Are you looking for a steady-growing industry with constant demand? Then the shoe business is an excellent choice. Whether you want to sell shoes for babies, brides, grooms, casual wear, or official footwear, a shoe business can be profitable.

With careful planning, execution, and marketing strategy, you can build a successful business empire selling globally. Moreover, the footwear business is versatile and can operate in a physical location or online.

I’ve prepared a step-by-step guide on how to start a shoe business to kickstart your journey toward financial freedom.

Footwear Market Size 2023

A report by Statista indicates that the revenue in the footwear market totals $445 billion in 2023, with the market expected to grow by a CAGR of 3.8 percent between 2023-2027. The growth in the footwear market size only proves how lucrative the shoe business is.

Another analysis by Zion Market Research shows that the global footwear market is expected to hit the $300 billion mark by the end of 2023. This makes the shoe industry worth tapping into.

However, to gain a competitive edge in this market, you’ll need to be creative and innovative in your business operations. More importantly, you’ll need to refine your marketing strategies to reach as many customers as possible.

A step-by-step guide to starting shoes business online

Ready to get started? Here’s what you’ll need to do:

1. Define a business model

The first step (potentially, the most crucial one) when starting a shoe business is to choose the structure of your business. You can select one of three major models:

  • Shoe production

With this model, you should focus on creating your own shoe brand. That is, designing, customizing, and manufacturing the shoes from scratch. To excel in this entrepreneurial structure, you require the technical capacity, planning, and funding necessary. It can be a rather costly and time-consuming way of starting a business.

Though, good news is that there is a number of companies which can do that for you!

  • Dropshipping

Dropshipping is the easiest and most convenient business model for selling shoes, especially with limited capital.

You don’t need to stock shoes or any other products. You’ll act as an intermediary between the manufacturer/supplier and the buyer. Your role will be to promote the products and your online store, take orders, and pass them to the manufacturer who packages and delivers them.

  • Wholesale

Reselling shoes is a common business model. It means you buy shoes in bulk from a manufacturer, store them at your warehouse, and sell them gradually. As you can see, this model requires a warehouse to store the consignment and constant investment in the purchase of shoes.

The business model you choose will be determined by factors like niche, the geography of sales, availability of warehouse, and the starting capital.

2. Register your shoe business

Registering your business entity is an important step when setting up a new business. So, if you plan to start shoes business online, register your business name with the relevant authorities. In most cases, sole proprietorships don’t require you to obtain business registration.

However, limited company liability (LLCs), partnerships, and corporates must register with the applicable state and local agencies.

Keep in mind that each country or state has unique requirements. Therefore, consider seeking the advice of a business consultant to ensure you meet all the legal and tax requirements to operate the business. 

3. Find suppliers

Depending on your business model, you have to find the right supplier for the type of shoes you want to sell. These suppliers must be able to meet the demand for your products, maintain consistency in quality, and offer discounts for bulk purchases.

The most challenging part will be to find a reliable supplier. For example, if you opt to dropship, you can select from a large pool of dropshipping companies, such as Alibaba, Oberlo, AliExpress, Worldwide Brands, Doba, and Spocket. 

You may also have to choose between domestic and overseas suppliers, depending on your customers, the type of shoes, and shipping costs. In any case, having more than one supplier is better to ensure you always have a backup in case of supply chain issues.

4. Open an online store

In this digital era, operating your business without an online store denies you many growth opportunities. The good news is that starting an online store isn’t as complicated as it used to be a few years ago.

Various platforms like Shopify, WooCommerce, and BigCommerce make the process way easier and faster. Here’s what the process of opening an online store looks like:

  • Create a business name and brand. A platform like Shopify has a business name generator, logo maker, and attractive online store themes.
  • Find your niche (more on this below).
  • Set up your product page with eye-grabbing images and product descriptions.
  • Choose your sales channels.
  • Choose the most convenient and reliable payment and delivery methods for your customers.
  • Implement e-commerce marketing strategies to promote your shoe store.

How to pick a niche

The footwear industry is expansive, with a variety of products to sell. Choose the type of shoes you intend to specialize in. The initial research should help narrow down your niche.

For example, if your brand targets Gen Z, find out the type of shoes they love. This age group is young and diverse and wants to look trendy. Therefore, you should meet their demands. If the population is mixed, stock a wide range of styles to accommodate everyone.

Alternatively, you can focus on budget wear, if that’s what the market is missing.

Some of the footwear stock you may want to consider include:

  • Sandals, slippers, flip-flops, and light summer wear – ideal if you are close to the beach.
  • Protective and safety footwear – ideal if there are many factories or warehouses around.
  • Children’s shoes and boots
  • Sports footwear
  • Women’s footwear 
  • Men’s footwear
  • Specialist footwear for certain medical conditions, dance shoes, or theatrical shoes.

In addition to stocking shoes, you’ll also likely need to sell accessories related to shoes or fashion, such as:

  • Laces, insoles, and other shoe care products like polish.
  • Socks, stockings, tights, odor preventers, and polishing sponges.
  • Wallets, belts, handbags, and other leather products
  • Sunglasses, costume jewelry, and hats

When identifying your niche, be sure to factor in seasonality. Season changes affect the demand and supply of certain types of footwear, and you’ll need to be ready to stock products as required.

