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Shields for Heels and Proof in the Printing
Protect Your Pumps, LLC, is in the business of saving fancy female footwear for not only the wealthy and well-to-do, but also for the woman of average income who has scrimped and saved enough to buy a pair (or two) from Jimmy Choo’s or Manolo Blahnik’s signature product lines, among others.
To keep the expensive shoes looking great from heel to toe and top to bottom, Kathryn Jackson (a Tuskegee University business graduate who launched Pumps in 2011-and a former fancy shoe seller at Nieman Marcus) had the idea and concept of developing clear, adhesive shields that attach to the soles, with the end result of staying as sleek and shiny as the uppers (the shields are manufactured by a Pennsylvania company, cost $7 to $10 a pair and come in packages of three, 10 or 20 pairs. They usually should be replaced after being worn five to 10 times).
“It is a bit of a niche market,” said Jackson. “There are a lot of women who wouldn’t think to protect the bottom of their shoe.” But enough do, and did-to the point where the shields have won national attention, from being featured on the “Today” show and Shape magazine to mentions on social media and from fashion bloggers.
The world-renowned brand Christian Louboutin (of the red soles) has posed a challenge, however. In 2013, there were complaints on some fashion forums about the red paint peeling off when the shields were removed; some Louboutin wearers had no problem, but there were enough that did.
At first, Jackson simply advised not using her shields on that particular brand; eventually, after surveying customers about their experiences, she issued special instructions for Louboutins on her website (there’s similar information on a card that is shipped with the shields. One effective method, for example, is to use two pairs of shields, leaving the bottom one on permanently).
Jackson’s overall return rate has been less than 1 percent during four years in business: “Aside from the Louboutin issue that a few people have had, people really love the product,” she said.
Revenue rose about 60 percent in 2014 compared with 2013; and Jackson recently received an award from the U.S. Small Business Administration as Wisconsin’s Young Entrepreneur of the Year.
Plans for further growth include offering monthly subscriptions at discounted prices, traveling to prime U.S. markets (New York, Houston, Miami and Los Angeles) to showcase the shields at shoe parties and other events and eventually developing other shoe-care products (if sales continue to rise).
“For women, a good pair of shoes just gives you the right attitude,” Jackson said. “When you put on a good pair of shoes and you step out, you just step out with more confidence. You stand a little taller. You feel a little stronger-like the world is yours to conquer.”
Proof in the Printing
Orchard Street Press was originally set up to provide limited editions of logo-printed T-shirts for Milwaukee-area bands, but the band business turned out to be just a small part of the company's sales; seven years later, Orchard Street has not only expanded to a larger location with more employees, it also now supplies screen-printed shirts and other apparel to dozens of area restaurants, bars, fundraising and festival events, nonprofit groups and other businesses. The expansion also includes a website, www.orchardstreetapparel.com (printed clothing and accessories) and a product line at more than 30 stores in not only Wisconsin, but seven other states!
Run by Whitney and Julie Teska, Orchard Street became very successful through good, old-fashioned word-of-mouth ("Local businesses love to support other local businesses," Julie Teska said. "So we get a lot of customers that way.") and their excellent work (the husband-and-wife couple are very talented designers and screen printers).
Orchard Street Press had its beginnings with a financial prize of $7,500 the Teskas won through a University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee business plan contest for students and recent alumni. "We were not business students," said Julie Teska (she has a bachelor's in journalism; husband Whitney is a history graduate). But the couple took advantage of the mentoring that was provided through the contest, learning to write and put together business plans.
Orchard Street was also pitched as environmentally friendly (using soy-based biodegradable cleaners and water-based ink, for example). And the Teskas knew their market well, personally friends with many band members. The contest judges were impressed-and won over.
Source: “Saving soles: Shields protect women’s investments”-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, July 12, 2015 and "From band T-shirts, a growing business is fashioned"-Milwaukee Journal Sentinel (TNS)-The (Sunday) Vindicator, March 15, 2015