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When Kate Blake was laid off from her sales job at Diesel footwear in 2005, she had an epiphany. She realized it was the perfect opportunity to fulfill a childhood dream of starting her own business. In short order, she opened Shoo, a men’s and women’s boutique devoted to funky, comfort-driven footwear, in Milwaukee’s historical Third Ward.
With a degree in clothing, textiles and merchandising from Western Carolina University, coupled with a footwear industry background that included stints as a buyer for Belk and sales rep for Steve Madden, Blake found that opening the store was a natural move. “Once you’re in shoes, you can’t get out,” she said.
She has since been joined in the business by her brother, Patrick Blake, CFO, who offers a man’s perspective on the comfort category. After yearly sales increases of 20 percent to 30 percent, business at Shoo has slowed somewhat due to the recession, but the Blakes are confident it will turn around in 2010. In the meantime, to meet customer demand for more affordable product, the two have eliminated some of Shoo’s higher-priced lines and are in the process of revamping the store’s Website to more aggressively pursue online sales.
THE RIGHT MIX
Shoo’s assortment emphasizes unusual, well-made, fashion-forward footwear. And everything must be comfortable, insisted Kate Blake. “Our customer is looking for comfort, but not orthopedic-looking stuff,” she said.
The store focuses on heels for women, mostly in the 2-to-3-inch range. In choosing styles, Blake, who is an official wear tester, said the real comfort test is how the shoes feel after four hours. “I think about myself: Will I want to wear it?” she explained.
Popular women’s brands include Cydwoq, Trippen, John Fluevog, Corso Como, Biviel, Fly London and United Nude. Fiorentini & Baker, Art and Neosens will be added for fall ’09. Prices range from $80 to $300. On the men’s side, key brands include Ryan Rowe, Timberland Boot Co. and Blackstone, as well as Cydwoq, John Fluevog, United Nude, Fly London and Trippen, with most product retailing for $100 to $250.
Aside from footwear, Shoo also stocks women’s handbags, belts, jewelry and other accessories, which combined account for nearly 20 percent of sales. A top seller is knitwear made by one of Shoo’s own sales associates. “We sell a ton of the stuff,” said Blake.
According to Blake, every customer who walks through the door is greeted within five to 10 seconds of arrival. Both owners also make a point of being on the sales floor at all times. And while Shoo prides itself on keeping detailed records of customers’ shoe sizes and style preferences, Blake stressed, “They’re also in my brain. I want customers to come back, and because of that connection, they will.”