High heels, wedges, peep toes; leather, suede, printed fabrics; glitter, bows and animal prints: no two pairs are alike.
Four-year-old e-commerce startup, Shoes of Prey, is revolutionizing the way women approach footwear. Co-founder Jodie Fox said the concept began simply enough: “I couldn’t find shoes that I loved. Someone was recommended to me who could help me make shoes. My girlfriends loved them, and the idea of being able to design their own shoes specifically for them.”
The idea grew organically once Fox teamed up with Michael Fox and Mike Knapp, who complemented her design skills with experience working for Google and in retail operations management.
Their interactive e-commerce store has been key to their success. A step-by-step shoe builder allows the customer to customize every pair, down to heel height and shape, strap shape and color, even the color and material of the insole, and includes a total cost estimate (which typically ranges between US$150-300), making the experience truly unique in the world of shoe shopping.
The idea was so popular that they quickly discovered that the Australian market could not adequately meet their ambitions.
“Right from the outset, we were focused on this being a global business,” Fox said. “The model has always been based on retailing online and being able to ship anywhere in the world.”
Today, the company operates out of offices in Australia, the United States and the Philippines and ships to over 100 countries. They have also established partnerships with high-profile retailers such as Nordstrom to offer an in-store shoe designing experience.
Thanks in part to this global footprint, Shoes of Prey was able to scale rapidly. Fox said the company recouped its initial investment in just two months, and was netting multi-million dollar profits in just two years.
Despite its international successes, the company has faced challenges going global. The founders cite several obstacles, including finding the right skill and capacity to manufacture, understanding and complying with local labor laws and navigating customs clearances and shipping.
Fox recalls that, “At one point the consolidator we were working with was cutting our boxes up to make the volume smaller and customers were receiving these awful shoe boxes that we put so much effort into making beautiful.” The company now ships direct to customers in small volumes using express delivery services for greater control over the process.
For young startups, Fox suggests being open to all geographies, but taking the time and doing the research to connect meaningfully and get each new market right.
“We have Skype, and Hangouts, and WebX—all these ways of communicating with people across the globe. But the simple fact is that there’s nothing like a face-to-face meeting to get things done. I’m not the American woman. I need to be in the States to learn about her and figure out how we can best solve problems for her so she feels wonderful in her custom shoes.”