When she was a teenager, Katie Kerrigan remembers scouring several malls just to find dress shoes in a women's size 11 that she could wear to her prom. She didn't know it at the time, but her exercise in footwear frustration would later provide inspiration for a booming business.
Kerrigan's need for stylish shoes to suit her six-foot-tall frame continued into her professional life. As a basketball player in college, she had teammates who were even taller -- and also had trouble finding dress shoes for job interviews and other special occasions. While getting her MBA at Loyola University in Chicago, Kerrigan decided to do something about the tall woman's shoe dilemma. She drafted a business plan for a website that would sell stylish, trendy shoes, primarily for sizes 10 and above.
Kerrigan, now 27, likes to joke that she started her company on a "shoestring" budget. After graduating from Loyola with her MBA, she used the business plan for KathrynKerrigan.com to secure a $30,000 bank loan. From there, she built her online retail business from the ground up. Kerrigan didn't have much design experience, but she knew very well what her customers were looking for in a shoe. After all, she was one of them.
In late 2005, Kerrigan drafted sketches and specs for her first line of women's dress shoes, and started working with a craftsman in Italy to produce her designs. She visits Italy four times a year -- each time bringing her fresh designs for the upcoming season.
How neglected was the market? Kerrigan's first shipment of shoes sold out shortly after her site launched in December 2005. Since then, the company's online sales have continued to rise, with revenue expected to quadruple this year. Kerrigan employed grassroots marketing strategies to spread the word about her business -- she created buzz within the 18- to 24-year-old market by exhibiting her website on MySpace, for example. And even though her website continues to cater to the tall-women niche, a sizeable chunk of Kerrigan's business now comes from women who wear shoe sizes under 10.
After just a year and a half, Kerrigan's shoes can now be found in 40 boutiques across the nation. In May, she opened her own flagship store, KK Shoes, in Libertyville, Ill., and next month, Kerrigan will launch the newest phase of her business -- a couture clothing line for tall women. She also recently finalized plans to open a second retail location on Chicago's prestigious North Shore in late 2008.
Like the motto on her website -- "For Women Who Stand Tall" -- Kerrigan says she hopes her business will continue to inspire confidence in women everywhere. "It's really about letting all women, no matter what your age or shoe size, feel comfortable," Kerrigan says. "And a great pair of shoes can make all the difference!"