The Shoe Snob Blog

September 3, 2012

Written by , Posted in News

How To Become A Shoe Designer Part 2: The Retail Experience


When I graduated university I was working for Nordstrom, at the flagship store in Downtown Seattle, where all of the buyers and corporate offices were located. As part of my 5 year plan, I told myself that despite having a bachelor’s degree in Entrepreneurship, I would stay working in the retail industry serving others, so that I could do two things: 1. Comprehend the minds of consumers and why they purchase & 2. Network with and understand why buyers (of big department stores) do what they do. I decided that if I was going to ever have a shoe line and wanted to wholesale my shoes to a store like Nordstrom, I needed to know how to look good not only in the eyes of the buyers but also understand why one brand will sell better than another as well as why customers will buy one shoe over another. I decided to do this for two years as this was pertinent to the success of spreading my future brand across the world.
Believe it or not, we were the top 2 salesmen at the time (out of +20) — Don’t Judge!
The absolute most important thing that I learned about the retail side of the business is that if you are a new brand, it doesn’t matter how cool you are or how good your shoes are, but how the salespeople of the department view your brand. That being, if the sales team is behind your brand, you will be successful and if they are not, well…. you better pray that your shoes are so good and in demand that it does not matter. While working there, it was all about what I sold, AND not what the customer asked for. If they asked for X, but I wanted to sell Y, you better believe that I would give them my best reason for them to buy Y. Now, don’t get me wrong, I was not one of those that would lie to make a sale, but if the opportunity presented itself for me to sell a ‘like’ product, and I happened to like one brand (personally) over the other, I would do my best to make sure the customer left with the brand that I wanted them to. The salesman holds power over the customers, and the sales rep’ (of the shoe brands) that gains respect over the salesmen, holds the power to get his/her shoes sold! 
To Boot New York – A brand that I loved to sell, not only because I liked the shoes (and still do) but because I was friends with the Sales Reps, and wanted them to do well
For example, often we would have what are called ‘Trunk Shows’, where the sales rep of a certain company will come to the department in the hopes to present some new models or just be there to assist with anything relating to their brand. On these days, certain companies would offer incentives to the salespeople, such as $5-$10 per pair sold of their brand or maybe give a free pair if someone sells a certain number within that day. This would lead to EVERY single salesperson trying to sell their shoes, and sometimes we would do so well that in one day we would sell as many pairs of that companies’ shoes as we normally would have in one week. That’s the power of a salesman, and something not to be forgotten!
Ferragamo – The brand that I loved selling most, simply because I personally liked them…..and I sold the most of them because of this
The second thing I learned about were the buyers, but this I must say, while I even had a close friend that was a buyer, is still something that I ponder about….in terms of their decision making. First and foremost, you have to understand the needs of the shop, and think about how you will fulfill those needs. For example, if a shop has shoes that sell at £200, £400, and £500 yet your brand is going to be at the £300, you will be more likely to appeal to that shop than if your shoes were at the £400 price-point that is already covered. That was more of an example of a small shop however, where more than likely the ‘buyer’ is the owner of the shop. But if you want to get into a place like Nordstrom (or any major department store), you are going to have to fulfill a whole lot of more demanding needs like: strong brand recognition, proven track records at other stores, customer demand, and a strong marketing plan. But you will still have to fulfill the more trivial things like being a brand that brings something new to the table, being able to differentiate your brand from the next, and of course, come in at a price-point that is not only sellable, but profitable! While I am sure that there are more things that you need to do to appeal to the buyers, these are the ones that you should think about now, and more importantly how you are going to fulfil them……stay tuned next week for The Creative side of starting your own line.