Kelly Robertson and Jason Moore are keeping retail local in Brooklyn, N.Y.
The two friends recently opened A Shoe Grows in Brooklyn, a family footwear boutique in the borough’s bustling Park Slope neighborhood, home to a growing population of young, stroller-pushing families.
“The idea for the store first came to us by counting the number of strollers going by on the street,” said Moore, a father of three. “I’ve lived in Park Slope for 10 years, and I’ve seen it completely transform from a young, college-driven area to a very family-oriented neighborhood. But until now, there wasn’t anywhere to shop locally for affordable, good-quality kids’ shoes.”
The store, which opened in May, is already off to a strong start, due in large part to the fact that Park Slope residents champion small businesses. “We’ve had a really great response from the neighborhood,” said Robertson, a mother of two and former corporate communications specialist. “It’s the kind of community in which people go out of their way to shop local independents rather than go to the mall or to the big chains.”
New to the business of operating a store, Robertson and Moore hired an independent retail consultant to help them navigate the startup process. “Our consultant has guided us through the actual buildout, planning our buying strategy and managing our inventory levels,” Robertson said. “We don’t know what we don’t know. It’s still very much a learning process for us.”
The pair originally envisioned A Shoe Grows in Brooklyn as a kids’-focused store, but their plans evolved when they found a prime 1,000-sq.-ft. storefront on busy Seventh Avenue, amid an eclectic mix of clothing boutiques, restaurants, coffee shops and child-care centers. “We have all this space, and in New York it’s practically a sin not to use it,” Robertson said. “We decided to change the focus to more of a modern family store. The idea is that parents coming in to shop for their kids can also pick up something for themselves.”
The children’s section, which represents slightly more than half the store’s inventory, features a wide range of moderately priced casual styles from such brands as See Kai Run, Crocs, Steve Madden, Salt-Water Sandals, New Balance and Robeez. The women’s offering includes Gentle Souls, The Flexx, Acrylicana, Me Too and Chinese Laundry, while the men’s collection has S.U.P.R.O. Sock and Rockadelic by Deer Stags. “We’ve also tried to stock some brands that we can carry in kids’ and adults’ sizes, such as Vans and Saucony, to keep that family story,” Robertson noted. The footwear offering is rounded out by a small selection of clothing, accessories and gift items, from Life Is Good T-shirts and Western Chief rain gear to handmade bags.
A Shoe Grows in Brooklyn’s vendors said the boutique’s decision to stock both children’s and adult footwear is a smart strategy. “[Parents] shopping with children have very limited time, so a store that features [not only] a great kids’ selection but also [styles for] the entire family is a good solution. It’s one-stop shopping,” said Mickey Yanes, account executive for Stride Rite Children’s Group, which produces the Saucony and Robeez lines.
Amy McKinstry, See Kai Run’s New York representative, agreed: “Their strategy also is very relevant in this economy, as parents often will pass by adult stores and buy [new shoes] only for their children. Having both [kids’ and adult product] in one store encourages parents to buy something for themselves on occasion, too.”
To make families feel welcome and encourage browsing, Robertson and Moore strove to create a relaxed, child-friendly environment. The nature-inspired space features floor-to-ceiling tree murals, rows of wooden cubbies and a picket-fenced play area stocked with toys and a TV to keep little ones entertained. “We designed everything with kids in mind, knowing they’d be in the store for a longer period of time. We want parents to be comfortable to look around without having to worry about their children,” Robertson said.
The owners also plan to connect with their customers by hosting a series of Mommy & Me classes, readings with local children’s book authors and other family-oriented functions. “We want to focus on marketing and events that really entrench us in the community here,” said Robertson. “It’s so important in a neighborhood like this.”
Looking ahead, Robertson said she and Moore plan to launch online sales and are hoping to expand their business in the future with additional locations. “Right now,” she said, “we’re just focused on getting the day-to-day running of the Park Slope store down to a science, and then we’ll see where things take us.”