SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS MAGAZINE APRIL 2016
Shoe & Co.
SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS • JULY 2016
With a palpable tone of regret in his voice, Boris Shalomov explains from his Larchmont, New York location that “Cobblers are basically extinct.” Shalomov authoritatively points out that, “It’s easier to buy a new pair of shoes than fix them.” This kind of planned obsolescence is all too familiar to most consumers, but it is tragic in the eyes of a cobbling family. Shalomov, the founder and CEO of Shoe & Co. and its online adjunct, Shoecall.com, is the son of a cobbler. “This goes back many, many generations in my family,” he asserts. As a young boy in 1992, he and his family immigrated to the United States from Russia. “Six months later,” Shalomov recalls, “my father opened a store on Livingston in Brooklyn and later one in Jamaica, Queens – which is still open today.” It was in the back of his father’s Queens shoe store that Shalomov, a pharmaceutical student-turned law student, got his foot in the door of the shoe industry. “My parents never really thought of me continuing the tradition. They thought I’d live the American Dream: Go to school; earn a diploma; become somebody,” says Shalomov. “But I didn’t see myself working for somebody else. Making somebody else wealthy didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I knew I had the potential to be something of my own.” Shalomov has realized his solo potential. Since its first steps in 2010, Shoe & Co. has experienced an astounding 353% growth spurt with US $ 6.4 million in online profits alone in 2015 to show for it. And with two new 4,000-5,000 square foot department stores opening in the Tri-State Area in late 2017, it is clear that Shalomov feels his potential has not been exhausted.
JULY 2016 • SPOTLIGHT ON BUSINESS
By David MacDonald S halomov has not for a moment strayed from his family’s vocational calling. Even as a teenager, before his days as a pharmacy and then law student, he was shoe-centered and walking the then uncharted path of ecommerce. “At about 17, I already had two companies under my belt. I remember the most awkward part was dealing with employees in shipping and other crucial areas – people who were my father’s age at the time. They never knew I was a kid. I never let them. I did almost everything over the phone or through email. I didn’t want them knowing they were working for a high school kid,” he remembers. This empathetic insight – an intuition that has served Shalomov very well – is a quality he looks for in his sales representatives. “But I didn’t see myself working for somebody else. Making somebody else wealthy didn’t make a lot of sense to me. I knew I had the potential to be something of my own.” “I prefer an unconventional approach to screening and interviews because that is so often how the retail world comes at you. I like to make small mistakes while review- ing resumes and CVs with my potential employees to see how they react. If they have a passion for the retail world, experience in the retail world, they know how to deal with these kinds of speed bumps. The bottom line, rule number one: the customer is always right.” The customer service experience that can be expected either online or in brick and mortar is as close to a trip to a traditional cobbler as one can imagine – and very detached from the aggressive and uninformed approach of so many Big Box stores. Out of the 80,000 items actively available at Shoecall.com and in-store, shoe care items evoke in Shalomov a heightened passion. “Say you have your favorite pair of shoes, shoes you love, shoes your feet are accustomed to, and it turns out the manufactur- ers don’t make them anymore. Your first line of defense to put some distance between visits to the cobbler is to take care of those shoes. And we teach customers how to do just that,” he explains. For shoppers not in the Tri-State Area, Shalomov and his team offer the same detailed and attentive service via their ubiquitous Live Support feature at Shoecall.com. Taking on this pedagogical task is a major component of Shalomov’s business model and, he believes, integral to his exponential growth. “People recognize genuine com- mitment,” he attests.
“I remember one customer at our Jamaica, Queens location in particular who bought a pair of suede Ugg boots – which is a constant best-seller – during the winter. She told me and a sales representative how much she loved the first pair that she bought, but that she wore them in some wet weather and stained them. Not only did we show her the right brush to use and the proper technique to save boots like these when they get wet with salty water, we encour- aged her not to throw the box they come in. I tell customers this all the time. When you’re not wearing your suedes, put them back in the box. It keeps them dust-free and safe. She was thrilled and I was able to work alongside one of my sales reps. Everyone was happy.” After-the-fact first aid is not the only concern at Shoe & Co. Preventative maintenance is paramount. “The heel and medial side – depending on how your feet move – on a lot of formal and daily wear for men and women tend to experience wear and tear. We put on a special patch, customized to the brand, so that you can keep your heel longer. We even professionally stretch out your shoes if they’re tight. The customer taking advantage of these services are also usually the customers who want to know how to keep their particular purchase clean and shiny. We always have the solutions to their concerns.” Providing this level of expert customer service to all walks of life may seem like a daunting or superfluous task to many retailers – limited potential employee pool coupled with training time and cost are concerns that come to mind – but for Shalomov, it is all part of walking the talk: The customer is always right. “We have a very dedicated and conscientious segment of shoe shoppers who want to know everything about the brands they’re considering buying. Not only what they sell and how they back up their product, but also what they stand for. We sell a lot of TOMS, for instance. We completely support them and their one-for-one business model – and they support us. I’m sure your readers know that for every pair of TOMS sold by their official retailers that one pair goes to help somebody in a developing nation. We love informing customers, but it’s that much better when we tell them that they’re giving back.” “So many of our customers are educated,” Shalomov elu- cidates, “some formally, some self-taught. They come from every professional field you can imagine – lawyers, medical professionals, you name it. They have a thirst for knowl- edge. It’s the Information Age. They want to know about their shoes, about their investments. People do a lot of research before they buy because there’s so much compe- tition.” Needless to say, Shalomov’s twenty-five employees must be on their toes, regardless of their footwear. “Investments,” he calls them. “I really look at shoes like an investment. If someone buys a car or a home – or any signif- icant purchase, really – there are guarantees that come with
CONGRATULATIONS TO BORIS AT SHOECALL.COM!
that. This is what we’ve done.” Shoe & Co. and Shoecall.com offer not only complimentary cleaning and guard sprays for brands like Birkenstock, Wolverine, Lugz, Cat Footwear, Dan Post, Danner, Dr. Martens, Red Wing, Sperry, Spring Step, and Sebago; they offer competitive pricing and clearance opportunities online and in-store for the penny-wise. Shalomov himself does not spend where he need not. “We’re doing things our way. We’re frugal; we have a good system and it pays off,” he boasts. “Just on Black Friday we did over $100,000 in one day. That’s over 1500 pairs. We have vendors that go the extra mile, and that goes a long way. For a relatively small company to do that many sales in one day is practically unheard of,” he says. “We were so busy that Amazon actually approached us because of the volume we were doing. We actually became the pilot program for the Metro Post Same Day Delivery in the New York metropolitan area. I spearhead- ed this, that’s how big we’ve become.” In 2013 and 2014, Shoe & Co. made over US $10 million respectively. However, MAP Policies introduced since by the US District Court for the Southern District of New York limited online retailers like Shalomov and their competi- tive nature. Not only did these MAP Policies set bound- aries on the competitive price range he was offering on top-brands at Shoecall.com, it deterred some brands from doing business online. “But many of those brands are coming back,” Shalomov explains, “because vendors realize without online sales, they cannot succeed.” “I’m still trying to grow it to the next level,” Shalomov explains. “I’m always trying to figure out what that next level is. We anticipate that next year we’ll beat the US $6 million mark and be back on track for the US $10.4 bar. By 2017-2018, we’ll be really looking at beating all of those numbers.” “I’m always trying to figure out what that next level is.”
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