Food trucks began winning the stomachs of Columbians a few years ago. From hot dogs to Jamaican fare or down-home biscuits, Columbians on the go won’t go hungry — or shoeless, either, if local entrepreneur Nathan Fleischmann has his way. In April, Fleischmann rolled out his mobile shoe store, Stadium Shoes.
“Columbia has been enjoying how fun it can be to have food trucks around town,” Fleischmann says, “but it has not had the opportunity for other forms on the vanguard of contemporary retail culture, such as mobile retail beyond food and things like pop-up shops and digital kiosk shopping.”
The mobile shoe store operates out of a 20-foot-long converted Freightliner truck. The interior of the truck was designed with a modular system, so that stainless steel shelves can be moved around as inventory and customer preferences change. Under-the-shelf LED lights help showcase inventory items and a hardwood laminate floor lends a boutique-like feel to the space. When the back and side doors to the truck hang open, the effect is airy, welcoming and comfortable.
Stadium Shoes is a reality after more than three years of planning, research and crowd funding. Fleischmann raised $7,286 from 63 backers in his Kickstarter campaign and received a cash prize of $3,000 for placing second in the 2013 Regional Economic Development Inc. BOOM pitch competition.
The Stadium Shoes truck has the capacity to stock up to 100 pairs of men’s and women’s shoes at a time, ranging in price from $18 to $130; most shoes fall in the $30 to $60 price range. In the first few months of operation, Fleischmann happily declares that “business is in line with the financial projections I initially made.”
Fleischmann maintains a permanent warehouse for extra stock materials and operates an e-commerce site. “The e-commerce site provides my customers with an added layer of convenience,” he says. “Sometimes people have tried something on in the truck and decide to purchase it later. The website will also serve as a destination for customers during the colder months, helping to stabilize an otherwise seasonal business idea.”
Stadium Shoes carries products in the active/casual category known as fashion sportswear. Brands include Volley — a popular brand in Australia, Fleishmann says — Gola, GBX, Nine West and Havianas. “Gola are really cool shoes from the UK and Havianas are the premier flip-flop from Brazil,” Fleischmann says. The shop also offers accessories — including sunglasses, drawstring bags and socks — from designers such as Happy Socks, Socksmith and Jonathan Adler.
Fleischmann acknowledges that much of his success is due to support from the Columbia business community.
“Starting a business, especially on a shoestring budget, requires you to wear many hats,” he says. “Being a ‘solopreneur’ has only been possible because of other supportive business-minded folks in Columbia.”
In addition to owning and operating Stadium Shoes, Fleischmann currently works as the director of annual giving at Columbia College. Fellow Cougars and REDI pitch winners Brynne and Bailye Stansberry own TwoAlity, a collection of clear boots with interchangeable liners. Fleischmann is both a fan and supporter of the brand and carries TwoAlity in the Stadium Shoes truck. The Stansberry twins work with Stadium Shoes on smaller inventory purchases, he says.
Fleischmann concedes one of his biggest challenges is educating consumers about the Stadium Shoes truck and its concept. “Sometimes when I am out with the truck, I can see the curiosity in people’s faces, but I can also see a moment of hesitation because they’ve never interfaced with a shoe truck,” he says. “I have to remind myself to actively encourage them to walk through the truck — even if they aren’t interested in buying and just want to see what a mobile shoe boutique looks like — and that’s OK; that’s part of the fun, just showing people the truck.”
The entrepreneur sees a gap in Columbia between national chain footwear stores and high-end or specialty shoe shops. Fleischmann says he hopes Stadium Shoes will fill that niche with accessible, comfortable, affordable and stylish shoes from around the world.
“As a boutique, I really want to provide people with a mix of brands they know and trust, and brands that are popular in other parts of the world that they may not have had the pleasure of trying yet,” he says.
Fleischmann plans to bring Stadium Shoes to environments and events in which people are on their feet for a long time — tailgaters, sporting events, collegiate affairs or festivals — and offer consumers the convenience of comfortable options that look and feel good.
“That’s really what the point of the mobile retail concept, to pop up in places where a traditional brick and mortar may not be able to exist permanently,” he says. “It gives people the chance to have a retail experience like they’ve never had before.”
Follow the Stadium Shoes truck on Twitter @StadiumShoes for upcoming shop dates and locations, and visit www.stadiumshoes.com to learn more about the truck, to schedule an appearance, or to browse and order its inventory.