This is a breath of fresh air for the world of retail; Sarah has the ideal business mindset with the genuine ability to react swiftly to feedback because she personally is designing.Some characters are infectious and Sarah’s passion and imagination for shoes makes her an exciting member of the fashion retail industry. After chatting with her I was left in no doubt about her remarkable ‘shoe love’. Sarah has put the personal touch back into fashion has the right formula of designing beautiful shoes, being exclusive in the market and caring about the customer.
Tell us a little about your background before launching Shoesales.com.au.
I started my fashion adventure at Figgins, on the shop floor, to pay my way through university. When the opportunity arose I was interviewed to start a buying cadetship and I never looked back…the rest is history.
Later in my career, I took over the buying for Evelyn Miles followed by Mollini and then eventually Midas. Jeff Figgins and I became senior buyers at Figgins; my role was predominantly design and footwear orientated.
I travelled overseas, highlighted trends, developed products and extended the product range within the stores. Product training and merchandising strategy was also part of my responsibility.
I noticed you have different currencies on your website which countries are you shipping shoes to?
We have now started to sell across the world and our client base continues to extend regularly. The first year, we focused on Australia and New Zealand and after numerous requests from overseas we opened up to America, UK, stemming into Canada and setting new endeavours of Hong Kong and China. Our shoes fit cultures and fashions from all over so it makes sense to go global.
Who is your target market?
Online savvy shoppers aged 16 to 50. It is essentially for those who lead busy lives and enjoy the online shopping experience; they know what they want and where to find it.
We have different exclusive collections for different demographics; ShooBiz is an iconic label from the 70s, remaining every bit as popular today. We have maintained the handwriting of fashion at an affordable price.
Miss S collection are shoes that are specked up with leather lining and socks, quirky, innovative fashion. We also have Raspini, our premium label which had previously been used in our Midas stores. It’s about looking exceptional and providing unrivalled comfort; the Mercedes of shoes if you will.
Evelyn Miles is our bridal and special occasion designs. They are extremely precious featuring glorious leathers, Swarovski crystals and suede outsoles, targeting the lady that wants the red carpet experience.
Our products are affordable because we are an online business; our margins reflect our online world. We’re not paying for rent for stores so why should our clients.
Are weddings generating additional income?
We are finding that bridal parties are big business for us; they order five or six pairs of shoes because of our free delivery and 100-day return policy. They can do all that research online have shoes delivered within 1 to 3 working days. They take them to the dressmaker if they are not right they return them.
Weddings are stressful enough so every little bit helps in preparation for the big day
What are the main social media tools and how often do you update your social media? How important do you feel this is in today’s market?
I think it’s incredibly important because we’re leading digital lives; many of our clients communicate with us directly via social media platforms.
Facebook is really engaging because we’re having a conversation with our direct client. I do the social media. I get a lot of my feedback from clients to use when building the collection. I’m just so passionate about shoes that I want to share that love with the direct client. I want to make a difference in someone’s day and not constantly posting about fashion.
We are giving our company a face and a tactile person that actually cares about our customer. I’m able to personalise the content and engage with our follower’s daily and it may even be on a personal level, not just shoe or fashion related.
Facebook’s been a massive vehicle of growth for us and Twitter is the latest big development but it is very industry related so more about making contact with media journalists which remains essential.
Instagram has taken off like a rocket; we do daily shoe of the day pieces and everybody is interested to see what our office staff are wearing. They also want to see what Lucy Holmes, one of our ambassador’s is wearing. It’s not always shoe related it can be completely random and we also use Pinterest using storyboards with which our other clients refer to for outfit inspirations.
It’s about engaging with the customer it’s subliminal and it’s your brand at a subconscious level. It’s all very visual and full of impact; just how I like it, the sales message is consistently there and that’s the marketing vehicle.
We retain the care factor and that honesty; we’re connecting with our clients. The digital world has become very clinical and I come from the world of retail where the care factor is very personal. It sums up what we are all about.
Tell me a little about free delivery and 3-hour service within Melbourne Metro area?
It is on the way… we have partnered with the company ‘Want It Now’ and will be offering this express service to our Melbourne customers imminently. Our warehouse is in Melbourne so orders are dispatched everyday with the last order going out at 5 o’clock and most Melbourne people receiving their shoes the next morning. Across the country it would be 3 to 5 Business days depending on geography and accessibility.
Where do you go and what do you read for inspiration and who is your business mentor?
My own inspiration has changed quite a lot over the last few years. Previously I had spent significant time looking at what the worldwide designer trends were offering. Now I’m relying on my vast experience, 20 years of designing shoes with what I like. My style is almost a bit random and quirky. I’m feeling more confident with my own skills, ability and experience of putting a shoe together. I love going to the markets and falling in love with a vintage brocade fabric and using it on my shoes, adding a big purple bow.
So I guess I’m not really following anyone these days, it’s what I like and I’ve become more of a designer. I deal with one factory and have fun. Playing with different heels, lasts, fabrics and trimmings, coming up with the shoe that has a winning combination.
We are not concerned with what everyone else is doing in the marketplace, we aim to have product that is exclusive to our clients. We want to dominate a niche market in pure play, fashion footwear. Our intention is innovation not imitation; it’s about giving our girls something different and something exclusive.
My business partner Steven Zdraveski (pictured above) is also my mentor. He has an extensive IT background and we have forged the perfect marriage. Steve brings to the table all the IT, I bring the fashion background, design and retail experience. We collaborate on all facets of our business and together we create a brilliant bounce board, without stepping on each other’s toes. Steve doesn’t want to do what I do and I don’t want to do what he does. We’re always pushing each other to our limits. Steven and I have this amazing relationship where we don’t gobble each other up – we need each other – it’s a great combination.
My husband is a third-generation cobbler. He has a lot to offer by being an entrepreneurial thinker; he stretches me and gets me out of my comfort zone. I get a little bit ‘right brained’ and he brings me back to the real world with a bump!
What is the biggest lesson you have learnt in business?
We can get caught up by external influences, staying true and honest with the path we are taking remains my driving ethos. I’m passionate about shoes, I love shoes, I love fashion and pushing the fashion boundaries. I strive to offer something different and that’s what I’ve always been about. If you stay true to that formula it has to work.
Sarah Figgins at her desk designing the new seasons styles.
Sarah I believe you sketch every show, choose all the fabrics and finalises every construction detail. Is this what makes your business unique?
I spend time working at the factory with lasts and fabrics, analysing our best sellers and any clients feed back. I have a great respect for our client and listen to all ideas and suggestions. That sets us apart from the rest. Applying commercial requests with my own unique styling.
We have healthy sales, a growing database and loyal ShoeSales VIPs, so we must be doing something right. Our business is going forward. I have always believed firmly that “if you give a girl the right pair of shoes she can conquer the world”. I’m always wearing sensational heels, so watch out!
For more information go to www.shoesales.com.au.
Sarah Figgins with one of her gorgeous designs