The Shoe Community – a manifesto
Allow me to start with a story. When I worked for a shoe brand, I had a colleague who did the same job as me but for a different product category. Our jobs would have been much easier if we had shared knowledge, collaborated on creating systems for best practice, and generally got along. Instead, our boss at the time ignored the hostility which was growing between us. He allowed us to see each other as a threat, and never enabled us to help one another in any meaningful way. I’m sure if you were the boss of two people like that, you would be proactive in fostering a collaborative environment.
I see the shoe industry in a similar way. If independent founder-operated footwear brands see each other as competition, they are missing out on the possibilities for creating strength in numbers. By supporting one another, and building a sense that we are one community of shoe entrepreneurs, we all benefit.
Collaborate, don’t compete
Customers are like friends, not life partners. They will buy shoes from you and if they love them, they will probably buy from you again if you nurture the relationship. They will also buy shoes from other brands; for themselves or other people. No customer is monogamous. Even a die-hard iPhone user will probably have bought a Samsung for their teen child. You can’t stop your customer from shopping elsewhere by not helping your competitors. You can look after your customers so that they come back to you when they need the shoes you make best.
If a group of three shoe brands with a similar customer base joined forces to create a pop-up shop, think of the benefits:
- 3x the marketing power
- 3x the customers
- 1/3 of the cost per brand
- Any customer may be invited by one brand, and purchase from another…or from all three!
Where previously those customers had no options, they now feel they have an abundance of choice. Every brand has their speciality within their niche, so a customer who attended the pop-up may now have their go-to brands for all wearing occasions. For example: work shoes, occasionwear and weekend footwear.
The benefits of knowledge sharing
What do you think would happen if you told other shoe brand founders how you grew your social media following so quickly? They would probably use your method to try to grow their own customer base. Would that result in you having fewer followers? You know the answer to that.
The benefit for you would be that the other shoe brand founders would feel a sense of reciprocity. They would be actively looking out for ways to return the favour.
Let me take this one terrifying step further and ask you: What would happen if you told another shoe brand founder which manufacturer you use? They might approach your factory and ask to work with them. Would that mean the other brand will copy your shoes and steal your customers? Probably not. For the shoe entrepreneurs I work with, what drives them is wanting to create unique shoes which delight their customers. I have been supporting shoe start-ups since 2015, and not once has anyone asked me how to copy someone else’s designs.
Could there be benefits to sharing your supply chain details with another member of the shoe community? Absolutely! You may find you have a new traveling partner, who can accompany you when you need to visit your factory. You could share accommodation and taxis with them, and build a friendship over meals. You may even be able to use your combined bargaining power to get a better deal with the factory or reduce your individual MOQs.
Myth: Competition motivates us
Threats to our business and livelihood do make us work hard, but not in the focused way which benefits us. To make really good decisions for your brand, you need to:
- Be calm, not panicked
- Take time, not feel rushed
- Focus on your customers, not someone else’s
It’s not our competition who make us better, it’s our network of supporters. Let’s be each others’ supporters. Simply put: competition is out; collaboration is in.
So I built a global shoe founders’ network called The Shoe Community. An online space where we can nurture and encourage each other, share information and experiences for the benefit of others, and grow our own brands as a result.
I created a shoe founder’s community because I believe the future of footwear is independent. When shoe brand owners know their customers inside out, they put them at the heart of their business growth plans. Enabling customers to finally find shoes they love to wear.
Find out more about The Shoe Community and apply to join here.