Independent family shoe retailer Tradehome Shoes, which celebrated its 100th anniversary last year, is in rapid expansion mode, launching new stores across the United States
So far in 2022, Tradehome has opened five locations – in Rogers, Ark.; Spokane, Washington; Columbus and Cincinnati, Ohio; and Vienna, West Virginia
Two more stores will bow this month, at the Mall of America in Bloomington, Minnesota; and in Chattanooga, Tennessee, followed by two more gates later that year. This will give the company a total of 132 doors in 23 states by the end of the year. And in 2023 and beyond, it aims to add 10-12 stores per year.
At a time when many shoe retailers have closed or been taken over by national chains, Tradehome bucked the trend, posting record sales numbers in 2021, according to President and CEO Justin Kehrwald. “Previously, 2019 was the strongest year for us. And we beat 2019 by 46% in 2021,” he said, adding that the growth came from comparable store performance as well as new markets.
Founded in 1921 in Superior, Wisconsin, Tradehome Shoes is now headquartered in Cottage Grove, Minnesota, a suburb of Minneapolis. For the majority if its history the company was privately owned, but in 2014 it became 100% employee owned, or what is known as an ESOP, in which all Tradehome workers have shares. in the company and receive the profits directly.
Corporate strategy is developed at the executive level, although as Lorne Streiff, Director of Marketing and E-Commerce has pointed out, “As an executive group, we see our role as being the store and staff support staff. I believe it helps them feel appreciated. And so our turnover is well below the industry average. Once people find us, they like to stay with us. (Tradehome also pays 20-25% more than the starting salary in the communities where it opens.)
And the fact that workers had a vested interest in the company also helped overcome the supply chain crisis, Kehrwald explained. “Our warehouse workers are also owners, so they see it as a badge of honor when we release a product and it sells well, before the brand has even posted it on their site,” a- he declared.
Besides the ownership structure, Kehrwald said Tradehome has a traditional business model based on adapting customers and providing high-level service. “We strive to provide the old fashioned independent shoe retailer service. We just do it in busy malls,” he said.
The average store layout is 1,300 square feet of display space and 1,300 square feet of warehouse space. Tradehome also operates a fledgling e-commerce site that launched in 2020 and serves as a complement to physical stores.
As the company continues to grow, localization is a key part of its strategy. Each store has an owner-operator who is empowered to create a region-specific assortment and develop their own floor plan, and forge partnerships with local healthcare professionals, non-profit organizations or groups race. “We really want them to feel like the face of the company in each of our markets,” Kehrwald said.
The company also strives to offer a unique selection of top brands, including sneakers from Hoka One One, Brooks and On, and casual looks from Birkenstock, Hey Dude and many more.
Brand partners claim that the Tradehome formula is beneficial on multiple fronts.
“Full-service retailers like Tradehome help build brand awareness and create brand loyalty,” said Katie Wagner, Vice President of Americas Sales for Hey Dude. “We’ve seen high conversion rates when introducing our new products at retailers like Tradehome, and it has a lot to do with the trust associates have built with their customers to make product recommendations that go above and beyond. expectations.”
While Tradehome is optimistic about its future prospects, its executives acknowledge that the competitive landscape has changed with more brands going direct to consumers. Kehrwald said his team had “difficult conversations” with vendors about pricing integrity and consumer acquisition, and severed ties with some who treated the retailer as a competitor rather than a partner.
Ultimately, however, Kehrwald and Streiff — who both started in the salesroom — believe the onus is on the stores. “Our analogy has always been, it’s not the door that goes up, it’s the curtain that goes up,” Streiff said. “You have to create an environment that invites people in.”
Kehrwald added, “If someone buys a Zappos shoe that we’re wearing, shame on us for not being entertaining enough to shop with us.”