5. Find retail partners

Retail partnerships describe two businesses that collaborate to tap into each other’s customer base and resources. Retail partnerships give you more visibility and may boost sales.

However, not all retail partnerships are beneficial. This calls for careful research on retail partners to pick the right ones that will increase your market penetration and boost your business growth.

How to choose a retail partner for shoes business:

  • Consider the partner’s audience and demographics, and how they align with your ideal customer. In addition, consider how crowded your product category is in their catalog. You want a partnership where your brand stands out and has the potential of increasing your reach.
  • Consider the retail partner’s reputation. You want a partner with high-quality and trustworthy brands, as well as excellent customer experiences.
  • Trust is essential. Some retailers are unscrupulous and may violate your minimum advertised price (MAP) or pricing policy, and this might hurt your brand.

6. Plan marketing strategy

The key to a successful business is developing a strategic marketing plan that specifies your goals, implementation of action plans, and measures business performance. Some of the key steps involved in planning your marketing strategy include:

  • Setting your marketing goals, which should be SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, time-bound)
  • Performing industry analysis to provide an overview of the shoe industry, the market, and the trends affecting the shoe market. This will give you a broader understanding of what your competitors are doing, their marketing strategies, strengths, and weaknesses. Consider large footwear chains and specialist shops like sports shops, clothes shops, outdoor leisure shops, and supermarkets that also sell shoes. Check out the type of shoes they are selling and analyze their pricing strategy. This will help you identify gaps in the market and fill them.
  • Performing customer analysis, where you detail customer segments, target audience, and what the customers want.
  • Performing a competitive analysis to provide information about your direct and indirect competitors, addressing issues like the type of customers they serve, their pricing strategy, and the type of shoes they stock, etc.

Other areas to focus on include:

Pricing your products

  • Your product manufacturer or supplier may recommend the retail prices for your products. This gives you a benchmark to set prices for the products. In cases where there are no guidelines from manufacturers on retail price, you must ensure you get it right.
  • A simple method to determine the price is to add total costs to your markup percentage. To develop a product pricing strategy that works for you, you’ll need to research the market and your customers thoroughly.
  • But here’s the thing. Pricing isn’t a set-and-forget thing. You’ll need to test different pricing strategies and go with the one that will help you build a profitable and sustainable business. 

Promoting your business

To reach a wider customer base, you’ll need to refine your digital marketing strategies. Even with a physical store, it’s advisable to create an e-commerce business to attract more customers. 

There are various ways to promote your shoe business:

  • SEO and content generation will help generate organic traffic to your website/blog. You can optimize your resources on your own or outsource the services to an SEO specialist.
  • Social media. Social media marketing remains one of the most powerful marketing tools in 2023. So, it’s a no-brainer that you must have an account for your shoe business on several platforms. Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok are particularly excellent options for selling products like shoes and accessories. All you have to do is post relevant material consistently to reach the right customers.
  • Influencer marketing. This involves paying people with a good number of followers to promote your product to their followers. Micro-influencers with smaller followings charge lower rates than influencers with a large following.
  • Limited edition. You can attract customers by running a limited edition of a unique shoe style.
  • Use signage. Put up attention-grabbing signage at your shop or website to attract potential customers.
  • Get listed on Google My Business and Yelp to target local clientele.

How to determine your target audience

Identifying your niche will help you easily determine your target audience. So, if you’ve decided to sell to young people below 30, you’ll need to specify characteristics that distinguish them and their buying habits.

Things like age, average income, lifestyle, gender, shopping frequency, and tastes in clothes can help you further determine the type of products to stock in your shop. For your online store, you need to figure out where your customers spend most of their time. 

For example, if you picked the trendy heels market, you’ll likely find professional women on Facebook, LinkedIn, and Instagram. If you choose sneakers and athletic wear, your primary target will be young teens, and you can find them on TikTok and Instagram.

7. Create a scale-up plan

Over time, with the successful implementation of your marketing strategies, your business will grow. You want to have the right scale-up plan when the timing is right. A platform like Shopify offers you scalable pricing plans to fit every entrepreneur at every stage of their business.

Remember, when you scale up, you’ll register higher sales volume, which means your supply chain should be able to handle that. Likewise, you’ll need to draw up a plan of how you’ll increase your team to manage order fulfillment. You don’t want delayed orders because you don’t have enough staff to handle the influx.

An effective way to get more things done at scale is to automate whatever processes you can. For example, you can use chatbots to handle dozens of queries from interested customers.

Is starting a shoe business profitable?

The global footwear market size was estimated at $373.19 billion in 2021 and was projected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 4.3 percent from 2022 to 2030.

So, yes. The shoe industry can be profitable, especially if you leverage all the marketing channels available, including social media and influencer marketing.

Closing Thoughts

Launching your footwear business is just the tip of the iceberg. You’ll need to be fully invested in the business operations and always try to improve services, products, and marketing strategies. Your goal is to make profits, and this means providing your clients with more value than you take from them. That’s how you build customer trust and loyalty.

Tetiana Artemova

Tetiana Artemova is an entrepreneur and owner of IStartHub, a business media for ambitious female entrepreneurs and small business owners.