Someone reading Walter Issacson’s biography of the ahead-of-his-time Steve Jobs mentioned to me last night that the Apple co-founder had a penchant for attending business meetings barefoot. As much as I have come to appreciate the benefits of running either barefoot or in minimalist shoes -- sometimes having to deal with the barbs of aghast bystanders -- I have no intentions of going that far. (Better to skip the meeting.) But I do recognize that there is a more strident, countervailing force in the universe. Call them “The Shoe Worshippers.”
Two stories in the papers this morning -- Andrea Chang’s “Online Shoe Clubs Are In Step With Fashion-Forward Women” in the Los Angeles Times and Dana Mattioli’s “Nike's Footwork Yields Long Lines” in the Wall Street Journal -- are illustrations in point.
You may recall reading last week about assorted brawls, assaults and even threats of gunfire across the country when a new retro model of Nike Air Jordans hit selected markets. Without mentioning the actual violence, Mattioli takes a look at the marketing finesse that enables the brand to “[draw] iPhone-like lines of buyers despite iPhone-like prices.” But unlike the iPhone, which tends to appeal to more upscale consumers, the new Jordan is being snapped up by the “increasingly frugal,” lower-middle-class shopper.
"This is choreographed months in advance," Foot Locker CEO Ken Hicks tells Mattioli. The retailer works closely with Nike to time releases of shoes. While specific release dates are not advertised, Foot Locker does give a general idea of what’s coming so that “sneakerheads” can start saving up.
They skew towards “young, male and live from paycheck to paycheck,” Hicks tells Mattioli, who writes that “as a result, many launches are scheduled for the second Friday of the month or the end of the month, when they tend to have the most cash.”
Although “Nike Decries Frenzies, Arrests Over Air Jordan Shoes,” as a USA Today headline puts it, it has come under fire from some quarters. Jemele HilI, writing on ESPN.com, says that although Michael Jordan and Nike don’t “tell people to trample others who waited in line, and it's not their fault that a segment of people have such skewed priorities,” she does not absolve them from responsibility “for willingly feeding an out-of-control monster.”
The company, and complicit retailers, makes a big deal out of the fact that the shoes are in limited release and the “marketing campaign for these shoes is essentially akin to yelling ‘fire’ in a crowded movie theater,” Hill writes.
Indeed, no one has ever accused Nike of not knowing its customer. In a story yesterday about new Rose Bowl duds for the Oregon Ducks that the company claims is "the most advanced uniform system ever designed," the Oregonian’s John Canzaro writes that “Nike has done a marvelous job with developing product and staying innovative as times change. But what the company does more than anything else is understand the marketplace. It gets you -- in the simplest manner.”
The LA Times’ Chang, meanwhile, reports on a “cyber twist to the traditional monthly sales clubs” that, in another era, was represented by the Book of the Month Club (where do you think that Compact Edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in your grandfather’s den came from?). But rather than deliver regular installments of bestsellers, or even a box of organic fruit, sites such as ShoeDazzle.com, JustFabulous, Sole Society and ShoeMint mail out “a pair of sequined stilettos” tailored to your “style preference.”
"It's very addicting. I have a heel collection now; before, I probably had maybe like one or two pairs that lasted me years," 26-year-old Amber Venturina, who became a member of ShoeDazzle in June and has also joined JustFabulous, tells Chang. Now she has shoes in every color, she adds.
These are not mom-and-pop enterprises. ShoeDazzle has raised $60 million from investors since it was co-founded in 2009 by Kim Kardashian, for example, and JustFabulous has more than 4 million members and is posting $5.5 million in monthly sales since its launch in March 2010.
"We are in the midst of a reinvention of retail," Deloitte Consulting principal Kasey Lobaugh tells Chang. "Retailers are being forced to innovate the business model. If they don't, there is now a long list of nontraditional competitors who will."
It’s a model that “will work well in any country where women love shoes," says ShoeDazzle's other co-founder, Brian Lee. "I think that's 99% of the world."
But can they beat the price I offer when someone at the gym comments on my unshod feet? “We’ve got a special going today,” I’ll reply. “For you, 20 bucks.”