Coming out of 2023 and into 2024, independent footwear retailers are fine-tuning initiatives and strategies aimed to elevate their businesses. This focus on the future has retailers optimistic about 2024, yet pragmatic about the challenges the year could pose, according to our recent conversations with several retailers honored with Footwear Insight’s Gold Medal Service Award for Customer Service. Previously, in the November/December 2023 issue of Footwear Insight, the list of stores honored with the 2023 Gold Medal Service Award for Customer Service was revealed. In that issue, retailers shared their top customer service tips. Here, several of those award-winning retailers share their thoughts with us on successful initiatives from 2023, and what they are optimistic about for 2024.
Is there an initiative or program you put in place this past year that made a positive impact on your business?
“After 66 years of being in historic Riverside, FL, near downtown Jacksonville, we moved to a much larger facility with a private parking lot to serve our customers better. We surveyed our customers about this for years and the collective response was that they wanted better parking!” — Erika Boger, Boger’s Shoes
“2023 was a year of experimenting with several different ideas and plans, some of which hit and others that did not. I would have to say for the most part my main goal for last year was to add a few new brands to freshen up the mix and to cut back on ones that slowed way down. I focused on trimming down excess and getting the store dialed in. Overall, 2023 was a good year and one of my most successful Decembers!” — Kellee Bussard, The Shoe Box
“Last year we started a program with Soles4Souls where we give customers $10 off their purchase if they bring in a pair of gently used shoes to donate. Customers love it and are excited to be able to give their shoes to a great cause and save money with us. It also keeps customers coming back in to see new styles every time they have a donation.” — Alicia Murray, Murray’s Shoes
“We have an intern partnership with the local high school. This year we’ve had the most, and best, interns. I teach cleaning that translates to setting our team up for success and gives a path to merchandising and display work. Stamping and merchandising bags is an overall favorite of the kids, they get better every year! Organizing stock by brand/ color/size which can translate to any general warehousing. How to read industry labels, which I hope turns these kids into little future ‘shoe dogs.’ How to operate and input products into Shopify, which is a widely used system within retail and warehousing. Interns that show promise can become ‘my shadow,’ also known as an apprentice. They work during one of their class periods which translates to two hours a week for each group of kids. This year we received accreditation for our Pedorthic lab which will enable next year’s interns to be part of the orthotic building process. This path will open doors into the medical world where student will be able to become certified shoe fitters and or Pedorthists.” — Alex Maltezos, Tenni-Moc’s
“This past year, we implemented a no-expiration customer loyalty program that proved to be highly successful. The program rewards customers for their repeat business and encourages store loyalty. The loyalty program not only increased customer retention but also attracted new customers seeking the added value and personalized experience we offer.” — Brian Mills, Woldruff’s Footwear
“Over the past eight years, we’ve partnered with our local service clubs as well as our vendors to provide a new pair of shoes for every 2nd grade student in our region. Each year we help lead a volunteer group of people to go into each school to fit each child with a new pair of shoes, free of charge. To date, we’ve provided almost 10,000 pairs, and we believe it’s efforts like this which make our community proud to support our store.” — Ted McGreer, Ted’s Shoe & Sport
“The owner of our company came up with a new term ‘MASH’ which stands for Measure And Swing Hard which means when we measure our customers feet we’re observing multiple factors to help us bring out a stack of options outside of what they specifically asked for based off of what we feel they will find most comfortable. We’re never in the business of pushing products on our customers; we are merely vessels to introduce products that might make our customers feel better doing the things they do! As we say at Pegasus Footwear, we’re in the business of making people’s lives better.” — Andrea Allen, Pegasus Footwear
“It is very simple — getting back to basics. On a regular basis asking the team what they feel like they need help on, and if there is an issue/subject they need help on, we either have a staff meeting or oftentimes I will set up a training session before store hours to go over their individual questions one-on-one.” — Chris Bentvelzen, SHOES-n-FEET
“Our community-focused philanthropy continues to reach new levels. This year we were able to collectively donate more than 200,00 pairs of socks and 8,000 pairs of shoes in the markets we serve.” — Justin Kehrwald, Tradehome Shoes
“While we didn’t have a new program in place this year, I have to mention that getting effective guest feedback is important to any retailer. We send out feedback requests routinely to get a pulse of how our service levels are. Having open channels of communication can help any store stay in touch with its guests.” — Chris Stanley, Lamey-Wellehan
“Reyers has always had a program in place to incentivize our staff to sell more; more shoes, more insoles, more socks, more whatever. Yet we have just recently rejiggered our program to more reward their efforts. Which should increase sales. So, we’ll see.” — Mark Jubelirer, Reyers Shoes
“It’s hard for me not to speak of some of our initiatives over the past few years that have been great for our business/culture. To name one, we launched Beck’s Book, our internal intranet planform. We are not claiming this to be an original idea by any means, but this has been a great way to keep the connection between Team Members as we’ve grown across five states. Every Team Member has their own account and can create posts that invite others into their day. Things such as a great sale, waterfall Wednesday, Fido Friday, Caterday, etc. For 2023 we have launched our ‘Self-evaluations’ companywide for all Team Members at Beck’s Shoes. This gives each team member the opportunity to not only evaluate themselves, but to evaluate how Beck’s Shoes is creating opportunity or helping them achieve their professional goals. This ensures that we as leadership are actively engaged in each individual’s needs and aspirations here at Becks.” — Markus Lopez, Beck’s Shoes
“This year has brought a major change to our store as we moved to a bigger location for the first time in over 80 years. The increased capacity to fit and serve our loyal community of patrons has been a wonderful blessing.” — Will Nettleton, Modern Shoe
“Stout’s largest initiative that was put in place within the last year that made a positive impact on our business was taking action in our community by partnering up with a local organization every month. We helped in any way we could whether it was a fundraiser, drive, or fitting children in need with new shoes.”— Stephanie Stout, Stout’s Footwear
“We are in the process of implementing new tools and processes to improve inventory management, data management, and reporting. We are seeing early returns that have been extremely positive. Another big thing for us, is we have created brands and products for key accessory items that are easy add-ons. Being able to improve margins on a water bottle, an insole, or other items that are add-ons to footwear sales has been a big deal to store margins and our overall profit.” — Bryce Anderson, Walking Comfort
What are you optimistic about from a business perspective for 2024?
