Everyday this week I will be featuring independent designers that contribute to the male fashion movement. Today, get identified with Chris Burns' company: ARCH SHOES.
Chris Burns, creator of Arch Shoes
There are a lot of possible options in naming a brand of shoes, why “Arch”? What was that process like finalizing a name?
First, Harrison, I truly appreciate you taking an interest in me and ARCH. It’s very hard to get anyone to write about what I am doing since there isn’t an endorser, or a big name behind the brand. I initially wanted the company to be ARC. ARC was going to stand for Athletes Require Competition. As a pretty big sneaker lover, I remembered that there was a brand that actually had A.R.C. on the tongue of their shoe. Once I saw that I simply added the H and made it silent. I’m a former collegiate athlete and a coach. I always told my players that what they needed the most wasn’t talent; it was heart, so the H fell right into place. The funny thing is I haven’t even trademarked the name. I guess I shouldn’t be saying this. The first trademark failed and I have yet to continue the process again. I figured that if the brand caught on, honestly it wouldn't matter and if it is cool enough to steal, I can do it again the right way and somebody else can have it. I think I take things a bit too casually.
I think it’s amazing that you, a young African American business man has his own brand of tennis shoes. If that’s not inspiring, I’m not sure what is. Take me through the steps of how you initially had the idea of starting this business venture and how you got it off the ground to produce your first shoe?
Once again thanks … for calling me young, lol. Thanks for the compliment. I honestly don’t think about this being inspiring. I was in education for 17 years and I always think about that as inspiring. The initial steps started with a brand named Sho-Shot in 2005. I basically placed that company on my back and was able to help get the Puerto Rican legends (Big Shout to Kool Bob Love) in the Sho-Shot uniforms and I also was able to get 9 colleges into the gear. I did this by branding the company through basketball camps and my Center Court Basketball website. I funded the launch of the shoe for Sho-Shot through loans and helped to build the brand and the actual owner decided to sell it. I didn’t get any assistance in making a new shoe or recovering any of my funds invested and I lost everything. That was in 2008. In 2009 I had the idea for ARCH and after almost losing everything, I couldn’t get any credit or any financial assistance so that was out of the question. I slowly began to pay for outsoles and samples with a manufacturer in China. Everything was coming out of my pocket so it was a long and slow process, but it turned out for the best because it enabled me to make small quantities of shoes. It’s more detailed, but for the sake of brevity I’ll stop there.
What was your marketing plan when first launching your company, and would you say it was thoroughly executed? Since being around for a few years, how do you market now?
I guess that is really my biggest problem. I was working from a local and small perspective. I was going to originally make basketball shoes and continue using my camps and website to promote. When everything went downhill, I stopped running the website. This means that the initial plan to sell ARCH as a pure athletic shoe company was dead. I literally turned away from the athletic part and I didn’t have a marketing plan at all. I just knew I had a spot at a local market in Memphis and that since I was selling Nike, Adidas, Puma and other brands at the market, I could sit my shoes right next to those. It worked; I sold my first release which was called the Tori. It was a hightop casual shoe. I did not have a marketing plan still. I was kind of just aiming and firing and hoping different things would work. The problem was in 2009 into 2010 my focus was on building the contacts for manufacturing and getting my financial stability back in place, so I sold sneakers and taught. I even had a pretty solid ebay page and that carried me through 2010 into 2011 and allowed me to make enough money to keep producing shoes. From 2009 to 2011 my focus was on making shoes. In 2010 I made a running shoe and I sold it at the market as well. I also had a Facebook page and I used my fan page to sell those as well. (Big shout out to Clay in Maryland who was the first person to purchase a pair online). However, I still did not have a real marketing plan. So I guess in short I didn’t execute anything. I simply made shoes, took them and sold them. In 2011 the local market that I set up in was raided because there were tons of counterfeits there. The market was shut down and even the legitimate small biz people basically lost the ability to set up. I hadn’t planned for this, but I my ebay account was also closed. In July of 2011 I literally lost all of the opportunities for making money on my sneakers and by selling sneakers. I had another huge setback. I took the summer and reorganized everything, but I still didn’t come up with a plan. I knew I had a solid sneaker business so I focused on that and I still made shoes. In 2011 I launched The Allen casual shoe, but I didn’t really care about it. I did it almost to save face.
