Since opening in 2007, the shop, located in the Broad Ripple Village neighborhood of Indianapolis, has become a destination for sneaker fans. Store founder and owner Mike Watson said it has even turned locals into full-fledged sneakerheads.
“When we opened, virtually no one had any idea about the products we carried,” he recalled. “Over the course of five years, people are a lot more educated, and the sneaker community here has gotten a lot stronger.”
Watson has been a connoisseur of sneakers for the past 27 years. Prior to opening the boutique, he held senior buying positions at Finish Line Inc. and headed up the corporation’s urban division.
During his buying trips for the sneaker chain he was exposed to a different side of the kicks culture. “It was a time in the industry when boutiques like Undefeated and Alife were popping up,” Watson said, adding that he felt motivated by what the independents were doing. “In my head, I thought about how cool it would be to open a shop that sold products that weren’t on the typical mall mannequin.”
When Finish Line dissolved its urban division in 2007, Watson faced a turning point in his career. “I had some choices to make as to whether I wanted to continue down the corporate trail or do my own thing,” he said. “I decided to drop out [of corporate life], and that’s how Got Sole started.”
Of course, not too long after its debut, the store found itself in the middle of the nation’s economic crisis. The shop’s early days were a struggle, Watson admitted.
But now, as it celebrates its five-year anniversary, the 1,000-sq.-ft. shop has been able to remain profitable despite a rocky economy. Though Watson declined to reveal exact figures, he said the business is on pace for double-digit sales growth this year.
Inspired by such trendy areas as Soho in New York and Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles, the store has an industrial feel with hardwood floors, brick walls and staggered black shelving for shoe displays.
And in keeping with Got Sole’s athletic motif, there’s also a place to kick back. Toward the back of the store, leather seats and ottomans are placed in front of a big-screen plasma television, which is often tuned to ESPN’s “SportsCenter” or replays of old NBA games.
“I want the customer to feel comfortable, almost like it was a game room in their basement,” Watson said.
The store stocks a selection of limited-edition lines from labels such as Nike, Vans, Adidas, Asics, Puma and Jordan Brand. The product mix also includes independent athletic brands such as Gourmet NFN, Clae and Supra.
Watson said Got Sole works hard to maintain a unique merchandise mix, as many of its vendors felt pressured to open up distribution as a result of the recession. “It’s been a challenge to keep our mix totally exclusive,” Watson said. “We try to make a statement by not selling anything super-mainstream, but we’ve had to share a few brands with corporate mall retailers.”
Despite any difficulties, Got Sole is still able to fill a niche in the Indianapolis retail scene. Gourmet NFN co-founder Jon Buscemi said it is one of the few sneaker shops in the state. “Their location is a huge asset for us because we’re able to keep a finger on what trends are going on in their community and what consumers are interested in,” Buscemi said.
Matt Miller, president of Clae Footwear, praised Got Sole for having a good sense of trends in footwear and for having credibility with its customer base. “Not only do they pay attention to the trends, but they have the ability to lead and make suggestions to the consumer,” Miller said. “They work hard to learn about what they’re customer is going to be looking for.”
Watson said the store’s reach has extended geographically, as he now has a regular clientele that drives in from Kentucky and Ohio and other outlying parts of Indiana. But he doesn’t like to pigeonhole his shoppers. “If you sat in the store for an entire day, you might see a skate kid, a businessman, a soccer mom or even an Indianapolis Colts [player],” Watson said. “We don’t really isolate or try to put boundaries on our consumer because they’re wide-ranging.”
To meet the growing demand from his customers, Watson is working on adding an e-commerce platform to the business. And in the future he hopes to expand the square footage of the store.
“We were able to put Indianapolis on the map in terms of sneaker culture,” he said. “We’re really fortunate to be able to still be in business, and hopefully we can continue to build a good reputation.”