How to Start a Shoe Store

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If you love fashion and are always looking for the next emerging trend, then starting a shoe store might be a good fit for your talents. And, if you’re in an area that lacks a shoe store or if you’ve found a need for a specialty shoe store, you might be looking at a valuable opportunity. Starting a shoe store will require work and a significant initial investment, but it also means that you have the chance to build your business into a successful, sustainable operation that can support both you and your employees. 

Business Overview

Shoe stores offer customers the ability to come in, browse, touch, and try on shoes, which is something that online stores cannot offer. Shoe stores may specialize in certain types of shoes – athletic shoe stores are common, as are discount stores. Some stores carry merchandise just for certain demographics, like women, men, or children. Most stores have a large inventory of both styles and sizes that buyers can purchase and use the same day, which means that these stores must have large budgets for inventory and significant storage space. 

Industry Summary

Because consumer spending drives the shoe store industry, the increase in consumer spending from 2014 to 2019 has led to increased shoe purchases. However, according to IBIS World, during this time consumer shopping habits also changed, and consumers bought more shoes online or in department shops than at shoe stores. As a result, the shoe store industry experienced annual growth of just 0.2 percent from 2014 to 2019. During that time, the number of businesses declined to 28,922 as of 2019. In 2019, the shoe industry is expected to bring in $37 billion in revenue.

Owning a shoe store today is challenging because of the presence of competition in the form of other shoe stores and online businesses. Foot Locker Retail and Designer Brands, Inc. currently hold the largest share of the brick-and-mortar shoe store market, but all physical stores face stiff competition from online retailers. Online retailers are often able to offer the same or better inventory variety that physical retailers can provide, and often have more size options and greater stock. With the shift to online shopping, consumers may choose to buy shoes online rather than going to a shoe store. 

Industry Trends

A number of trends are currently shaping the shoe industry. In 2019, the industry experienced a disconnect between the retail seasons and the actual weather outside. According to the NPD Group, because spring was slow to arrive, the industry experienced a slow first quarter. While February marks the beginning of the retail spring season, winter boots and fashion boots were still in high demand. Consumers tend to buy when they have a need for a product, rather than purchasing shoes in advance, so shoe stores need to be able to anticipate need and time the availability of their inventory to reflect that need. 

Sustainability has also become a major focus when it comes to shoes. Both millennials and generation Z customers are looking for sustainable and eco-friendly options from brands and retailers, alike. Retailers have responded by creating online “sustainability shops” that promote the shoes they have available that are responsibly sourced. This transition has proven to be a challenge for established shoe stores and brands; while these brands can access and produce sustainably made shoes, finding tasteful, honest ways to communicate news about these sustainable products is challenging. 

Target Market

The target market of a shoe store will depend on the store’s specialty and the niche that it falls within. For instance, athletic shoe stores will market to athletes, while luxury shoe stores will market to a different audience than a value or discount shoe store. 

The potential market for a general shoe store is wide, but by specializing a bit, shoe stores can develop their brands and target a much more specific audience, which can make advertising and marketing efforts more effective. 

Skills, experience, and education useful in running a shoe store

While starting a shoe store doesn’t require a business degree, certain skills and experiences can make this venture easier and more successful. 

Awareness of trends. Customers demand that shoe stores have the latest trends – and a variety of them. A store owner needs to be aware of both current and evolving trends in order to keep the store well-stocked and appealing to customers. 

Experience within the shoe industry. Some experience in the shoe industry is helpful, but not necessarily required. An understanding of shoe styles, manufacturers and brands, materials, and fit will allow a store owner to be more helpful to customers, allowing for a memorable customer service experience. 

Organization skills. Organization is so important to a shoe store’s success. A store owner needs to be well-organized in terms of tracking inventory and maintaining a budget, but that organization is important within the physical store, itself. A well-organized and tidy store makes it easier for customers to find what they’re looking for, and it also makes for a more enjoyable shopping experience. 

Customer service skills. A shoe store owner needs to have strong customer service and interpersonal skills, since creating a positive customer experience can lead to valuable repeat customers and good reviews. A store owner who offers great customer service can also lead by example, teaching these skills to employees.  

Management skills. Nearly any shoe store will need multiple employees, which means a store owner will need to have good management skills. From interviewing and hiring staff to training and overseeing staff, this skill set is important for any store owner. 

Costs to Start a Shoe Store

The cost of starting a shoe store depends on many factors, including the store’s size and the type and volume of inventory carried. Expect to spend about $60,000 and up to open a smaller store. Larger stores with significant inventory can cost upwards of $150,000 to start. 

