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How Oxford Steels started a business selling stylish safety shoes

Shopify Success Story

oxfordsteels

Shopify Success Story

How Oxford Steels started a business selling stylish safety shoes

oxfordsteels
Paul Anderson

Paul Anderson

Co-Founder

Oxford Steels Safety Shoes

Curator of stylish safety shoes

🇺🇸 Based in Charlotte, NC

📅 Founded October 2017

🏆 3 Founders

💵 Monthly Revenue = NA

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Who are you and what business did you start?

My name is Paul Anderson, with Oxford Steels Safety Shoes. At Oxford Steels we focus on curation of high-quality and stylish safety shoes. Oxford Steels was founded on the idea that safety shoes don’t have to be bulky and unattractive. The idea came from myself and co-founder working in a manufacturing plant. We were engineers and managers that spent the majority of our day on the shop floor where safety shoes were required. Since we couldn’t find a pair of safety shoes that matched our level of dress, we decided to take matters into our own hands.

A typical workday for me starts around 4:30a when I wake up and work out. Exercise is a great way to focus on something other than work and boosts creativity. Around 7a I usually logon to my computer and ‘get to work. Since our company is small, I play many roles making it difficult to define a typical day. Customer service is always my first task of the morning. The remaining portions of the day can be anything: ordering inventory, ensuring we have sufficient shipping supplies, working on website improvements, selling, etc.

At Oxford Steels we don’t make anything, we leave that up to the safety shoemaking experts. We collaborate with a manufacturer on which features would work well with our customers. Our current product line consists of four models: Executive, Executive Sport, Cap Toe, and Chelsea Boot. Soon we will launch our first ladies model safety shoe.

The features that set our safety shoes apart are simple. Our safety shoes are almost indistinguishable from dress shoes, a feature most customers desire. All models come with a 6-month warranty, free shipping, and free exchanges. We offer free shipping and exchanges because we understand that buying shoes online can be an uncertain process. Additionally, we want to ensure that our customers have correctly fitting shoes. In the end, the goal is an excellent and seamless customer experience.

What inspired you to create the business?

Our inspiration came from a desire to improve a segment of footwear that doesn’t receive much attention. There was a gap in the market that we are addressing. The safety shoes that we were wearing were uncomfortable, unattractive and not durable. Not to mention, we weren’t the only two experiencing this issue. At the time I was traveling often, visiting other manufacturing plants and found that others had the same issue.

I had never started a formal business before. Every since I was young, I enjoyed sales and working hard. At 15 I had my first job working in a fast food restaurant and quickly realized how boring and a low paying job was. Freelancing and odd jobs was a higher paying and more flexible option that worked well with my schooling schedule. I was cutting grass and selling/flipping items on Craigslist for those within my neighborhood and social circle. Throughout college my freelancing changed to a more mobile environment. I was tutoring in person and online. 

During college I began to understand the concept of scalability and how the internet really empowers one to leverage their time. These ideas led to the business model of operating exclusively online.

Walk us through the process of designing, prototyping, and manufacturing your first product.

The start of our business was quite coincidental. I stumbled upon our manufacturer on a business trip in Mexico. I like their shoes so much I bought a pair as soon as I saw them. After wearing the shoes for about a week, I decided to contact the company since I was interested in bringing these great shoes to the US.

The manufacturer was already producing our original styles; the Executive and Cap Toe models. In the name of launching quickly,we decide to launch with these two models. This also worked well as a proof of concept and to keep costs low. As business picked up we decided that our customers needed more choices and we were able to finance design changes. To determine what features our next safety shoes needed, we simply queried customers and reviewed what features our competition was offering.

What was the process of launching your business like?

We launched in October of 2017. To gain our first customers, we began with a Kickstarter campaign. The Kickstarter campaign was a great success and helped finance initial purchase orders and website development. Otherwise, we spent a lot of time making our friends and family aware of what we were doing. Much time was spent calling our contacts in different industries trying to understand who else we could be selling our customer. Since we had worked in our target industry, we had plenty of contacts. Friends and family were our very first customers. Then, sales on our website came the day after the website launch. I still remember the day. I was standing in a friends driveway helping clean their garage, and 3 sales processed within a few hours.

What are some of the most effective ways that you acquire and retain customers?

Our primary focus is on social media. Initially I didn’t think people interested in safety shoes would even be looking on social media but the numbers show our social media efforts drive sales. It’s such an effective source of ‘free’ advertising, we have plans to devote someone full time. 

We run advertising campaigns on Adwords, FB/Insta and Reddit. These are very effective advertising methods that allow very specific targeting which allows you to keep the cost per conversion down. 

We email very little our customers. If we aren’t shipping an order, offering a discount or releasing a new product we don’t send emails. Our philosophy is that our customers are busy and probably don’t want to hear from us otherwise.

My personal philosophy on email is to unsubscribe as soon as possible. If we bother our customers with useless emails they will likely become numb to our announcements or just unsubscribe altogether. An unsubscribed customer won’t receive an email preventing us from reaching them when our news is ACTUALLY actionable.

Which Shopify Apps are most important to your business?

MailChimp – Keeping up with customers and email marketing are very important. MailChimp allows us to keep our contact lists organized and generate beautiful emails for our customers. Like I said, we shy away from weekly emails and other tactics. If we aren’t announcing a sale, new product or shipping an order, you don’t hear from us.

