QUESTION ON Starting a Niche Athletic Footwear Business
I am seriously considering starting my own athletic footwear business. I found there is a demand for large sizes ( men 13-18) and also specialty items for young adults with specific needs. My question is : How and where can I get information from distributors/companies that will let me purchase at wholesale prices? Do I need a minimum order supply to stock items? I have not decided whether or not to open a store front or perhaps try this as online shopping. I do not have any experience with creating a web-site although I’m confident I could learn. Please give me any insight you may have on this small business venture!
To get specific information on distributors/companies, you can look for company listings in trade directories. Check out Thomas Register (http://www.thomasregister.com ), which contains a listing of companies in every industry, with links to company web sites. Registration is free.
Or go to your local library and check out the Thomas Register books: Products and Services (19 volumes) with 50,000 separate product and service headings to help you find who gives you the best product, lowest price and fastest delivery; Company Profiles (2 volumes) to help you contact over 149,000 companies; and Catalog File (8 volumes) to help you make a buying decision before you pick up the phone as it contains photos, specs, engineering drawings, performance tables.
I also suggest looking at the resources provided by the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America (FDRA) http://www.fdra.org. This organization represents footwear retailers, distributors, manufacturers, suppliers and international trade associations. Check out their FDRA current member list and start developing contacts with them and making inquiries as to their requirements for selling to an online store.
Note, however, that information provided in trade directories may be limited. To get the specific information you need, you may have to contact these companies directly. Info like minimum order and wholesale price purchasing will be discussed in your negotiations. Your price may be based on the volume that you intend to buy, and how soon do you need it. Look at our list of wholesale sources and contact the footwear wholesalers.
With regards to opening a Web site, my suggestion is to use the Web only as your communication, branding and marketing tool. The Web is not a suitable distribution channel for shoes.
Unless you have a very strong word-of-mouth, an unknown shoe brand like yours will have a tough time selling on the Internet. Shoe buying entails a lot of trust with potential customers. Your product is not like a book or a CD or products that are generic every where you buy them: shoes have to be “customized” for the buyer. It has to fit the buyer in terms of length and width. Generic products like books and CDs do well on the Internet, but shoes generally do not.
If you create a purely Web-based venture, it will be very difficult for your business to overcome the age-old practice of buying shoes. When people buy shoes, they want to be able to see how well it fits, how it feels on their feet, and whether they look good on it. On the Internet, users cannot try on the shoes and test how comfortable they will feel when wearing them. Customers are buying the experience of shoe shopping – which the Internet simply cannot provide.
Given this, you will face a lot of shoppers who may be dissatisfied or discontented with your products for a wide range of reasons – shoes look differently on the screen, poor fit, looks bad on their feet, etc. Customers may either return your merchandise, or keep it but will never buy from your site ever again. If you pursue the Internet route, be sure to create a good return handling system and be ready to pay the price of chargebacks.
A Web site to complement your retail store will be your best approach. If you do decide to take the risk of making your business a pure-play Internet venture, you have to think hard of what will make people buy shoes on the Internet. That will be a real challenge.
Thank you for being part of Power HomeBiz Guides.
Nach M Maravilla
Recommended Resources on How To Start a Shoe Business
- How to Start a Shoe Design Business: Start Up Tips to Boost Your Shoe Design Business Success
- Women’s Shoe Store Start Up Sample Business Plan NEW!
- The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting and Running a RetailStore
- How to Manage a Retail Shoe Store: A Series of Essays .
Article originally published in April 2004. Updated February 24, 2012
Category: Q & A