Common startup costs for a shoe store include: 

  • Building renovation costs
  • Inventory
  • Furniture like shelving, checkout counters, and chairs
  • Cash register
  • Signage


Steps to Starting a Shoe store 

Step 1. Write your Business Plan

After coming up with the idea, the next step in starting your business should be to write a business plan.  Not only will a bank require you to have a business plan, but multiple studies have shown that a business plan helps increase the odds of starting a successful business.

How to write a business plan
Free sample business plans

Step 2. Form a Business Entity

A business entity refers to how a business is legally organized to operate. There are four primary business entities to choose from which include the sole proprietorship, partnership, corporation and LLC.  Each type of entity has its own pros and cons such as liability exposure, costs and administrative requirements. 

Related: Comparison of Business Entities

Step 3. Select your Location

Having a location with a prime, high-traffic location is usually beneficial for a retail shoe store.  Rent costs can vary according to the size and location of the store. While rent of buildings in high-traffic retail areas can be expensive, that expense may be justified by the walk-in traffic and general awareness that such a location can provide. 

Related: Choosing a business location

Step 4. Apply for Business Licenses and Permits

There are no licenses required specifically for shoe stores, however there are local, state and federal registrations depending on where the business is located such as a sales tax permit, Employer Identification Number, and Occupancy Permit among others. 

Related: Common business licenses, permits and registrations by state

Step 5. Find Financing 

Coming up with a good business idea and having the skills to run it are one thing, but getting the funding to start a shoe store is another as much of the startup costs will go towards store build-out and inventory.  Funding to start a shoe store can be difficult.  In order to get a loan, the borrower(s) will need to have good credit and be able invest 15-25% of their money towards the total start-up costs. 

Related: Finding the money to start a business  

Step 6. Get your Marketing Plan in Place

Shoe stores need to actively market to bring in new customers and to draw in returning customers, as well as to share news about new products, sales, and other specials. Common marketing activities include the use of social media, email, and print advertising. Marketing costs will vary depending on the type and volume of marketing, but are a necessary and ongoing expense for a shoe store. 

Related: Low-cost ideas to market a new business

Step 7. Get Insurance

Shoe stores need multiple types of insurance in order to be fully covered: 

  • General liability insurance protects the business if customers are ever injured while in the store, and can cover expenses like medical bills or legal fees. 
  • Commercial property insurance can cover expenses the business might face after an event like a fire. This type of policy often covers the cost of the building and the cost of the inventory within the store.
  • Workers comp insurance can help to cover expenses like lost wages or medical bills if an employee is ever injured while at work. 

The cost of insurance policies will depend on the value of a store’s building and inventory, the store’s location, and even how many employees a store has. To get the most accurate idea of what insurance will cost, request quotes from multiple companies. Then, compare those quotes while focusing on factors like premiums, coverage limits and exclusions, and deductibles. 

Step 8. Hiring Employees

Most shoe stores will need at least a few employees to cover the long shifts that this industry demands. According to Glassdoor, full-time retail sales associates make an average of $33,774 each year. Payscale reports that retail store managers earn an average salary of $41,186. 

Employees come with more expenses than just salary costs, though. Be sure to also budget for workers comp insurance, paid time off, and health insurance contributions. 

In addition to budgeting for salary expenses, a store’s budget also needs to include workers comp insurance, paid time off, and health insurance contributions for employees. 

Related: Hiring your first employee

How much can you potentially make owning a shoe store? 

The income and profits of a shoe store depend on many factors, including the store’s size, specialty, and years in existence. While data on the average shoe store income is not available, Redwing Shoes did survey 109 of their franchise business owners and found that average annual sales per store were $851,076. The owner/operator’s cash flow averaged $127,363, and owners saw an average 46.1 percent return on investment. Keep in mind that that information refers to franchises of an established brand, so new independent stores may have different results in their profit potential. 

Things to consider before starting a shoe store

The shoe industry is highly competitive, especially when you factor in the competition posed by online retailers. Because of this, it’s important to find a way to deliver something exceptional through your store, whether it’s superior customer service, inventory that customers can’t find anywhere else, specialty products, or a curated selection of a type of shoe that isn’t locally available, like an athletics store or a luxury shoe shop. 

Be prepared to be part of a rapidly changing industry, too. Trends can evolve seemingly overnight, so it’s important to not only immerse yourself in the shoe industry, but also in the fashion industry of the customers you’re marketing to. Connecting with a wholesaler who always has the cutting-edge trends can help to keep your store ahead of the competition, too.  

With a business that holds inventory and can be quickly influenced by trends, it’s important to be on top of managing the inventory, so you aren’t left holding a lot of stock that can’t be sold. 

American Apparel & Footwear Association
Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America
National Shoe Retailers Association
United Shoe Retailers Association
National Retail Federation