Sisters Laurel and Lindsey Tate, owners of Two Sole Sisters in Boulder, Colo., teamed up to open their shop on Pearl Street in 2008. At the time, Lindsey (near left) wanted to transition out of the computer hardware industry and Laurel (far left) was eager to start a new venture after spending time at home as a mom. The two created a business plan and went to the WSA Show in 2007. By the following January, the sisters had a lease.
“The space we ended up taking was a successful retail store for 10 years, so we felt there was good juju [there],” said Laurel Tate. Together, the sisters work to merchandise their assortment, drawing upon their different opinions.
“Our buying is successful because we come from different points of view and have different needs. Lindsey has had foot surgery, for instance, so she can relate to our customers’ [desire for] comfort,” Tate said.
The shopowners are confident about the year ahead and even plan an e-commerce launch.
“In December, we were up 36 percent, so our customer base is growing and we’re buying smarter,” said Tate. “I am optimistic about where the economy is going, and I feel that our customers want to support local businesses.”
THE RIGHT MIX
Two Sole Sisters stocks a wide variety of styles that range in price from $150 to $220 for boots. Top brands include Matisse, Poetic License, Corso Como, Biviel, Jeffrey Campbell and Miz Mooz.
“We did a lot of research on what people wanted in terms of fashion and comfort, and we compiled a list of lines we liked and watched their development,” said Laurel Tate.
However, the most important feature in the store’s assortment is comfort. “If it’s not comfortable, my customers won’t buy it,” she said. “We have so many athletic women and girls in our area, and they don’t tolerate narrow shoes. And we have to be really careful with heel height.”
For fall, Tate said she plans to be a little less conservative with her buy and is looking to bring in more new brands. Chie Mihara was just added for spring. The handbag assortment will also grow.
The retailers take pride in spending a lot of time with their customers.
“We operate under a more old-school model of customer service,” Tate said. “We fit shoes on people’s feet — it’s like a barber shop for women around here.”
The store also goes the extra mile to keep records of some customers’ purchases to help with gift giving. “We keep notes about certain customers in our computer, so when husbands or boyfriends come in, we can direct them [toward a sale].”
To get away from traditional discounts, Two Sole Sisters often hosts in-store events. Designer trunk shows have been successful in the past, but lately the store has aligned itself with causes that are meaningful to customers.
“We try to do a promotional event for a nonprofit every month,” said Tate. “We find that our customers really respond to events with some sort of giving behind them.”
In December, the store held a fundraiser for the Boulder County AIDS Project, donating a portion of the proceeds to the organization. The retailer also partners with Soles4Souls and Dress for Success, encouraging customers to donate items — and shop.
The toughest part of business so far has been price wars with local department stores and chains, said Tate.
“Competition with large chain store discounting was really tough,” she said. “We try to buy unique product so we don’t have the exact same styles and won’t have to discount as much. Strategic buying is a constant challenge. We’re always trying to buy smarter and really focus on what our customers are telling us they want.”
Another challenge is staffing. “We have great girls working for us, but finding people to work in the store is the No. 1 struggle,” said Tate. “It’s really about finding a good person who’s good with people.”
“Like a lot of independents, [the Tates] offer a selection that [is] forward but attainable,” said Ty McBride, a representative from Jeffrey Campbell. “They offer looks that work for their area and are also aspirational.”
Cheryl Matson, a rep for Miz Mooz, said the store shares similar goals with the brand. “Laurel and Lindsey have a great aesthetic. They choose styles that are sophisticated and stylish, while remaining fun, youthful and infinitely wearable,” she said. “Miz Mooz is an excellent fit for Two Sole Sisters.”