When we first started Grant Stone, the online-only business model was one of our largest concerns. Not only did it seem difficult to create brand awareness, but we worried whether people would actually purchase a high-dollar item without seeing it first. In many ways, this was already being done with many luxury items, but what about a product from a new brand? We didn't know the answer to this question, but felt it could be overcome with time.
Before the World Wide Web, my father spent many years on the road selling Goodyear welt shoes. A substantial part of his job was educating the buyer about fit, construction, and materials. Many consumers shopping at that time hadn’t heard of a Goodyear welt shoe and definitely did not know each last by its name and its characteristics. What we have seen in the last year and a half, since diving into online shopping ourselves, couldn’t be any further from this. Not only do a large portion of our Grant Stone customers understand a great deal about shoe construction and materials, they are also knowledgeable about smaller details such as the tannery’s name and the characteristics of each individual leather. While there is a lot of information on the Web that should be taken with a grain of salt, the overwhelming amount of information is not necessarily a bad thing as, ultimately, it allows the consumer to make a more well-informed purchase. I have had discussions with customers who have walked into stores and had more product knowledge than the salesman. This is not something that would have frequently happened in the past—as my father can attest.
There is something to be said about visiting a store and having a candid conversation with a salesman who not only knows his craft but is also happy to teach it—an experience that is not easy to replicate online. Not everyone lives in areas where this type of shopping experience is possible, though. Having been raised in southwest Michigan, I can confidently say that it might take hours of driving to reach a good selection of Goodyear welt shoes. In terms of sizing, there are even fewer stores who actually sit customers down using a Brannock device or RITZ stick, bringing out multiple sizes and widths. We have found that our average customer knows exactly what questions to ask and, if unsure, sends an email listing out their current size in each respective last. While it is not the same as physically fitting a shoe, customer satisfaction has increased with this level of service and information.
We are excited about the future of online purchasing, and are working hard to create a better and more educational experience for the customer. Talking with our valued customers, whether it be through direct message, email, or a now “old-fashioned” phone call, has become one of our most enjoyable parts of the business. It’s been thrilling to learn that most people want to know about the products and prefer not to skim over the details.
At Grant Stone, we are committed to making an even greater effort to produce valuable content and engage with the customer in order to create a more meaningful experience. We want to thank all of the readers and enthusiasts for giving us this opportunity to share and connect.
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I sat down with our Founder & Director Wyatt Gilmore's grandfather, Floyd Gilmore, to hear why after sixty two years, he's still dreaming of shoes.