For Derek White, size really matters. The founder of LiftKits, a line of removable footwear inserts that discreetly add up to 2 inches to one’s height, has helped raise the stature of his customers, including celebrities Robert Downey Jr., Tom Cruise and Jeremy Piven.
“Our product is functional,” said White, noting it taps into a pervasive insecurity among men. “Every guy can tell you what pair of shoes in his closet has the highest heel without even thinking about it.”
Launched in 2008, the Hollywood, Calif.-based company initially targeted the men’s market. Due to demand, however, White soon added the LiftKits for Chicks collection, which can be worn in sheepskin boots, flats and even gym shoes. “[Women] educated me on how much better their legs and buttocks looked when they wore even a little bit of a heel,” said White.
This year, LiftKits expanded into wholesale, with its products now offered in retailers including Sportie LA in Los Angeles, Dnafootwear.com and Shoe Palace in San Jose, Calif. (The brand previously sold via its website, Myliftkits.com.) “We anticipated growing our wholesale business a lot sooner,” explained White, “but with some of the challenges facing a startup, we focused on revenue channels that produced the highest margin of return. For us, this was e-commerce.”
That strategy has paid off so far, said the entrepreneur. The company more than doubled its growth in 2011 over 2010, and it expects a gain of 125 percent this year as new fall ’12 products such as arch-support styles contribute to sales increases. And for the first time, White said, the firm is working on an athletic/comfort insole meant to provide support rather than height and set to be released for holiday. LiftKits inserts retail from $22 to $30 and are available in both adjustable and non-adjustable versions.
Here, White, who stands 5-feet-11, talks about reaching out to those who want to hit new heights.
Because height can be a sensitive issue for guys, do you anticipate the wholesale business being as lucrative as e-commerce?
DW: With our wholesale business just starting to see some growth, we’ll soon be able to evaluate one channel over another. In the meantime, we continue to focus on a brand identity that cuts through all the static messaging out there: Life’s short, but you don’t have to be. Guys get that. So even though they may have to swallow their pride for 30 seconds at the cash register, most couldn’t care less.
Some research suggests taller men are paid higher salaries. As more people are job searching, could this be a boon for business?
DW: Yes, the research does show validity in that claim. Unfortunately, we don’t have any metrics on employment status of our customers, nor do we know if people are purchasing LiftKits to help them get a job. But from customer testimonials, we know that they feel more confident when wearing [them]. They have increased self esteem and feel more attractive. I can guarantee this doesn’t hurt their chances for success in a tight job market.
Are women as height sensitive as men?
DW: Much to my surprise, women wear LiftKits for added height rather than their toning benefits. Women like the height that heels offer, but they don’t always welcome the discomfort associated with them. LiftKits provide a comfortable alternative to the high heel. Women like the fact that they can wear them in shoes and boots they already own and they provide more comfort, as well as height enhancement.
Word-of-mouth is key to brand exposure, but are customers willing to admit they wear lifts?
DW: Actually, that’s how our business has grown so much. Once a customer purchases our product, usually two or three friends will buy it shortly thereafter. People feel compelled to share something of value with their peers. We recognize that our customers will come back and repurchase our products in multiple pairs [because] they don’t want to have to move them between shoes.
Competing height enhancers offer men a lift of 5 inches. How much is too much in this area?
DW: For those who need 5 inches, by all means, get the shoes with the built-in lifts. Most guys don’t need to gain 5 inches — usually 1 to 2 is plenty and [the enhancement] is still inconspicuous. The problem with shoes with built-in lifts is that the customer is limited to just one specific shoe. The luxury of LiftKits is that you can wear them in the shoes you already have in your closet.