How Billion-Dollar Footwear Retailer Shoe Show Inc. Chooses Its Locations

Location, location, location. It may sound like a retail cliché, but for Shoe Show Inc., it’s been a driving force behind the retailer’s success for the past 60 years.

With more than 1,100 stores across 47 states, the chain keeps as close an eye on real estate opportunities as product trends. According to Kirk Krull, VP of real estate and development, the chain has continued to expand its quartet of Shoe Show, Shoe Show Mega, Shoe Dept. and Shoe Dept. Encore banners by moving into existing storefronts, buying and converting buildings into stores, as well as acquiring land and constructing locations from the ground up.

In addition, the company has turned into a real estate developer, building its own shopping centers, which operate as a separate entity and also serve as landlord to fellow retailers.

Krull, who leads a team of three real estate reps, said that while they all scout potential new locations, company founder Robert Tucker is always close behind. “He’s really involved and enjoys real estate,” Krull noted. “He’ll go out and look at every site before he approves it. We don’t do anything until he comes back with a full analysis. He has multiple pictures not only of the center but alternative options, such as a steakhouse that’s empty that we might make into a shoe store.”

In 2019, the company, which self-funds all of its retail expansion, opened 96 new locations and remodeled 30, with Shoe Show increasing its door count by 11% and Shoe Dept. adding 4% more units. All told, the company has more than 9 million square feet of retail space.

When it comes to store format, the retailer’s main nameplates, Shoe Show and Shoe Dept., have slightly different points of view. Shoe Show, which debuted in 1960, is a smaller model best suited to smaller markets in bedroom communities. “We prefer to be the only shoe store in town, so we go into places where our competitors won’t,” Krull noted. “We enjoy servicing those towns where demographics are generally 10,000 to 12,000 people.”

Still, although zeroing in on smaller towns has been a long-standing strategy, Shoe Show has begun to break with tradition by moving into national markets including Atlanta, Philadelphia, Dallas and Brooklyn, N.Y.

Shoe Dept., which opened its first store in 1989, caters to a slightly higher-income demographic than Shoe Show and, due to its larger format, targets communities of about 20,000 people, Krull said.

More recently, the company has been moving into uncharted retail territory. “We’re slowly spreading across the Mississippi River into the western half of the continental states,” Krull explained. “We recently opened in Washington and Oregon. It’s been a slow, deliberate plan. We don’t want to spread ourselves out too much. When you get into the Midwest and upper northwest, there are limited populations.”

When considering a new location, the company often finds itself with lots of leverage regarding the negotiation of rents and leases. “We have some power since we’re a highly desirable shoe retailer,” Krull said, noting the chain’s stores are often the anchor of a shopping center. “The goal with all our developers is to become their first phone call when they want
to put a shoe store in [their property]. Most of the time, we’re able to go into centers and be a traffic builder.”

As a privately owned company, Shoe Show Inc. is also in the unique position of not having to answer to Wall Street when it comes to growing its store count. “The plan is organic,” Krull explained. “Mr. Tucker places no pressure or goals on how many stores need to be opened. He’s told me, ‘You can open 200 or zero, just as long as they are good ones.’ ”

(Editor’s Note: This story originally appeared in the Feb. 17 print issue of FN, which observed the 60th anniversary of Shoe Show Inc.)

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