2 September 2020
Marv Vaghetti is the founder of Lanx, a Lancashire based footwear company that designs and manufactures quality, business-casual shoes.
As well as their 'Sankey' range named after the infamous local nightclub, the Lanx signature model is named the 'Ancoats', reflecting the area's work hard, play hard attitude.
What's the connection with Ancoats, Marv?
I used to hang around Spinningfields a lot when I was a younger man, it was very much shirt and blazer type dress. I also really liked going to the Northern Quarter which is obviously a much more casual vibe. When I was developing the Lanx brand our target customer was essentially a guy like me, someone who was as much at home in Spinning Fields as they were in NQ and I think people were a bit confused by that because those two areas are so different. But it made sense to me because my friends and I were those people. Now suddenly Ancoats has started coming up and I thought hang on, that’s kind of the crossover - smart but casual and that’s how we’ve pitched our product, a business casual kind of brand and Ancoats uniquely fits with that.
The first photoshoot we ever did was here in Cutting Room Square. The place was still all under construction, it was pretty dead but it just felt right. As more and more opens up here I keep coming back to Ancoats more than anywhere else. When we were coming up with names for our products, ‘Ancoats’ just summed it up and the people around here know what we’re getting at with that smart casual look. We have another great style called ‘Sankeys’ too which is obviously named after the famous Ancoats nightclub.
Can I ask, is your background in marketing?
My background was in events for many years, I just started organising events off my own back, mostly music and sports festivals in Manchester. Overnight the site that I was using got taken away and due to the nature of the event I just couldn’t find another suitable venue so after five years of doing that it all got swept away.
When I thought about what can I do next it suddenly dawned on me that even though I told people I was an events manager, 95% of the year I was solely doing marketing to get people to turn up to the events. So then I started pitching myself for marketing roles and one of them was for a footwear brand. It went really well and I sort of fell in love with footwear. A couple of years after that I started Lanx.
You’ve documented through a film on your website how you travelled through Asia learning about the craft of shoemaking. It’s a really compelling story, it almost seems too good to be true!
It’s true that I really did receive a letter on 26 July 2016 which lit a fire in my belly to do something in footwear. I never tell anyone what was in that letter, that’s not bullshit, it’s true. I decided there and then that I wanted to have a footwear brand even though I didn’t know how to make shoes or even where to get them from.
That period also coincided with the fact that creatively I wasn’t working on anything that I was really enjoying and I was in a bit of a rut personally, I was feeling a bit down about a few things in my life. My girlfriend, now fiancée, is younger than me and wanted to go travelling and so we decided to go away for six months.
In that time I was able to clear my head and learn about the process of shoemaking. My girlfriend would chill out on the beach whilst I would set off on a little scooter to look at shoe factories. Around that time I also read the book ‘Shoe Dog’ by Phil Knight the founder of Nike and realised that what I was doing could be the start of a story. It dawned on me to just start developing the brand right there and then, I was writing notes and scribbling away throughout my travels.
How did you go about building the brand?
To this point by focusing on markets and events such as the Northern Quarter and Altrincham markets. They're really good for us, there’s no better place for customers to learn about your product, especially a shoe, picking it up, smelling it, trying it on. Online will obviously be our route to significant growth but our solid foundation is at the markets and events.
So you still go out and do them personally?
Yes! Actually it’s the best part. You work all week in front of a screen and the highlight for me is getting in the van and meeting people, getting that reaction when they see the shoes. Especially when they’ve been reading about the brand. The worst part is people asking me where my glasses are. I don’t wear glasses but a photographer on a shoot told me to put some on as they looked quirky. Those shots looked fantastic but now people come up to me now and say, “Are you Marv? Where are your glasses?”. That’s one regret I have.
You’ve also done some really interesting collaborations, how did they come about?
We do bits with rugby, cricket and football teams. We did those as sort of a quick win for the brand and we’ll continue to do it. But now we want to push ourselves more towards the fashion world and collaborate with clothing brands.
Later this year we’re doing a ‘collab pie’ with a pie company, a ‘collab gin’ and a ‘collab football shirt’ with a vintage football shirt brand called Ribero. We want to do the more quirky stuff, not the normal ‘Here’s a football team, let’s throw a load of shoes at them’. We want to do stuff that catches people’s eye.
You launched Lanx a couple of years ago, is it sort of where you thought it would be at this point?
I don’t really have a plan like that. The plan was just make a load of shoes and go out and see if anyone bought them! The five year plan is something I’m yet to get around to doing. As long as everyone gets paid at the end of each month. There are four of us that are full time at Lanx. There’s no grand plan.
From the outside it seems to be going really well.
I think it’s probably gone a bit better than I thought it would but it’s also been a lot harder than I thought it would be.
I speak to a lot of startup founders and trust me, I hear that a lot.
If I had to go back and do it all again… er, I’d probably not want to do that. There’s been some dark days and wasted time, wasted money.
I’ve been there myself, it can keep you up at night.
That’s also the exciting bit and if it was easy then everyone would do it.
I hear that a lot aswell! What’s the plan for the future?
The plan is that we’d love to actually open a shop in Ancoats. I’m having a stroll around today to scout out possible locations. We feel like we’d quite like a base in the city now. We did have a permanent spot in Altrincham market but there’s been a few changes over there. That was really huge for us, really good uptake on the products but for me, Ancoats is just a bit more in tune with where we’d like to be.
Are you stocked in many shops?
No because we don’t offer wholesale.
Is it something you want to get into?
We’ve dabbled with it however we’ve been fortunate to build up the business without it, through events and markets, we’re doing pretty well online. Maybe in the future.
How has the business coped throughout lockdown?
We've done better than we thought we would to be honest. We turned our attention away from markets and events, our bread and butter, and focused all our energy and budget on online marketing.
Is there a piece of advice you would give to other budding entrepreneurs just starting out on their journey?
There are actually two pieces of advice that I have on the wall and I tell people. The first, really, is if it was easy then everybody would do it. And I know it sounds simple to say that but it is so true. And the other is, if you work a little bit at something every day then you’ll end up with something massive. As long as you’re doing something every day, you’ll get there eventually.
For me the best thing we ever did was go on the markets. Meeting people face to face, customers told us straight away what they hated, what they loved, what was wrong with the shape of the shoe, what they thought of the box. Businesses that are solely online… they’re hidden behind a screen and they think they know what the customer wants, I did too. I thought if I tried a shoe on and it fit then it would fit everyone but that is really not the case. Smaller brands often approach me and ask my advice, I always say to them, “Just get in the van, go out and meet people and try and sell them your products”.
What’s been the highlight for you so far?
When we moved into our new warehouse in November 2019 we held an open weekend event and we honestly didn’t expect anyone really to come down, maybe a couple of people to pop along for a beer. We had about a thousand people turn up over three days. That was a real eye opener and probably the first time I realised we had a brand that people connected with. People came from as far away as Gloucester, a seven hour drive round trip, just because they wanted to meet us and support the company. It was great but weird!
Check out the full range of quality footwear, socks and collaborations on the Lanx website and follow them on social media to find out where you can next meet Marv and the team out on the road. Find out more here www.lanxshoes.com