Retail Profile: Selve

What can compare to a pair of Manolos? One retailer thinks it has the answer.

Eight years ago, footwear boutique Selve debuted in Munich and then London, giving customers the opportunity to create one-of-a-kind shoes. Selve bowed it first U.S. location, in Red Bank, N.J., in February 2009.

The only U.S. unit, owned by Karin Lund (pictured here on left, with Debi Kapec, P.R. and systems manager), the shop gives women and men the tools to build their own shoes, using hundreds of upper materials, a range of heels, silhouettes, ornaments and even sock linings. While leathers come from Italy and Germany, the shoes are produced in China. Retail prices range from $395 to $620 for women’s boots, depending on the material choices.

To start the process, customers’ feet are digitally scanned to find the right style for an individual’s foot.

“We really educate and change the way people look at how footwear should fit,” said Lund, noting that there are thousands of combinations of sizes and widths available. “We have the opportunity to fit the majority of people who come in here.” For those hard-to-fit feet, a custom last can even be created. Orders are ready in just four weeks.

Selve offers a catalog of looks that include 100 styles for women. Among the offerings are high-heel pumps, boots and everyday tailored shoes. There’s even an opportunity to design matching bags, priced between $325 and $520.

With 44 size-and-width options per women’s style, Selve can handle just about any foot. Customers can also play with heel heights and add more cushioning. In addition to the core offering, the store has a bridal line and a golf collection for men and women.

“There are endless choices,” said Lund, who along with two co-workers, deals one-on-one with customers to come up with designs. Selve requires customers to come in for an initial visit, which takes about an hour. However, once the store has their information on file, subsequent orders can be placed by phone, e-mail or via the company’s Website,

While Selve’s European locations operate by appointment only, the New Jersey store is open to the public Tuesday through Sunday. On Friday and Saturday, the retailer stays open later — until 10 p.m. — to pick up late-night restaurant traffic. “Lots of people come in between 9 p.m. and 10 p.m.,” said Lund. And, she added, the store will arrange personal appointments for customers with busy schedules.

Selve also has taken its footwear on the road, hosting a trunk show last November in the Sheraton Station Square hotel in Pittsburgh. An accountant friend of Lund’s based in the area suggested the idea. He invited his 25 employees to choose a pair of shoes paid for by the firm. In addition, Lund opened the trunk show to the public and advertised the event in local newspapers.

The 1,500-sq.-ft. store has a minimalist, yet elegant design. Created by local firm A&A Designs, the cream-colored interior features glass shelving around the perimeter, contrasted by a dark leather-covered floor. Crystal chandeliers provide subtle lighting, while small tables paired with Louis XIV ghost chairs offer an area for customers to look through swatch books.

Shoppers are impressed by the decor, said Lund. She recalled that one customer came in to Selve to buy a couple pairs of shoes and then immediately headed to a home store in town to buy the same chandelier hanging in the shop.

Selve participates in a wide range of initiatives, from fundraisers to networking events at community organizations such as Eastern Monmouth’s Chamber of Commerce Expo. In its first year, the store donated a pair of shoes for a raffle at Riverview Medical Center’s “Girl’s Night Out” breast cancer awareness cause, as well as the local YMCA’s Children’s Cultural Center. It also contributed to a silent auction for the Big Brothers and Sisters’ 10th Annual Food and Wine Tasting.

Involvement at charity golf events such as Ocean Medical Center’s 19th Annual Golf Classic has especially impacted business, Lund said. “We’ve had customers — golfers from Long Island and as far as an hour-and-a-half away — coming to be scanned for golf shoes,” she said. “And we’ve had customers who have won our shoes by bidding on them in a silent auction who were so excited they ordered additional pairs of shoes and boots.”

“The economy has been a challenge for everyone,” said Lund. “We’re all watching our dollars. People are careful about what they invest in. But I feel that when you look at footwear, it’s an investment, especially if it’s [made of] good-quality leathers and it fits. It’s about a healthy product on your feet.”

Though Lund said foot traffic has been down due to the economy, it hasn’t stopped her from pursuing new customers. Networking has become an important part of growing the business. And she said the shop is aggressively going after new clients through giving — notably by participating in charitable causes, donating shoes and sponsoring community events.

Neighborhood vibe: Located near the Jersey shore, the upscale town boasts an eclectic mix of apparel boutiques, gift shops, jewelry stores and restaurants.

Customer base: The area attracts a sophisticated clientele of local residents as well as tourists visiting from Boston, Philadelphia and New York. Selve’s customers, said Lund, are savvy shoppers who often buy their clothing and footwear overseas.

Competition: Although a few nearby stores have recently closed due to the economy, designer women’s footwear can still be found at CoCo Pari and high-end specialty store Garmany. “We don’t think we have competition when you [consider] designing your own shoes,” said Lund. “Women spend thousands of dollars on a dress and then someone else has it. Here, they can get one-of-a-kind shoes.”

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