurred new ways to approach business into the future. This indirect involvement continued until 2006 when the tides had now completely swung in the favour of importing. Dale and Glenn had been listening to major retail stakeholders and had identified several gaps in the marketplace that retail desired. In 2004 they launched their own import program to fill these gaps.
 
 (The Clarke family at Ron and Meryl's Bendigo home during Ron's retirement celebrations in 2009)

Today Ron Clarke & Sons houses six main brands serving the Australian and New Zealand independent retail marketplaces. As well as manufacturing for major retailers and department stores. Pillows by Arkoo, Christiano Bellaria Designs, Katie ‘n Me, Minki, Pure Comfort and Sala – Europe, are the stalwart brands of this fashion house. Manufacturing throughout Europe, Turkey and China. Ron Clarke & Sons also continues its agency business for Slatters shoes and various other Australian importers.

The new showrooms are located at a new facility in Collingwood, Victoria. Dale and Glenn are excited by what the future holds for this now third generation family business. Ron retired in 2009 proud of what he and his family has built. All the team at Ron Clarke & Sons look forward to serving the needs of the Australian footwear market and also global footwear industries in the years to come. One guarantee is that change is inevitable and like all industries the footwear industry will continue toevolve and Sky Soles isa shining example of this.