When I started social media was not as prevalent, unless you count myspace. I slowly implemented Facebook into my plans and I had over 500 likes on my fan page, but I was not selling any of my shoes. I had moved my sneaker shop to Amazon.com and since that was doing very well, I basically used The Allen casual shoe as a giveaway to customers who were paying above retail for limited release sneakers. I think that was my first real marketing plan. This is what I have been doing since I launched the Amazon store in October 2011. I finally (August 2012) have what I think is a solid marketing plan, but it’s definitely ridiculous that I went 3 years without any real direction.
Your love for sneakers surely had a huge impact on wanting to start your own shoe company. Would you say that you saw an untapped market of tennis shoes that “Arch” could capitalize on or did you feel the need to compete with other brands with the idea that your designs were better?
As an educator, I was the cool professor/teacher. I wore Jordans to work and basically I’ve always loved sneakers. When I started ARCH, as I said earlier, it was to pick up where I left off with Sho-Shot. I wanted to get into athletics. If I were to say I saw a market, I would be lying. However, now I actually do have a demographic that I am trying to target. I do see an area that has openings. There are a lot of brands out there in the casual/athletic shoe market. By default I’m in competition with these other brands, but I see myself as a solid alternative. I know my costs and I work primarily alone. I sometimes call on Ian Gale who is a super talented graphic artist from Barbados, but because I primarily work alone, I know my costs and I don’t have to pass costs on to my customers. I don’t plan to grow to the extent that I am not an active part of the company. I feel that if I can come up with a flagship casual shoe (The Allen) I can literally leave it unchanged and simply play around with materials to keep it timely. In other words, I don’t look to outperform other companies, I’m not financially able to do that, but I can give a person a shoe that uses great materials and style at cost point that is attractive.
CG097 II running shoe in cobalt, yellow and black
CG097 II Running shoe in black and yellow
You first started with your “CG097” running shoe that you would sale out of a vendor booth at a popular flea market in Memphis, TN. Those sold out solely with customers who were shopping at the market. You then ventured into your “Allen” casual tennis shoe and you just released the “CG097 II” which is your second edition of running shoes. I’m interested in knowing how the designing process is when coming up with your blueprints. I’m sure it’s not just drawing a sketch and shipping it off. Is there a lot of technology involved?
No there is not a lot of technology involved at all. Actually the first shoe I made was The Tori. (my shoes are named after my children except for the CG097 which is named after my point guard at Crawford H.S. in San Diego, Courtney Graham-Courtney was murdered in San Diego in 2010 and the 097 is my Navy Boot camp company.) I sold both the Tori and the CG at the market. With the CG097II running shoe I kind of followed suit with the first CG. When I was testing the first CG I became a bit of a novice runner. I couldn’t make a running shoe and sell without testing it. I couldn’t do that. With the second running shoe I knew I was a better with a shoe that allowed my foot to move more naturally. I took cues from the Nike Free and from the Puma Faas 300 and combined them to make the new CG. I often take cues from tried and true styles and then I add my own flavor. My design technique is primarily a form of patchwork, but with the new CG I brought on Ian Gale and he designed that based on my feedback. Overall though, I simply sketch, scan and then work on renderings with my manufacturer, so it is very straightforward.
To get into a little bit of the history before “Arch” you first started with an eBay store that got shut down, and the flea market in which you also sold exclusive sneakers also got shut down because of counterfeiters from other vendors. With both businesses’ bombing around the same time, how did you keep pushing? When you’re use to making a set income and it all gets taken away, I’m sure that has to have some kind of effect on you, right?
Great question. In 2011 I had successfully been operating my ebay store and I was making a significant amount of money. I talk about this on my blog at the CCB website. I go into great detail about how unfair the whole process that ebay and paypal handled the matter. I don’t like to dwell on things, but at the same time my ebay account was closed, the local market was shut down as well, but that was simply a matter of time. I was the only person in the market allowed to keep my shoes out on the table because I had receipts from Nike and Footlocker for my purchases. My shoes were real. The other vendors were selling knock offs, and the sad thing was while I made a pretty good amount of money, these guys were making between 10K and 20K a month on counterfeits. When that market was busted on average over 5000 people a weekend were visiting. This was a crazy amount of traffic.
Anyway, back to the question. I think certain things take place to make you reconsider your efforts. That June I literally lost my living income and for almost three months I had to reorganize my business. I became a wholeseller to the people who were selling on websites and ebay. Since I no longer had a paypal account, I had to literally figure out how to earn money. I submitted my personal store website to Amazon.com and it took almost another three months to get approved. I finally was up and running again by November which is when I began work on The Allen and it released in January of this year.
