I speak with Steven Sashen of XeroShoes.com and we discuss how to start a shoe business.
Steven stumbled upon a unique shoe product idea associated with a popular trend in the running world: barefoot running. Steven makes “invisible” running shoes based on the traditional Mexican running sandals of the Tarahumara.
Here’s what Steven had to say about his part-time shoe business pursuit:
I started a side-biz on Nov. 23, 2009, making “barefoot” sandals (at XeroShoes.com). Actually, I have to back up. I’d been making running sandals as a hobby. Then a coach suggested I do it “for real.”
I pitched this idea to my wife, who totally shot it down. “You’re right,” I said to her. And I waited until she went to sleep and built a website. 😉 We started making money right away.
And then within four months, our “side” business became our full-time business! Now we’re about to do a retail expansion that should take us into the mid-seven figures within 12-18 months.
Starting Xero Shoes to Make Extra Money for Retirement
Steven Sashen and his wife were retired. However, with the economic downturn, the investments they were living on would not allow them to stay retired.
An inventory showed them they had about a year left until they ran out of money. So they looked around at ways to generate more income.
With Steven’s background in search engine marketing, much of their plans centered on online income streams. Neither Steven nor his wife considered that his hobby of barefoot running would contribute to their big financial breakthrough.
Steven had gotten into barefoot running to help cure some injuries he had acquired sprinting. Barefoot running comes from the Tarahumara people in the Chihuahua section of Mexico.
People there often run barefoot, or use items such as tire scraps cut to the shape of their foot. Steven designed a modern, high-tech version of a 10,000-year-old shoe.
He made the shoes for himself and a few friends, who in turn, had other friends who wanted the shoes. Steven created a pair for his barefoot running coach who encouraged him to sell them.
After seeing there was little competition in this rising niche of running, Steven launched a WordPress site to see what would happen.
In three months, he was making more than enough to cover a car payment. In six months, it was a full-time job for him and his wife.
I think if you cannot look back three to six months and go, “Wow! What an idiot!” then something is really off. I do not know that there is a way of avoiding that.
I have talked to a lot of very successful entrepreneurs, and everyone that I have met says, “Oh yeah, it was just one mistake after another that I was recovering from, and I could not have done differently because I was that person then.”
So, if anything, the advice I would give about mistakes is, “Just cut yourself some slack, shut up, and keep going.
Making Xero Shoes Work Using Online Marketing
Steven did not have a business plan at the onset.
His “plan” was to use his expertise in search engine marketing and create a lot of content, build up a website, get the content on various social media networks and article sites.
He also was looking for places online where his audience was already congregating and taking part in those conversations.
Steven is quick to point out prioritizing participation in those online conversations—on forums, message boards, and comment sections on other sites. He was careful to not pitch his product, but to offer important ideas or research or content no one else was talking about.
He says he didn’t go there to fish, but to swim with everyone else who was in the pool. Other than finding bloggers and people who would review his product, that was all the marketing he did for his entire first year.
Once it became a full-time job for both him, his wife, and a few employees, Steven reinvested his profits to grow the company.
Eventually, he says, entrepreneurs often get to where they have two choices: go all in or find external money. So he sought more money to get other people involved to grow the business faster than he would with his own resources.
Philanthropy is important to Steven and his wife, too. They take a percentage of their profits and donate them to charities that support the cultures that led to his company, such as the Tarahumara Children’s Hospital Fund.
Where to Buy Xero Shoes
As Xero shoes are getting more popular, they’re easier to find. You can buy them from the company’s website at XeroShoes.com/shop where they can be shipped to more than 94 countries. They are also sold at select retail outlets around the world.
The biggest U.S. store where you can buy them is outdoor retailer REI. You can also find select stores that carry them in Canada, Australia, and the United Kingdom. To locate the closest store to you, check out the list of Xero shoe retailers at XeroShoes.com/stores.
Listen to the Podcast
Here are the questions I ask Steven in the podcast:
- Why did you want to start making part-time money?
- What made you choose shoes/sandals?
- Describe the shoes for us.
- How did you actually make the shoes?
- Was there anyone else doing this?
- How did you catch the wave or trend of barefoot running?
- How did you make the shoe business take off?
- How did you promote the business online? What sites did you use?
- What did you build the site on? What about the e-commerce site?
- How do you manufacture the shoe?
- How much time did you spend on the shoe business?
- How soon did you generate income?
- What skills did you have going in?
- What gave you the confidence to go into business on your own?
- What about structuring the business? Did you formalize that?
- I notice the site has a toll-free number? How do you handle customer service?
- How are you supporting the culture in Mexico?
- What mistakes have you made along the way?
- How do you drive traffic to the site? Organic or Adwords?
- Tell me about your call to action on the homepage?
To see the full transcript, click show