Footwear etc.: The World's Leading Comfort Shoe Retailer

Ed Forteau's picture

Footwear etc. specializes in comfort shoes of all kinds (dress, casual, and sport shoes). They are an authorized retailer for most of the top comfort shoe brands (such as Clarks, Naot, Mephisto, Dansko, Finn Comfort, and over 32 other brands), and have the largest selection of authentic MBT Shoes and BeautiFeel Shoes than anyone.

Unlike the mega-online shoe retailers, Footwear etc. started out as a single location shoe store. They are a family-owned business which still maintains the hometown feel. Footwear etc. was also one of the first online shoe retailers.

What makes them truly special is their commitment to customer service and Footwear etc.their focus (and expertise) in the comfort shoe niche. They realize how tricky it is to buy shoes online, so they make it easy to buy shoes from them (at the best price). And their return policy is truly hassle free (they even provide a return label with your order). If you ever have a question, their friendly shoe specialists are more than happy to take your call. Yes, they have LIVE phone support, and their toll-free number is prominently visible on every page of their website.

See for yourself and visit them here at Footwear etc.


Interview With Footwear etc.

We sat down with Mike Baranov of Footwear etc. so you can get to know them better. Take a few moments to read the interview below. We are a big believer in supporting small businesses - that's why Footwear Etc. is our favorite shoe retailer. Once you do business with them, they will probably become your favorite, too.


WE: How did Footwear etc. get started?

Mike: The incarnation of Footwear etc. was a family-run shoe store called Rapp's Shoes in Palo Alto, California. It was a much larger shoe store that had shoes for men, women, and children. And it was in 1992 that the idea of comfort shoes really started to evolve. Brands like Rockport, Clark, Mephisto, SAS kind of evolved and formed this new category of comfort shoes.

So we closed Rapp's and moved across the street to a smaller, more niched store that focused just on these new comfort brands and reopened as Footwear etc. And from that point on, it's been steady growth, opening more stores throughout California. We now have six stores in the Northern California Bay area. And in the last couple of years, we've opened two stores in San Diego, in Southern California.


WE: Your stores seem to be in a friendly boutique setting.

Footwear etc.Mike: Each city where the stores are located have a nice little downtown shopping area of a few streets. And the stores are placed on that. They're not in shopping malls. They're outside in nice walking areas, maybe a nice little downtown area. So they're in a really nice setting.


WE: You guys got involved in online shoes sales very early in the game. You started out as the fulfillment house for Zappos when they were a start-up.

Mike: In the beginning, before we were doing online ourselves, we were involved in the very, very beginnings of how Zappos started. A guy who had the idea for Zappos originally started it out and came to talk with our owner. He had this business plan for starting an online shoe store and we originally did the drop shipping for Zappos.

So it had a different name at the time. It wasn't called Zappos. I think it was, or something like that. And they had their website. They took the orders for whatever shoes we were carrying, and then they would give us the order and we would ship it out for them. And then eventually they got some more investors and moved on and started doing their own drop ship model.

WE: When did you launch your website?

Mike: We started the website in, I believe, it was 1996.Footwear etc.

WE: You said Footwear etc. is a family-owned store. Are the original family members still involved in the business?

Mike: Yes, we are a family-run business with the same original owners. A lot of the employees of the company are family members and many of the people who work here have been here since the beginning (or close to the beginning). So, even people who aren't related by blood still feel like family. It just has that very family atmosphere.

WE: Do staff members have an opportunity to see how the online side works and people that work in the corporate office also have an opportunity to see how the local stores operate?

Mike: Yeah, definitely. We have eight locations and then we have our online store based at our corporate office. And there is interaction between the store employees, the online employees, upper management, and the administration. Everybody does have interaction with each other, whether it's through the different events throughout the year, whether it is people going out to visit the different stores, or the online store staff coming by to visit us here at the office.

WE: Is there interaction at all, or communication, between the store staff and the online staff as far as understanding customer attitudes, improving customer service, and determining maybe what shoe lines you're going to carry? How do you determine the shoe lines that you do carry?

