While preparing to write this blog, I thought back wondering if I had written on the topic of association once before. Turns out I have. It published on July 28, 2017—two weeks before we launched with Nordstrom and Zappos. Here we are nearly three years later and it is incredible how much has occurred in such a short period of time.
On the cusp of our August 2017 launch, I remember being both excited and nervous. It was such a breakthrough opportunity and critical for us to succeed. All we could do was wait and see how customers would receive our new emerging brand.
I remember I visited Nordstrom the moment I heard our shoes were on their shelves. Before my eyes, there she was—our Kid’s Grey Jersey High Top. And as I was staring at our flagship silhouette, a women’s hand came into my frame of vision. She grabbed the shoe. And my heart leapt.
“Wow! That just happened!” I screamed internally to myself.
I had to say something. “Excuse me, my name is Billy. The shoes you just grabbed are from BILLY Footwear. And I have to say, we hit the shelves of Nordstrom earlier this week. It took so much work for us to get here so seeing you simply touch the shoes means so much to me.”
The customer was visiting Nordstrom with her two kids, a brother and sister who were shoe-shopping for back-to-school. They had collected a bunch of shoes to try on, all from different brands.
She thanked me for introducing myself and then went back to her kids to try on all the shoes. About ten minutes later, I saw the mom leaving the shoe department and walking directly toward me with her two kids, both of whom were wearing the Grey Jersey High Tops. My heart leapt again. And I will never forget her words.
“Just so you know, I did not buy these shoes for my kids because you are here. I bought these shoes for my kids because these are the shoes my kids want to wear.”
For as simple and as beautiful as that moment was, it is daunting to digest all that occurred prior to that moment in order to even make that moment come to pass. When BILLY Footwear first came into existence in 2015, we were associated with a manufacturing partner that sold us a shipping container full of product. The blemish rate on that product was 80%. In other words, only 20% of that initial run was decent enough to present to a customer. It was a financial disaster and a real punch to the gut in terms of confidence. So what did we do? Well, we did not quit. We leaned in and changed our association.
We recruited a new member to the BILLY team who had 30+ years experience in the shoe industry. Through his connections, we got in front of the right people who had value to offer. Those conversations lead us to a stellar manufacturing partner, Topline, which breathed new life into our vision.
Topline provided a quality product that gave us the opportunity to present to Nordstrom and Zappos. With the initial success on those two platforms in 2017, we started picking up more retail partners. In addition, more people started hearing about the brand. Throw in a few key media exposure experiences and a viral social media post, hundreds of thousand of peeps learned about the brand in a hurry. More people meant more sales, which meant we could expand the lines.
In August of 2017 we only had a modest kid’s line. That continued through 2018. In 2019, we expanded the kid’s line and introduced a toddler line, women’s line and men’s line. Now we have width options for adults. And Friday, we will be live on QVC!
What an amazing ride. And we are still just getting going.
After our first manufacturing debacle, we made the choice to press forward. But it was our new associations—new partnerships—that really extended a helping hand and allowed us to change and grow. As the cliche statement goes, it is not just what you know, but who you know. This statement has certainly rung true in our case.
I am so thankful for all that have chosen to associate with us and the incredible opportunities that have presented themselves because of our partnerships. You are the legs that have allowed our shoed feet to run.