Jodie Fox started Shoes of Prey to solve a problem of her own.
“I’d always liked shoes, but I never loved them,” she says, “because I couldn’t find exactly what I was looking for.”
So she started an Australian-based company five years ago that allows customers (predominately women) to design their own pair of shoes through a website, choosing everything from the colour to the material to the heel height.
Shoes of Prey is the brainchild of Fox and her two co-founders Mike Knapp and Michael Fox, former Google employees she met when studying at university in Queensland.
The shoe business which attracted $3 million worth of funding from heavyweight investors – including US venture capitalist Bill Tai, Silicon Valley investor Michael Arrington’s CrunchFund and Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes – broke even within the first two months of operating. Within two years it was writing multi-million dollar revenues.
This week, the company was named best online retailer at the 2014 Online Retail Industry Awards.
With online spending in Australia passing $2.7 billion between March and September last year, and predicted to represent more than 11% of all retail sales by 2021, Shoes of Prey is at the centre of a hot growth sector.
Fox, a banking and finance lawyer by trade, says the success was because for the first time ever women could create the shoes they had imagined.
The designs customers produced initially, she says, were extraordinary.
But the novelty wore off, and designs shifted to dateless black leather materials and classic ballet flat shapes, which now dominate the company’s sales.
The customer behaviour, too, has shown it’s not just a gimmick that people will try once for the heck of it.
“Our shoe lovers are designing more shoes and buying more often.” says Fox. “They’re not just making their one-off shoes with us, but all those classic staples as well.”
Shoes of Prey inverts an important power relationship of most retailing, where the customer’s choice is traditionally limited by the stock that management – even in online stores – has decided to buy.
“Because each shoe is made to each individual customer’s requirements, we don’t hold inventory of shoes each season that we hope women will buy from us,” says Fox.
This also means the store doesn’t lose money on excess stock left over at the end of a season.
“There is never ever a need for us to hold an end of season sale,” Fox told Business Insider. “We have developed technology that dynamically visualises the design for the consumer and we have entirely reimagined the manufacturing of women’s shoes.”
As well as the online store, Shoes of Prey also has a physical presence with a concession store in David Jones in the Sydney CBD, where people can try on their shoe size to see how they look and fit.
“I definitely still see value in a physical presence,” Fox says.
“If retail remains only about online and physical presence for even the next 10 years, I’ll be very disappointed because I think there’s a lot of room for innovation and change in that space.”
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