Women who love to wear painfully high heels often need to carry a change of footwear. For these suffering fashionistas, Fit in Clouds makes rubber-soled ballet flats that fold up small enough to be stashed in an evening bag. The Boston company, which started as a class project by two M.B.A. students at Babson College, sells the shoes, which start at $18.95, online and in more than a dozen boutiques. Fit in Clouds has focused on reaching commuters in pedestrian-friendly cities; it has also had some success selling to brides and bridesmaids, says co-founder Patrizia Damiani. Since launching its products in May, the company has built buzz by partnering with regional women's clubs and newsletters, and it has garnered mentions in DailyCandy and The Boston Globe. But, says Damiani, the company is still unsure of the best way to position its shoes in stores so that customers understand the shoes' purpose. How can Fit in Clouds gain a greater foothold in the market? We asked four entrepreneurs for their suggestions.
Pitch No. 1: Pair them with purses
Tony Hsieh, CEO of Zappos.com, an online shoe and clothing retailer based in Henderson, Nevada
Instead of trying to sell in shoe stores, where the products are competing against other shoes, sell them wherever handbags are being sold. Merchandise them next to the bags as well as at the checkout counter. The price point is low enough that the shoes could be an impulse buy after someone spends $100 or more on a handbag.
Pitch No. 2: Target corporate women
Sandy Chilewich, founder of Chilewich Sultan, a New York City company that designs home furnishings, and co-founder of Hue, a hosiery company
The idea here is that these aren't slippers to wear at home but something cute to put in your bag and wear during the day. I think they are well geared to corporate women. The company should come up with a floor-standing fixture to house its products and explain what they are for. Perhaps show a woman at a desk, in a work environment, with her feet up. They could be put anywhere in the store as a pickup item.
Pitch No. 3: Hit the dance floor
Jen Bilik, founder of Knock Knock, a Venice, California, designer of novelty gifts and stationery
The company should go to places where women are dressed up and on their feet. Fit in Clouds could set up displays at music and dance venues to sell the shoes and explain their purpose. Conference centers and gift shops in hotels, which often host weddings and other functions, would also make good sales venues.
Pitch No. 4: Buy direct-response advertising
Richard Thalheimer, founder of the Sharper Image and RichardSolo.com, an online retailer in San Francisco
I would encourage Fit in Clouds to do direct-response advertising. The company could start with ads in city-focused magazines such as New York or the marketplace sections of women's magazines. When customers buy online, Fit in Clouds should ask them which magazine's ad brought them to the site. That will help the company determine the best places to spend ad dollars. Fit in Clouds should consider partnering with a major retailer to mention in the ads. Not only will it drive business to those stores, it will make other retailers want to carry the product.
Feedback on the feedback:
Damiani is enthusiastic about most of these suggestions. She agrees that Fit in Clouds could find many customers among corporate women and partygoers, and the company has partnered with an events planner to sell its shoes. She also plans to upgrade the company's point-of-purchase displays to floor-standing fixtures. Eventually, she says, Fit in Clouds would like to run joint advertisements with retailers, once it has built more relationships and identified top-selling stores. Damiani doesn't like the idea of placing Fit in Clouds's shoes next to a rack of handbags, however. "If people are going to the store to look for handbags, they probably aren't in the mindset to look for something new," she says. "If they just see our product there, they won't understand the value in it."