In order to answer your question I will say this, if you aren’t really paying attention and rolling along, you will encounter situations that force you to adjust. The difference between people who succeed and those who give up is persistence and effort. It also takes a lot of research. When these things happened to my business I began reading business books and learning different tactics and I learned to organize my thoughts and find people who helped to build dreams instead of hindering my process. This was vital. In short, the bad situation became a good situation.
One day you can have something and the next it’s gone. What did that experience teach you about saving your money?
Saving money… I am not really saving as much as reinvesting money into things that I feel are a sure bet. Saving money is needed for the future obviously, but realizing that things can be here one day and gone the next actually motivated me to make more things happen.
I am currently worried more about increasing the amount of money I have in order to develop more ideas for ARCH and to maintain the Amazon sneaker store. I think people who sit around trying to save are the same people who are afraid to take a chance. I’ve hit rock bottom before, so I am unafraid to try different things. If I lose, I lose. I stand up, shake it off and get over it. I have a tagline for the company, Stay Motivated. That is why I chose that tag. If you stay motivated you can keep pushing forward.
I’ve learned that saving money is a fallacy. In order to make money, your money has to be at work, but it can’t be foolish. Right now, I would have to say that I’m on the borderline of being a good business person and a little foolish. I keep making shoes although I am not selling any. I think though that I am preparing for people to begin seeing the brand and actually saying, “Hey, those look good, I think I’ll try it.” Maybe I’m wrong, but right now I think this is what I should be doing.
You were back at it again after hitting rock bottom. You opened up an Amazon Store (click on the link here) . In fact you still host your amazon store and it’s your main source of income which means you’re not doing badly on sneaker sales. Amazon is not like eBay, you have to go through a channel of commands to get approved. What was that process like and while in limbo how did you continue to move your product?
I kind of covered this earlier, but during the process of being approved for Amazon, I sold wholesale through my own personal website. Instead of making 100 dollars on a pair of sneakers, I only made 10-20 dollars because I was selling in bulk. I had to stay afloat so my goal was to turn shoes/money over quickly. I would bring the money in, pay my bills, and then take the rest and buy more shoes in bulk and flip it again.
Allen Navy Blue x Perry Denim Watch
ARCH Casual Sand x Snow Patrol Perry Watch
Big Boi of OutKast representing Rumbatime
ARCH casual teamed up in collaboration with Rumbatime to use their Perry Watch as a complimentary addition to each casual shoe, which is available on your site for purchase. How were you able to reach out to Rumbatime which is in New York and convince them that your company would be perfect to house this product?
Rumbatime is a great watch company. I always liked their cool, stylish, playful take on classic silhouettes. As a brand they kind of exude the classic style with a modern edge at a great price point. Their philosophy and marketing attracted me and I thought that their watch would complement my shoes well. I reached out to them and decided to purchase the watches and include them in any sell of the casual shoe I attained. This is one of the recent marketing ideas I had. Remember I really hadn’t thought about a way to market my brand. The ARCH x Rumbatime collaboration is a very cool, classic combination and I think it will make a difference and show people interested in ARCH that I appreciate their business.
I can only imagine the multitasking you go through on a daily basis to please your customers who come from all over the world to browse your site through internet searches. Do you have any employees or do you work alone?
I have always worked alone until 2 weeks ago. I used to be the designer, artist, web designer, shipping and receiving, buyer, customer service and courier for ARCH. This is a business without any downtime at all. I am always working on something. Not to mention I decided this year to develop and work on my writing career, which adds even more pressure to an already busy day. While it is time consuming, it’s what I want to do. I wake up and I feel good about building my business. I hired my first employee (cheers). It was only in a part time capacity, but it shows growth. As a matter of fact, hiring my newbie (thanks Co Co) has actually allowed me to get my shoes unpacked and posted. The shoes sat for almost a month on the floor of my living room while I was basically running the Amazon store. Since actually bringing someone in, although honestly I can’t afford to do this, has enabled me to actually incorporate my new marketing plans and become more focused.
Your “Allen causal shoe” is very simplistic in design. There aren’t a lot of huge logos or funky colors. I would say this shoe is more for everyday wear solely for comfort, although it’s still very capable of transitioning into a fashion shoe based on how it is styled as I have showcased in the pictures above. Was having a transitional shoe your primary focus in determining its look?
Definitely. I used to be a teacher and college professor. When I was in my 20s I could get away with wearing Adidas and Nike to work. I was still cool enough to pull that off. As I got older, I knew that I needed a shoe that would allow me to stand up all day in a classroom, but I didn’t like the styles that were out there. I wanted something clean, cool and casual. Something that could actually be dressed up if needed, and could be subtle and appropriate. I knew I wanted the ultimate casual Friday shoe. The Allen is my standard. It is a shoe that I can simply change the lining, or materials and the whole look of the shoe changes. If I could compare it to cars, The Allen is like my E Class. It is a daily driver that is just cool enough to be used on date night or at the office casually.
