Nearly 15 years ago, in October 2005, I opened SoleLution in Portishead, followed by our second store in Clifton Village in 2008. Previously I had no experience of shoes, other than my attempts to buy them, and little experience in retail. I want to tell you a little a bit about my journey and the reasons behind SoleLution.
In 2004, my husband and I returned from 4 months travelling. We had been lucky to work in jobs that had given us sabbaticals, but we knew we no longer wanted to continue living and working in London. I was born and grew up in Portishead, and despite swearing blind I would never return as I went off to Uni, with each return back to see family I had fallen back in love with the place and so had Kev. We decided we would move back. Place to live sorted, now for a job!
After several interviews, I decided that I no longer wanted a career in finance. I wanted to run my own business as my Dad had done, but what? I had no idea. Then my Mum said the words that would change everything! “Portishead needs a shoe shop! We haven’t had one for at least 20 years”. I am not going to lie, I thought she had lost the plot. What you have to understand is that I hated shopping (still not a great lover now believe it or not), had a severe dislike of shoes and had not worked in retail, other than a Saturday job in a bakery in Clifton when I was 16. But the seed had been sewn!
My Mum and Dad - my inspiration!
Over the next few weeks, I started to think about why I hated shopping and why I disliked shoes. Most of this came down to suffering poor customer service on numerous occasions. I have wide and reasonably large feet and often received withering looks from sales assistants when I asked to try shoes, sandals or boots on – did I really think I was going to be able to get my feet into those?!
My challenge - Could I really open a shop that would make every customer feel valued, that offered shoes with comfort and style, AND that would help every customer, from the youngest to the oldest, find the right shoe for their sole?
As SoleLution would be the only shoe shop in Portishead, a town rapidly growing in all age groups, I wanted SoleLution to be somewhere for Mum or Dad to come with their child, whether for their first pair of shoes, trainers or school shoes, a place for them to shop for themselves, recommend to their friends, parents and families. I needed to understand as much as I could about fitting shoes and so I trained with the Society of Shoe Fitters. I learnt lots including
- how to use the different types of measuring gauges and why they only act as a guide;
- how the foot develops
- how shoes can impact how we walk and therefore not only our feet, but our knees, hips, back and even our neck;
- that the materials used, the style of the shoe, the method of construction, and even the factory they are manufactured in can impact how a shoe fits
- and most importantly how to fit and sell shoes that won’t come back to customers that do!
During the training, I soon realised that there is no normal foot and why thankfully, there is no standard shoe size. Very rarely do we have a customer with an “average” foot, and most of us complain our feet are awkward - one foot larger than the other, wide or narrow feet, a high instep, a flat foot, the list goes on – some hereditary, some caused by wearing badly fitting shoes. I am a prime example of not having “normal” feet:
- I have a much wider than average foot that doesn’t fit a normal “standard” width shoe. For years I had always gone up at least a size to get the extra width, for my shoes to feel comfortable and for my feet not to feel squished. It never occurred to me to look for a wider fitting shoe!
- I have short toes – shoes are designed with the assumption that your heel to ball measurement (from your heel to the joint at the base of your big toe) is about 70% of the full length of your foot and your toes the other 30%. In my case I have an 80/20 split. Shoes that fit in the length never seemed to bend in the right place. So if you see me wearing sandals and I look like I have growing room – I don’t, I just have short toes.
- My toes don’t touch the ground! It was summer, we were preparing to open SoleLution, so I was newly obsessed with feet and we were all were wondering around barefoot, just before we sat down for dinner. Suddenly I notice that everyone’s toes touched the floor – odd, mine didn’t! I blurted my observation out that they were all odd because their toes touched the ground, to be met with a lot of confused faces. I now know, I have extra padding under my metatarsals, so my toes don’t rest on the floor. Another reason I have found shoes uncomfortable in the past. I need shoes that have a deeper toe box or a soft upper that doesn’t push down on my toes.
My point is that each of our feet are individual, we only get the one pair and we need to look after them. My aim, at SoleLution, is that, by using our expertise, whether that is measuring and fitting or simply advising, we will help each and every customer find the right shoe, sandal, boot or slipper for their sole, from their first to their last pair. We love all feet!
Inside our Clifton shop