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How to start a shoe business one step at a time


Key takeaways

  • Choose your niche, target market, and business model to set your shoe store apart from your competitors
  • Design your first shoe line from scratch to stand out with a unique product, or work with existing brands or white label manufacturers to simplify your path to launch
  • Consider setting up an ecommerce store to increase sales, even if you have a physical location

Shoes are one of the functional fashion items we can’t live without. Whether they’re pumps, hikers, joggers, or dress shoes, people spend more than $91 billion per year on footwear alone in the United States. 

Starting a shoe business—whether ecommerce or brick-and-mortar—can be the right route to running the shop of your dreams. Start here on your path toward owning a shoe store.

How to start a shoe business

In 2020, the average U.S. consumer spent $314 on footwear. As shoes get worn down and fashion trends change, people add new pairs to their collections and often return to their favorite brands. To help new and returning customers find shoes that fit their lifestyles (and make a profit along the way), follow these steps.

1. Choose your niche

The top-performing shoe brands typically focus on selling a few types of shoes rather than a wide range of footwear. When your small business is well-known in a specific niche, potential customers will trust your brand to meet their needs. 

For example, when customers need running shoes, they know their local athletic shoe store will carry them. Unlike shoe companies that sell a little of everything, these niche sport shoe stores typically carry a wider variety of running shoes.

If you’re not sure what type of shoe to sell, do market research to identify unmet areas or growing needs. For instance, expect increased demand for kids’ shoe stores in a family-friendly town.

You can also build a niche around how your shoes are created. Customized or handmade shoes, for example, can stand out from mass-manufactured designs.

2. Define your target market

Understanding your target market will help you flesh out your business model and further differentiate your brand in the shoe industry. Plus, once you’ve identified your ideal customer base, you can choose the right marketing and sales strategies to attract them.

Shoe business owners have a lot of options for target markets. In addition to specific consumer groups (like soon-to-be brides or grooms or upper-middle-class professional women), you can consider targeting other businesses. 

Selling to businesses, rather than consumers, is a great way to get your shoe designs in retail stores without opening one yourself. While managing distribution and client relationships can be challenging and time-consuming for wholesale companies, you can benefit from selling your products in bulk rather than selling one or two pairs of shoes at a time to customers.

Once again, do market research to identify who your competitors are targeting and which groups have underserved needs. Using this information, narrow down a target market based on demographics, needs, interests, or geographic location.

3. Write a business plan

As you’re learning how to start a shoe business, start drafting your five-year plan. A great business plan clarifies what your company does, helps you make business decisions, and acts as a roadmap for your shoe shop‘s future.

Start by defining the basics of your business. Write a business description that includes:

Then, list all your expected startup costs. Knowing all the one-time expenses you need to cover before you launch—from business filing fees to leather stitching machines—will help you build a financial strategy and calculate how much outside funding you need.

Additionally, itemize your monthly expenses, such as the cost of inventory or raw materials and credit card processing fees. This way, you’ll know how much revenue you need to make each month to break even. You should also account for marketing strategy expenses in your business plan

4. Register your business

Most shoe store owners—with the exception of sole proprietors and partnerships—must register their business before they can legally operate. Fortunately, the business registration process is fairly straightforward and costs less than $300 in most states. Head to your state agency’s website to file online or request paperwork to mail in.

Additionally, some states may require you to carry a business license or permit before you start selling shoes.

In addition to registering with your state, apply for an employer identification number (EIN) with the IRS. This is legally required for corporations, partnerships, and companies with employees and usually required for opening a business bank account or accessing loans.

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5. Get the funding you need

Refer to your startup costs and monthly expenses you identified in your business plan to determine if you need outside funding to bring your business idea to life. If you do, consider whether you want to crowdfund from friends and family, apply for bank loans, pitch to investors, or get funding another way.

If you have enough cash to start your shoe business on your own, simply open a business bank account to start managing your company funds separately from your personal funds.

6. Curate or design your first shoe line

Your first shoe line is your opportunity to “wow” potential customers with your sense of style and functionality that your shoe company will be known for in the long run.

If you’re starting a shoe business that sells shoes from existing brands—like a Famous Footwear or Designer Warehouse—start making relationships with shoe designers you want to work with. Some larger brands have online applications for shoe retailers that want to buy wholesale from their company—for instance, Nike’s Electronic Retailer Application.

If you want to sell your own shoe line, there are two basic routes: 

  • Invest in raw materials, design shoes from scratch, and work with a shoe manufacturer to produce your products
  • Purchase a white-label product from manufacturers on sites like Thomasnet, Maker’s Row, or AliExpress, which allows you to sell a mass-manufactured shoe design under your brand name

Once you have a shoe line ready, decide how to price your products. Consider how much you’re paying for materials, inventory, labor, shipping, and packaging per order to ensure you’re able to turn a profit.

7. Create a marketing plan

Having a marketing plan will help you reach your target market and bring in new customers. Determine which channels your audience uses most often and what marketing strategies would best attract them, then create a list of the specific tactics you want to use. 

For example, if your brand targets teens and 20-somethings, you might want to market your business on TikTok and Instagram. If targeting Gen X, Facebook marketing is more likely to reach your audience.

Harnessing the power of review sites like Yelp can also increase your visibility and help build your business’s reputation. To start, add or claim your Yelp Business Page, then add your business information and high-quality photos. One study shows that 97% of people make a purchase after visiting Yelp, so having a solid Yelp presence before your grand opening can draw shoppers to your new retail business

To maximize your reach, you can also invest in Yelp Ads, which enable your business page to show up above relevant search results and on your competitors’ pages. This means customers are more likely to find you while searching for the products you provide.

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8. Set up your shoe store

The last step in starting a shoe business is setting up your shoe store. If you’re opening a brick-and-mortar shoe shop, design an enticing storefront that grabs the attention of local passersby—perhaps with eye-catching retail signage or a beautiful shoe display. Within your store, make it easy for customers to try on shoes.

If you’re setting up an online shoe store, create a virtual storefront on platforms like Amazon or eBay. Alternatively, you can use easy website builders like Shopify or Squarespace to create a beautiful, branded ecommerce storefront without any coding experience.

Set up an online store on at least one platform even if you have a physical location. More than 80% of consumers shop online worldwide, so doubling as an ecommerce seller is a huge opportunity for you to sell more products.

Launch a successful shoe store business

When you know how to start a shoe business, you can successfully build a brand that customers love. Start shaping your company by defining your niche and target market, then register your business and connect with shoe designers, manufacturers, and distributors. Before you launch, create and implement your marketing plan and set up an enticing shoe store that’s eye-catching and easy to navigate.

As your new business starts to take off, consider more ideas for increasing retail sales to grow your shoe store faster.

The information above is provided for educational and informational purposes only. It is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice and may not be suitable for your circumstances. Unless stated otherwise, references to third-party links, services, or products do not constitute endorsement by Yelp.