Since it was founded in 1984, Shoe Sensation has focused on bringing well-known, branded footwear and accessories to residents of small-town America who otherwise would have to drive up to 45 minutes for a simple shoe shopping excursion. The markets may be small, but there is still profit to be made while serving a real need. After all, residents of these small cities have to purchase their footwear from somewhere and Shoe Sensation wants to be their first choice. 

“Shoe Sensation was founded by an entrepreneur whose vision was to open stores in small-town America where the county seat was located typically somewhere between 30 to 45 miles away from a regional mall,” CEO Mike Zawoysky says. “He wanted to make it more convenient for the local community to come in and purchase branded high-quality footwear. At the time, many family-owned shoe stores in small-town America were closing.”

The company took the idea of niche big-box retailers and designed a scaled-down branded concept for smaller cities. Nike, Skechers, Clarks, K-Swiss, Rocket Dog, DC, Sperry, Doc Martin, Bearpaw, Puma, New Balance and Adidas are just a few of the trusted footwear brands Shoe Sensation offers for the whole family.

“Vendors have reacted very favorably to us and they understand what we’re doing in the marketplace and how we’re growing in the marketplace,” Zawoysky says. “We’re concentrating on building 5,000-square-foot retail stores. We’re able to go into communities and provide a needed service to those customers with branded products.” 

Realizing Potential

Shoe Sensation’s vendors aren’t the only ones to recognize the potential in small-town America. In 2007, the company was purchased by an investor group led by Palisades Capital Management LLC, which had visions of growing the business beyond the current regional footprint. Zawoysky joined the company in 2009 as CFO and later became CEO upon seeing Shoe Sensation’s promise. 

From the corporate office and distribution center in Jeffersonville, Ind., Shoe Sensation operates 83 stores in a 13-state region – bordering as far north as Minnesota, east to Pennsylvania, south to Tennessee and west to Iowa. The current store count is 33 percent higher than just three years ago and Shoe Sensation plans to open 10 more stores this year and to be operating 120 locations by the end of 2015 – a 50 percent increase from where it stands today. 

“We want to backfill our current footprint and expand to other areas beyond that,” Zawoysky says. “We would look for opportunity in bordering states first. We definitely plan to go into other states and we plan to begin that growth in the next 12 months.”

As Shoe Sensation steps into new areas, the business in existing communities also continues to grow. Over the last four years same store comps have grown on average by 10.2 percent per year. 

All About the People

“We’ve been able to do this in a very difficult economic environment,” Zawoysky explains. “There’s always going to be competition, but the one thing that really helps us is exceeding the customer’s expectations. Our level of professionalism and staying focused on what we do best by servicing everyone who comes into the store has really helped us to achieve the comp store growth we have over the past years.” 

Along with store employees who have a keen eye on exceeding the customer’s expectations, Zawoysky says Shoe Sensation has the corporate infrastructure to handle company growth over the next five years. With processes in place to measure key performance indicators such as store traffic, product conversion, dollars per transaction and units per transaction, regional directors and store managers use the data to determine which factors need to be improved and lay out strategies to target those areas. 

“Like any other organization, it’s all about the people,” Zawoysky stresses. “This company runs because people make it work. We’re an 83-store chain and planning for growth. 

“We are able to find that niche in small-town America and operate a growing business because of the hard work and effort made daily by Shoe Sensation’s associates.”