Footwear etc.Mike: The shoe lines that we do carry are determined -- we have a buying department and they are constantly going out to various shoe shows, meeting with representatives from the different manufacturers, reading publications from the footwear industry, and of course we're always gathering feedback from the customers in the stores.

We have a lot of customers that are coming in the stores or calling us on the phone here at the online store, telling us about a certain brand they'd like us to carry. We start looking at those brands and eventually if it makes sense to bring it in, we add it to our collection.

WE: What kind of training do your shoe specialist go through?

Mike: When somebody comes on board here to work in the online side, their training starts in the stores and they get fully trained on all of the products - so they have a very deep knowledge of all of the products that we carry. And then all of the employees for the stores, when they come onboard, their training starts here in the office so they get a very good look at the online operations before they get trained in the stores. It's a real good mixture, a good cross-over between the two departments.

WE: How do you think that gives you an advantage over some of the other major online retailers?

Mike: Well, having the actual stores and being that we're a little bit smaller, I would say gives us the opportunity to actually talk to each other and to have real friendly relationships, so we can talk and get feedback from each other.We're not just a giant warehouse where we're shipping products. We can actually see the merchandise; get feedback from each other about what fits well; what people like, what people don't like; and things like that.

WE: Do most online shoppers order through your website, or do they order by phone?

Mike: It's a mixture. The majority of people purchase online and then if issues come up, people call. Some people call because they're just more comfortable placing their order on the phone, which is fine. We like talking to people. We have no problem taking the order by phone. Some people might have a sizing question. They just want to double check to see if an item is really in stock. They want to know when their order is going to ship, or when they'll receive it; or just to double check on the return policy. Issues like that.

WE: What are most people looking for when they come to Footwear etc.?
Footwear etc.
Mike: We get a combination of people who have foot problems and need comfort shoes or a certain type of shoes, whether it's shoes with a certain support or certain features to help their foot, or back or knee problems. And you get people who just like these brands because they're comfortable - and they want to wear shoes that are comfortable because they don't want their feet to hurt.

WE: I shop with you because I want really comfortable shoes that look good!

Mike: All of our customers get that when they shop with us.

WE: When it comes to your shoe line, how do you decide on which shoes to carry? Even with a large warehouse it is impossible to carry everything...

Mike: It depends. Our buying team tries to choose the shoes they feel are the best to have in the stores; the best that fit our customers needs. Whether it's the best styles (looks wise), the best comfort, or the best fit. Sometimes there's a shoe that might look nice but they can tell it's not going to fit well. So we don’t bring it into the stores. In general, when we do carry a line, we try to carry as many styles as possible in as many widths and as many colors as possible. If there's something we don't carry that's available, we can always get it for the customer too. If we don’t have it, we can usually get it for the customer. It just depends on the brand.

WE: What is the "Hot Trend" in the comfort/walking shoe market? What will we see more of in the coming month/years?

Mike: Well, right now the brands of the future seem to be the shoes that get a work out from the regular walking type shoes. So the shoes similar to the MBT, the Skechers, and the Mephistos are very popular styles. Some of the other brands that we carry are currently working on their version of the MBT shoe right now too. So we're going to continue to see more of those types of shoes coming out in the next season or two.

WE: A lot of the companies that we work with have some sort of community outreach or philanthropic side to their business. Do you guys have anything like that at all?

Mike: Yes, throughout the year we participate in various fundraising event,s whether it's actually going to an event and participating, or donating money, donating prizes for different types of auctions, or raffles or events that are happening. We donate shoes to all different types of events.

WE: Thanks so much for your time. What an enjoyable - and informative - interview! I really appreciate doing business with a small, family-owned business. You can see the difference.


Shop At Footwear etc.

Current Sales: Right now Footwear etc. has a Big Sale on Ugg and MBT. Savings of up to 50%!

For more information on our favorite shoe retailer, please see:

The Top Comfort Shoe Retailer