A little more than a year ago, Jill Varni Stapleton opened She She Shoes, bringing a fashionable and contemporary mix of footwear to her hometown of Los Gatos, Calif.
Eager to start a new career after 10 years as a corporate event planner in San Francisco, Stapleton returned to Los Gatos in 2008 with long-held plans to move into retail. That’s when she noticed that the shoe shop where she had worked as a teen was shuttering. Formulating a business plan and establishing funding didn’t take long, and by January 2009, she had signed a lease on the space. She changed the store name and did a complete renovation, reopening as She She Shoes a few months later.
A love for feminine details inspired the store’s name, said Stapleton, who focuses on offering customer service that is as inviting as the shop’s girly pink-and-black décor. “It’s very important to me that people walk in and think about how friendly and helpful we are,” she said. “These days, the only way you can survive with a brick-and-mortar store is with your service.”
Now, Stapleton hopes to bolster business by launching e-commerce later this year and actively promoting events at the shop, which have included a party pegged to the release of “Sex and the City 2.”
THE RIGHT MIX
Stapleton has lined the shelves at She She Shoes with Bernardo, Seven for All Mankind, Rebecca Taylor, Toms Shoes, Pour La Victoire and Sam Edelman, among others.
“We carry a lot of specialty brands that you don’t see at the mall,” Stapleton said of her offering, which ranges in price from about $100 to $395. “[It’s important] to offer brands that aren’t as easy to find, such as Daniblack and Butter, but I also have Kate Spade and Diane von Furstenberg for brand recognition. A lot of customers don’t want to deal with the mall, but they do want to see things they’re familiar with.”
Though footwear makes up about 80 percent of her inventory, Stapleton sprinkles in a mix of scarves, jewelry, leggings and handbags from the likes of Botkier and Rebecca Minkoff. Smaller items, such as Foot Petals inserts, candles and hand creams, round out the selection.
Developing relationships with customers has been at the core of Stapleton’s business. She’ll send handwritten notes to shoppers, thanking them for supporting the store. The retailer also offers free ground shipping to customers who place orders on items they saw on Facebook or her website. “If I have a customer who has tried on every Kate Spade shoe, we’ll follow up with [her] when we get new styles,” said Stapleton, who spends about five days a week in the store.
The shop’s four part-time employees are also required to try on each style carried at the shop. “If you don’t know how something fits, you can’t help the customer in the best possible way,” Stapleton said, noting that she also stages mock situations as part of the employee training.
Not wanting to rely on traditional sales, Stapleton instead has used in-store parties to boost traffic. “I try to tie [events] to the community,” said the retailer, who hosted a party in April to fête She She’s first year.
To generate additional buzz, Stapleton has turned to her own “She She Says” blog and forums such as Facebook and Twitter to announce the arrival of new styles and provide tips on how to wear shoes and accessories from the shop.
Stapleton all but gutted the space when she moved in, spending three months and about $80,000 on new shelving, wood floors and lighting, including a large chandelier. Now, the 975-sq.-ft. shop, which sits in a corner spot on Los Gatos’ main strip, is a reflection of Stapleton’s own taste. “It’s based on my dream closet,” she said. “I wanted it to be very girly, feminine and inviting.”
Though She She Shoes hit its 2009 sales target — about $500,000 — Stapleton said she struggled last year to build a following in the rough economy. And despite a recent upswing in consumer confidence, the retailer has found that getting customers to spend isn’t easy. “The negativity of the whole recession has changed the [consumer] mindset, even if finances haven’t changed,” Stapleton said. “It’s a perception thing.” Still, she said she is confident in her growing clientele and anticipates that by the end of 2010, sales could reach $600,000.
Ann McNeil, a rep for Diane von Furstenberg, has worked with Stapleton since the store opened and said that the retailer’s commitment to customer service sets She She Shoes apart from other stores. “[Jill] knows [customers’] needs and seems to really merchandise specifically for what they want,” McNeil said.
Leslie Hauser, a sales assistant at Butter, said Stapleton also excels at online promotion. “The special things she does to market the shoes — such as e-mail blasts and [posting on Facebook] — show how much she cares about [keeping] her customers [in the loop],” Hauser said.
THE LOS GATOS SCENE
Neighborhood vibe: Los Gatos, about an hour south of San Francisco and 15 minutes outside San Jose, is a pedestrian-friendly town with many upscale restaurants and specialty boutiques.
Customer base: Affluent and educated female shoppers between 30 and 50.
Competition: The closest mall is in San Jose, while other boutiques in town include a store with lower-priced brands and another catering to the juniors’ market.