“We are looking forward to 2024 as this marks our 10th year in business! This is a big accomplishment for us, and we wouldn’t be celebrating this milestone without our amazing customers and partners. We have several customer appreciation events planned throughout the year and continue to look forward to new brands and concepts within the store. Here’s to 2024!” — Kellee Bussard, The Shoe Box
“We’re optimistic 2024 is going to be a strong year. Supply chain delays have been getting a lot better. Brands are adding new styles and lots of color after playing it safe the last few years. I think this will give customers a reason to get out and shop.” —Alicia Murray, Murray’s Shoes
“Our relocation to a larger facility that is easier to access has opened up many opportunities for us and allows us to serve our customers better. We are already seeing growth and getting positive feedback from our loyal and new customers alike. We are blessed and can’t wait to see what wonderful things 2024 brings.” — Erika Boger, Boger’s Shoes
“In 2024, we are particularly optimistic about the steady improvement of vendor supply chains and the speed at which they are able to fulfill our orders. This allows us to continue offering the service, selection and sizing options our customers have come to depend on Woldruff’s to provide for decades.” — Brian Mills, Woldruff’s Footwear
“If there is anything that the last three years have taught us, it is that you can’t predict anything. It is that famous Yogi Berra quote: ‘It is difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.’ For many, including us, 2024 may be a difficult year. We are expanding our product mix into some new categories, and we will be testing new marketing ideas, but a successful 2024 will be fully dependent on the attitude and financial health of the public.” — Chris Stanley, Lamey-Wellehan
“Looking ahead to 2024, we’re excited about our doctor outreach program where we will be visiting local physical therapy offices and podiatry offices to educate the doctors in our area about what our stores have to offer their patients when it comes to helping them with their aliments in hopes of creating nice partnerships to make people feel better.” — Andrea Allen, Pegasus Footwear
“We are optimistic about the continued growth of our online presence, allowing us to reach a broader audience while maintaining the personalized service that sets us apart. We have a few digital advertising initiatives underway, including video, which will be totally new for us. We also anticipate expanding our community outreach efforts, further embedding ourselves as not just a store but a vital part of the local fabric. We look forward to another year of serving our customers with dedication and passion! — Lauren Klapper, Shoe Fly
“I am cautiously optimistic. Usually during presidential election years there is a little slowing. I do believe many stores are playing it very, very safe and that will allow for stores to pick up market share if they are willing to take some educated risks.” — Chris Bentvelzen, SHOES-n-FEET
“I think this election cycle is going to get super crazy with a lot of potential geopolitical ramifications and a recession looming but small hustlers and operators like [my brother] Nicky and I will always figure something out.
The Pedorthics program is going to be huge for us and the most important to execute on for 2024. Custom orthotics already account for our no. 1 SKU in both sales and volume but it’s just myself and my father doing that work. We’re at an acceptable capacity and need help. We are going through Rick Sevier and his business ‘Steampunk Biomechanics Academy’ for the Pedorthic schooling with three apprentices. That will be about a nine-month program, and we hope to have them certified by September. We also plan on targeting the online over-the-counter insert market and have a goal to become the number one retailer by 2025 with a program we’ve dubbed Project Archaeopteryx. The play here is a multistep with a focus on eCommerce customization and service for OTC’s.” — Tony Chiappetta, Chiappetta Shoes
“We see the future of retail being able to try new and different brands that are retail focused and don’t discount their own items online. We feel that there are some really great brands out there that are unique and different and want to grow with us. We are also seeing a change in people’s buying habits. Not everyone likes the corporate business model, and they are looking to spend money with places that invest back into their communities. This is obviously a good thing for us as we are a small business that cares deeply about our community and we do everything we can to make it grow!” — Bill Golden, Golden Shoes
“The tools and solutions available to us smaller businesses are only improving. We have a roadmap of changes that we will be making during 2024 to give our business solutions that only larger retailers have had to date. We are excited for the improved experiences this will allow us to give our customers.” — Bryce Anderson, Walking Comfort
“My brother and I have reimagined our marketing and promotional calendar. We expect fewer markdowns and fewer advertising costs, which our accountant loves. We have recently uprooted our business and have moved across the state line. It’s quite a bit different over here, and we’re still learning our way. But we have great hopes. Retail shoemen always have hope.”— Mark Jubelirer, Reyers Shoe
“I am particularly optimistic about our brick-and-mortar traffic increasing with the re-opening of our new Carmel, Indiana location. I am confident that this will not only increase our revenue, but our lifetime customers as well!”— Stephanie Stout, Stout’s Footwear