Culture | Insiders story - Dr. Marten's impressive cultural transformation

Insiders story - Dr. Marten's impressive cultural transformation
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For this instalment of ‘Insiders Story’ Helen Verwoert – Global HR Director of Dr. Martens kindly spared some of her time to talk to me about the Dr. Martens journey.

Dr. Martens is an iconic British brand founded in 1960 in Northamptonshire. Originally produced for workers looking for tough, durable boots, the brand was quickly adopted by diverse youth subcultures and associated with musical movements. Dr. Martens have since transcended their working-class roots, while still celebrating their proud heritage. Almost six decades later, “Docs” or “DMs” are worn by people around the world who use them as a symbol of empowerment and their own individual attitude. Dr. Martens currently trades in 58 countries worldwide.

Now based in Camden, arguably the coolest area of London, Dr. Martens is a globally dominant household name – with a brand and identity to make the edgiest of retailers jealous. But, it hasn’t always been plain sailing for Dr. Martens. After threats of bankruptcy in the early noughties, they were acquired by a business in 2013.

Dr. Martens firm set out ambitious plans to generate £400million revenue in four years, doubling headcount and increasing stores globally from 15 to over 100 – not an easy task! With the company being so fiercely independent in their approach, their brand and identity were at risk of being diluted.

Helen joined the brand in 2013 just before the sale, so she had the opportunity to work with the family first hand.  Speaking of why she joined Dr. Martens, Helen said, ‘I loved the brand. There’s something different about us, we do it our way.’

And she isn’t wrong. Whilst the fundamentals of employee engagement and cultural development are similar in many companies, what Dr. Martens have done is create something that is very unique to themselves and it really sets them apart from the rest.

Rebellious self-expression

Helen and the team knew what made Dr. Martens special, but it was crucial for them to define this more formally.

‘It became key for us to define who we are and what our expectations are. What do we love, what do we preserve and equally what do we evolve? There is a lot of superficial rubbish around culture. What is different about us is, whether you are a consumer or an employee, you get the same experience from us.’

Over a period of 6 months, they held focus groups, that involved employees from different areas and levels of seniority across the business. From this, the essence of the business was extracted. ‘Rebellious Self Expression’ - a simple, powerful and memorable phrase which was at the heart of everything they do.

After the focus groups and much thought and discussion, Dr. Martens went ‘On The Record’, quite literally, by printing their ambitions, purpose and fundamental beliefs on 7 inch vinyl, complete with artwork and sleeve.

Read on here to find out about the ‘Culture Vultures’ and a revelation in social networking, the war on talent and what is next for retail giant Dr. Martens.

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