Derek Curry realized during his college days working the floor at Finish Line that Louisiana needed a place to buy more than just general-release sneakers.
“I was buying things from Concepts in Boston — all these quick-strike releases — and I’d wear the shoes at Finish Line,” Curry said. “Customers would walk in and say, ‘I want those.’So many people said it that I thought, ‘Maybe people would like to buy things like this down here.’”
Rather than pursue his MBA at Rice University, Curry took the business owner route, opening his first Sneaker Politics retail store in Lafayette, La., in 2006.
He recalled that early on, it was an uphill battle convincing brands that they should offer top-tier kicks in that market.
“I had to tell people, ‘We don’t wrestle alligators on our front yard,’ a million times. We actually have cities, and there are people who buy shoes here. It’s actually cool,” Curry said.
Now his company is a top tier for Nike and Adidas, and stocks the best the brands have to offer. Those are complemented by other styles coveted by sneaker diehards from labels such as New Balance and Asics.
And Sneaker Politics also partners with brands for exclusive looks. One project that Curry has in the works is a collection with famed New Orleans restaurant Café Du Monde comprising apparel and a new execution of a classic Saucony sneaker. The line is scheduled for a fourth-quarter release.
But industry insiders believe product selection isn’t the sole reason for Sneaker Politics’ success.
“It has a very positive energy when you walk through the doors. Everybody is having fun, and they all have good morale,” explained Franklin Cooke, Jordan Brand NRG footwear designer. “When you walk into a space and it feels like home, it makes you want to invest in that store.”
And Curry’s customers are investing. For the first three years of business, Sneaker Politics was in the red or broke even. Since then, it has experienced high double- digit revenue growth each year — successes that have fueled its expansion.
After opening his first door in Lafayette, Curry has done so in New Orleans, Baton Rouge and a second Lafayette location — dubbed Regime — that sells more high-end product for an older, more sophisticated consumer base. And on May 1, he is crossing state lines into Texas with a 2,200-square-foot Sneaker Politics pop-up shop in downtown Austin.
For Curry, one of the biggest challenges of the sneaker business comes from these expansion projects.
“Contractors give you dates, and it doesn’t pan out the way you want it to. We were supposed to open the Austin pop-up by [the South by Southwest Festival],” he said. “I understand selling shoes and everything about my business, but opening stores when you’re dealing with contractors is the hardest thing in the industry.”
Curry continued, “If we’d had the pop-up open for SXSW, we’d be done with that store by now and probably be on to Dallas or San Antonio.”
While construction has slowed Sneaker Politics’ growth plans, it hasn’t derailed it. In fact, more doors will soon be spotted throughout the South. Curry confirmed that a permanent location in Austin will be open within a year and a half, and he plans to open more Regime doors in the cities with existing locations.
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