Who is your target market and why did you decide to pursue that particular demographic?
I guess I can say I’m pulling a Harrison T. Crite. I’m catering to men who like fashion and realize that wearing Jordans doesn’t mean you are dressing well. In other words, I’m not gunning after the under 25 market although anyone can wear the brand. My target market is the 28-49 year old male who appreciates a nice pair of denims, khaki, cargos and a stylish shirt, but doesn’t want to wear a hard bottom shoe all of the time or a boot. I also realized after selling other brands for so long that although there are brands out there that cater to men who are casual and cool, they often have a price range that exceeds daily wear. It’s like this, I love Cole Hahn, but when I pay 400 for a pair of shoes it definitely is not going to be a daily wear type of shoe. My goal is to give the guy that will wear a pair of Balenciaga Patchworks one day a solid alternative for daily wear. A shoe he can go to a bar in and when someone drops a drink on his shoes, he might get upset but he will walk away and say, “I can’t believe he dropped a drink on my ARCHs.” Lol
What’s up next for “Arch Shoes”? What are you planning on releasing for the winter collection? Can we be looking for any new styles or colorways?
What’s next… continuing to learn how to reach out to the market and get people to discover ARCH. Right now, I’ve finally developed what I think is a strong strategy. What many new brands who are working from scratch, on their own without mentors, fail to realize is that trademarks are important, but all of that stuff doesn’t matter if people don’t know you exist. What I recently learned is that distribution is king. Now I knew this, but remember I was working on a local, small level. A brand isn’t a brand unless it can be sold on bigger websites or be purchased by stores. In order to this you either have to go to trade shows, which I am not really ready to do, or you have to find a way to reach a large audience. For me this has been adding ARCH to my Amazon store. Amazon has allowed me the ability to be seen by a lot of people. I actually signed up for Amazon Ads and although this has not produced dividends (I’ve only been using it since July 30th) my shoes have been seen by more people than I ever could have directed to my site through social media. The next thing is basically beginning to convert impressions and clicks into purchases. That is the short term.
In the long term I have redesigned and given the Allen what I feel are better design cues for the Fall release which should be arriving at the beginning of September. I decided for the fall to use a combination of suede and denim to make 4 new colorways. I removed the quilted lining and I am now using a leather lining. I also changed the insoles to the same insoles I used in the running shoe which is a vented breathable insole that is cushioned. All of these things I think will add to the quality. I am also looking at a winterized version of the running shoe, but these are the next two things.
Oh the colorways for the Fall release are as follow, Denim Rust, Denim Oak, Denim Night and Red Wine and an Olive version of the shoes (which is a bit of a venture for me on both of those colors).
What would be your “I made it moment” when seeing the true fruits of your labor paying off?
Honestly, I already feel that I’ve made it. Now actually selling the shoes would make me feel good, but success for me is about good friends, and family. As far as ARCH is concerned, being able to get feedback like the feedback I have on my Amazon store would be a good start. I’ve had customers write me and thank me personally although they are the ones who should be thanked. But I guess the real “I made it moment” would be when I reach my target of selling 6000-12000 pair of shoes a year. I really want what I’m doing to be special. I’ve always found it funny how people feel unique in a pair of shoes when there are over 100,000 people wearing the exact same shoe.
I guess I will always be looking for an, “I made it moment,” and I think this is okay. I’m trying to improve and get better, so I guess seeing the fruits of my labor pay off will be when I am able to hire 10 people and provide them with better lives and to be able to regularly give of myself and my resources to help other people. I think that is the educator in me though.
If you weren't making tennis shoes, what would you be doing?
Without a doubt teaching and writing more.
To check out the full Arch Shoes collection and to inquire about ordering, they can be reached via these outlets:
ARCH Website: www.arch-usa.com
Center Court Basketball: www.centercourtbasketball.com
CB Publishing: www.cbpublish.com
If you have a product that contributes to male fashion or know someone who does, send a media press kit, press release or any helpful information to TheXStylezBlog@gmail.com.
Thanks for reading. Be sure to tell a friend to tell a friend and come back. Also be sure to subscribe to The X-Stylez Blog by becoming a member (located under archive column to the right of your screen) and to follow us on twitter and friend us on facebook.