Yotpo – As you know, having your products reviewed by customers has two main benefits. First, it allows a business to tweak its products and services to better serve customers. Second, it allows potential customers to evaluate whether or not they would like to do business with you. Yotpo also had plenty of features such as pushing reviews to FB.

Return Magic – I mentioned earlier we allow our customers free exchanges in the event their shoes don’t fit as desired. Return Magic give our customers a portal where they can request a shipping label and leave us any useful information. Return Magic has allowed us to create a smooth return and exchange process.

Inventory Planner – Managing shoe inventory is very challenging and if done incorrectly causes tons of issues. Keeping inventory in stock is important because not having a variant in stock could lead to a lost sale. On the other hand, having too much inventory ties up operating cash. Inventory planner takes all the complex mathematical calculations required for managing a high SKU count and simplifies the PO process.

What have been your greatest sources of inspiration?

I feel so generic with my first answer lol

Of course, Joe Rogan podcast. Joe Rogan is a source ‘get up everyday and get after it’ inspiration and a driver of curiosity. When Joe was in the comedy world, I wasn’t a huge fan of his. It wasn’t until I started listening to JRE that I learned there was so much more to Joe Rogan. He is a hard worker and has many talents. This inspires me to work hard and gain talents that I would not have otherwise. Joe’s curiosity inspires my curiosity and I’ll tell you, curiosity drives innovation and innovation is necessary in business.

Jocko Willink Podcast: Jocko’s podcast teaches leadership lessons but my biggest take away is humility. I highly recommend listening to a few episodes to understand the feeling of listening to Jocko speak about leadership. It’s completely changed the way I work with others. In addition to his podcast, I recommend all his books. There’s so much to be learned from him.

Peter Attia The Drive: The Drive is a human optimization podcast.Human optimization can mean many things. With Peter Attia I learn mind and body optimization techniques. Right now I feel Oxford Steels is in a stage where something always needs to be done. I aim to optimize my mind to work as efficiently and as long as possible. Essentially, I want the mental and physical capacity to get more done.

What’s been the biggest business challenge you’ve overcome?

The biggest business challenge we’ve faced is marketing. Earlier I mentioned this is a talent my partner and I don’t have and is a field we have almost no experience in. We’ve been overcoming this issue first by learning the basics. As the business gains resources, we are seeking others to join our team with experience in this field.

Based on your success, do you have any advice for other entrepreneurs?

The biggest lesson I’ve learned is how vast of a resource the internet is. The challenge is simply sorting through the information to figure out what is bogus and what is genuine advice. This leads to my second point. Just because a sales tactic or ideas works for one business, it  doesn’t mean it will work for you. Ignore any of the gimmicky Youtube videos claiming to make $10,000 in a day. These videos are fake. It’s not that that making $10k in a day is impossible but it won’t happen overnight. 

The success of your business will be directly proportional to how hard you work. If you think you are working too hard, you’re probably not working hard enough. On the contrary, don’t forget to take time and detach (You’ll learn this term when listening to Jocko’s Podcast)  from the day-to-day operation to think about the bigger picture.

There are a few technical details I would change. For example, when we launched our Kickstarter, I had no idea what we were doing. This caused us to leave a ton of money and potential customers on the table. Second, I believe having a team with a wider variety of experience would be helpful. My partner and I have very similar skills and experience. We love focusing on the technical problems i.e. how to ship product from A to B cheaper and faster but our team lacks experience in marketing and sales. Don’t be afraid to go outside your social circle and search for a partner. You never know who you’ll find.

How are things today and what are your plans for the future?

I can’t disclose revenue or margins.

Overall everything is great. We are currently preparing for the holiday season. 2019 will be our second holiday season. In 2018, we were caught off guard by how many customers were gifting our shoes. Overwhelmed by the demand we almost ran out of inventory.

Our most popular product is a close tie between Executive in color Honey and the Chelsea Boot is color Brown. 95% of our sales are done online and this is intentional. This was how we decided to setup our business. We didn’t want the overhead of a store front, etc. Of course this comes with the challenge of convincing customers it’s ok to purchase shoes online. We attempt to make our free exchange policy as obvious as possible so customers know that there is no risk to them if their first pair doesn’t fit as desired.

We are launching a Women’s Safety Boot very soon!  When we started this business, we had tunnel vision and only focused on stylish safety shoes for men. Through customer feedback and interactions with the wives and coworkers of our customers, we realized that women had a smaller selection of safety shoes than men. What an opportunity!

If you’re interested in being contacted about our Women’s Safety Shoes, send us an email expressing your interest at [email protected].

The final prototypes for our first women’s model were shipped to the testing lab this morning which means we should be making them available for purchase very soon!

At this time, we don’t support any specific causes but we do support a local charity in the mountains of North Carolina. Any shoes that have cosmetic defects that are suitable for customers, we donate. The feedback from the charity shows that our shoes are very popular and are picked up very quickly. This is giving us ideas for philanthropic ideas in the future.

It is our philosophy to first make the business financially stable then establish philanthropic objective. We believe our philanthropic efforts will be more effective if we first establish ourselves.

Where can we learn more?

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