West NYC may be celebrating its fifth anniversary this summer, but storeowner Lester Wasserman has spent a lifetime in the footwear business.
As the son of Danny Wasserman, owner of New York-based Tip Top Shoes, he began working at the family store in 1989, when he was 15 year’s old. “I ended up doing that every summer after that,” the younger Wasserman said. “I really enjoyed the intimacy of working with the customer and helping them find what they wanted. I got to meet and talk to a lot of different people.”
After attending Syracuse University, Wasserman spent a year at Nordstrom at Garden State Plaza mall in Paramus, N.J. “I worked in women’s shoes and for a few months in the salon,” he said.
Then, in 1997, he returned to Tip Top. “I started on the floor and now I’m buying shoes and managing the store,” he said.
Ten years later, he branched out on his own by opening the sneaker shop, West NYC, which quickly developed a following among the city’s sneaker elite.
“When we started having people sleeping outside [waiting for a new shoe release], I realized we had really made it,” he said. “Now, we get people camping out fairly frequently, eight or 10 times a year.”
Customer profile: “We get people ages 15 to 45, but it all depends on what day of the week and what’s coming out. Kids could be lined up in the street waiting for a Jordan one day, then — usually on Sundays — we get the guy with the wife and the baby carriage looking for a pair of Adidas.”
Competing in New York: “You have to stand out in some capacity. You have to offer something different. The shoes are the shoes, and a lot of them are readily available in a lot of different doors, so you have to stand out with service and speed to market, and your social media game has to be very sharp.”
What’s working: “All the marquee Nike product, and our New Balance business is growing by leaps and bounds, specifically with the made-in-the-U.S. product.”
Best lesson learned from his father: “Stay focused and keep your eye on the ball, and manage the inventory properly. [He taught me that] things have to be bought in the right quantities. [A shoe] may be good, but how good is it? Is it 100-pair good? Is it 60-pair good? It’s tricky, but it’s the most important lesson.”