Jodie Fox is darting around a grocery store when I call. It’s her birthday, and she’s between dinner at a restaurant and celebrations in Washington DC with her colleagues.
Her current project is opening physical stores in the US for Shoes of Prey, which started as an ambitious Australian website that offered customisable shoes.
“The first one was in Seattle on November 20 and then there has been five more stores. The sixth will be in two weeks’ time,” Fox says.
This is the life of a startup founder whose company is moving to the next level. Fox is rolling out Shoes of Prey in Nordstrom department stores, the latest step in the retailer’s growth plan.
Fox said Shoes of Prey’s expansion into bricks and mortar was just a part of the natural growth of the company, what customers wanted.
“We started going offline because the customers wanted to know what the shoes looked like in real life, and that meant they wanted to know what the leather felt like on their feet and all those sorts of things,” she said.
It was this realisation that led the company to open two stores in Sydney: one in David Jones in the CBD and another in Bondi Junction.
But they had their sights set even further, and last November announced that they would also open physical stores in the US via Nordstrom.
The move was also a major strategy play for the online startup says Fox.
“The US is currently our second biggest market outside Australia – it could become the largest because of the sheer numbers,” sais Fox.
The transition is a significant challenge.
For the last six months, Fox has had a team of 12 employees on the road working to turn her Australian online footwear startup into a physical store within one of the biggest department stores in America, if not the world.
“It’s incredibly intense,” she says, leaving the supermarket to what sounds like a busy main street with passing cars and the distant siren. “Sorry,” she says, “there are always so many sirens in America.”
The move from digital has been “a huge learning curve… especially in the speed that we’ve had to do it.”
Her first challenge was the lack of an established network in the US market. “We don’t have the same relationships here, and we don’t have the same reputation,” she says.
“So it’s very much been starting from scratch again.
“The things to take into consideration have been not just the store installations and training of staff, but also the recruiting and more.”
Managing the expansion team
One of the biggest issues she has faced during the process is making sure her team doesn’t get over-worked.
“The only problem that we have is not that we would ever miss anything, but rather that the team would work so hard that they would burn out.
“It’s an interesting circumstance to be in and brings on a whole new set of issues to manage.”
She admits the step up from a startup into “a sophisticated company” has also meant Shoes of Prey has had to learn to operate at a new level. The old Pareto philosophy that’s so natural in startups – that 80% of the results come from 20% of the activity as the company works hard at intense innovation – doesn’t necessarily translate easily to other business environments.
“Startups are very scrappy, we hustle to get things done and we do play the 80-20 rule quite frequently,” she says.
“But with these guys the 80-20 rule is not enough, their level of planning is quite different.
“That’s definitely been one of the areas where we have had to shift our approach a little bit, and for the better because as a company we’re getting to that stage where we need to do some growing in that area.”
She said that finding the right partner to achieve assist this growth was also a very important decision.
“Even though they are such an enormous organisation, I can confidently say that they have never treated us as the little guy. They’ve always treated us a partner.”
While negotiations on volumes, profits, and returns were a big part of the Nordstrom transition, Fox said getting to grips with the physical aspects of operating in a department store were part of the learning process.
“We had to think about staffing and branding, the physical set up and recruitment, and we weren’t great at it to start off with,” she admitted, “but we’ve now learned a lot around that.”
One way they fixed this was by making sure all that every employee within the business knew what the customer expected at the point of sale within a store.
“Every single person at SOP does shifts in store – no matter who you are,” Fox said.
“For example when we put an engineer in the store they are able to see what naturally happens in the process of looking after a customer and it helps them understand what needs to happen in the customer journey online as well.”
One thing that hasn’t dramatically changed is the business model.
“We’re still doing everything on demand and we’re still customised,” she says.
But what do the customers think of SOP’s in-store presence in the US?
“It’s been a massive pleasure to turn up in stores to speak to the customers. There’s such a beautiful optimism around what we are doing.
“And it’s definitely translating in the sales. While it’s still too early to talk about the numbers… we’re excited to let you know when we can.”
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