Serge Dawson - business leadership, direct marketing and family legacy

Warwick Dawson has been selling shoes for more than 60 years. A business begun by a man of the same namesake, the company was eventually taken over by the son of Warwick - Serge.

Last updated:
November 26, 2020

Last month, we spoke to Serge about what business leadership and family legacy has meant to him over the years, and how he has best tackled owning a company that has built a strong relationship with its customers over more than half a century.   

What does business leadership mean to you? 

“I think leadership, in general, is the same across the board, whether that is in business or other spaces. It is showing the way forward through both difficult and positive decisions. By giving a good framework for ideas generation and supporting people to gain confidence in finding their way, I think you give them better opportunities.”

“I always believe that someone in a leadership position should ‘lead by example.’  Through running Warwick Dawson, I think collaboration and understanding are two of the most important elements of building our brand. We are driven to work as a team. However, we always make sure it is clear why we do certain things as we build ranges. Everyone has their personal taste, but we have to think about what our clients are looking for as we create.  I always encourage people to have their own ideas; I think that is key in being a good leader. “

What made you decide to go into this industry?

“It happened after I decided to go travelling. My dad used to own this business, hence the name Warwick Dawson, and if I am honest neither of us ever saw me taking over his spot as the owner. However, when I went overseas, I started a direct sales position in London, and it intrigued me to sell things in a genuine way without being too pushy. It taught me that there are always going to be people who aren’t interested in what you are doing; you just have to find the ones that are.”

“I loved the positive work culture that came with that job too, everyone was happy to be there, and I think that is vital in a good business. When I came back to Australia, I was ready to start working with my father. He was shocked at first, but gladly brought me on board and I have been here ever since.”

What makes you excited about your industry and work? 

“The thing that makes me most excited about the fashion industry is how it can make someone feel. It affects how you carry yourself. When you put on a pair of shoes it has the ability to transform how you feel about yourself, you can stand a little taller, and for some people, it helps you tackle your day with positivity, energy and strength. When I was working in the stores, I used to love that feeling of showing people a new pair of shoes that they may not have considered, putting them into something that made them feel confident. We are in the business of giving options—I guess that is what makes it so exciting. Showing people what they can have, how they can represent themselves and giving them what they actually like.” 

Are history and legacy important to you as a family business owner?

“I think it is a balance of history, legacy and current culture. The history of what my dad created is so important. We have team members that have been with us for 50 or so years that have helped drive the business into what it is today. We also have customers who have been around for years and have certain expectations that we must uphold. With that said, I always say that you are only as good as your last experience, and you can undo all those years of hard work and dedication through one negative incident. So, we continue to focus on good, genuine personal service, invest time and resources into building relationships and constantly practice with our team to ensure positive outcomes.”

Is there anything you wish someone told you before you got into this business? 

“Do more marketing, right from the beginning. I struggled to find someone who knew exactly what it was I was looking for, so it took me a while before I got properly started. I made some painful mistakes along the way and am still learning as I go. I think my suggestion to people who are considering going into a similar business is to do more research - study, learn, see what the trends are. However, you need to implement these as well. Overthinking can be your biggest hurdle, but try testing things in a small way and see what works best for you.”

What marketing opportunities have worked best for you?

“Two of the things that have worked well for us are direct mail and email marketing. Creating something different in your marketing material is the key to standing out in the crowd.”

“Something that we did before a warehouse sale was to print out a handwritten note as an invitation to our customers. The response was amazing, and it was all through little print marketing. I think what I like to make clear to people is that I don’t want to compete with the big companies, I am not interested in being their equal. I want to take a different approach and find clients who see value in what we are about.”

“Direct mail can be overwhelming, and I didn’t know how to start. A&O Printing has a different perspective on things, and the guys on the team give us new ideas on how we can make this happen. The fact that they have a bit of flexibility on what they do - I think that is a bonus.”

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