When Stacey and J.C. Matney decided to open Pie Footwear in Portland, Ore.’s Alberta Arts district, they knew they needed to set the store apart from others in the area.
The Matneys’ shared commitment to sustainability issues made focusing on green footwear a natural choice. “We thought, let’s do something that makes a difference, something sustainable, from the way we set up operations to how we run our store to the product that we’re selling,” said Stacey Matney, who previously worked as an operations manager for an industrial design firm. “These things are important to us, and they must be important to other people.”
So in August 2008 the couple dug into their savings and bowed Pie in a 966-sq.-ft. retail space in a refurbished century-old building. The Matneys — who married shortly before opening the store — tackled the entire project together, sharing almost every task.
It’s a partnership that’s paid off. Pie should finish the year with nearly $250,000 in sales, a 20 percent increase over last year, Stacey Matney said.
Matney and her husband look at both the products they carry and the companies that make them. All shoes (as well as accessories, socks and bags) need to meet at least one of the criteria on their environmental benefits list, which categorizes the features they look for, such as recycled and non-toxic materials, company-wide use of green energy, domestic manufacturing and fair-trade products.
The Right Mix
Top sellers at Pie include earth-friendly styles from Patagonia, Chaco, El Naturalista, Timberland, Terra Plana, Keen and Toms Shoes. Stocking a variety of price points is a priority, Matney said, and so is going beyond brand bestsellers. “What sells better for us is more of the fun things [from] deeper in the catalog, not the standards,” she said.
Along the same lines, Matney said smaller brands, including philanthropic lines like Sseko Designs and Oliberté, keep the store’s offering fresh. “It’s nice to find those eccentric little brands,” she said. “We like to support small operations as much as we can.”
Pie also caters to the area’s numerous vegan shoppers, marketing animal-free styles from mainstream brands as well as exclusively vegan lines including Novacas, Ethletic, Neuaura and Vegetarian Shoes.
A robust green story ties the assortment together, Matney said. “For us, there’s a fine line between vegan footwear and whether it’s sustainable,” she said. “If we bring in anything synthetic, [it’s important that] it’s of the highest quality. [We want to know] where it is made. It’s kind of a different level of vegan because it doesn’t allow us to just buy anything that’s not leather.”
Making sustainability the mission means doing extra research. Pie aims for transparency with its customers, and as a result, asks vendors to provide information about their businesses. But after being burned in the past with delivered product that didn’t match the samples or specifications promised, Matney said, she asks a lot more questions these days. “We do look into everything now,” she said.
Since opening, the Matneys have been Pie’s only staff, serving as the face of the business, the buying team, the back-end managers and the sales force. And while the store is closed on Mondays, Stacey Matney said expansion will come soon. “Within the next 12 months, we’ll have at least one employee,” she said. “But it’s hard because we are the faces of the store and we have our own customers who want to shop from us. That’s the struggle for any new small business.”
Paramount for Matney was having a warm and creative space that reflected the store’s ethos, and she credits a year of development time for making that a reality. The couple bought the floating glass shelves from a Sharper Image going-out-of-business sale. A huge slab of 1970s-era paneling from Portland’s ReBuilding Center, an architectural salvage shop, was painted and reshaped by hand into counters, benches and the cash desk. And the Matneys unearthed and refinished the original wood flooring. The design of the space also allowed for one of the store’s most striking features: roll-up windows across the front that can be raised in good weather.
Outdoor brand Keen appreciates that Pie’s location gives it access to a young customer. “Where they are in Portland is right on the mark — an up-and-coming, community-driven neighborhood,” said Tony Kaplan, retail marketing manager at Portland-based Keen Footwear. “Pie helps [our brand reach] a more youthful, more aware consumer. Pie helps us understand the twentysomething consumer and make us more relevant.”
For Timberland, the retail shop offers a showplace for the green Earthkeepers line, said Brian Baadte, account executive for the outdoor channel at Timberland. “Pie Footwear has a legion of loyal customers who are looking for stylish, eco-friendly footwear that fits into their outdoor lifestyle. Stacey and J.C. do an excellent job of choosing styles that not only look and feel great on your feet, but have a green story to tell.”
The Portland Scene
Neighborhood vibe: Pie is located in the heart of Portland’s Alberta Arts district, a 20-block main street known for its artists and galleries.
Customer base: Pie shoppers are a mix of college students, baby boomers and everyone in between, Matney said.
The competition: Three other shoe stores operate on Alberta Avenue. And Pie’s mix of brands and styles overlaps with REI, comfort shoe stores, outdoor independents and even Whole Foods.