A supportive community and positive attitude are keys to her success
By Holly Galbus
Connie Hawley is owner of Luya Shoes and Other Fine Things in Zumbrota and Stillwater, specializing in hand-crafted, well-made, artistically designed shoes from around the world. Since opening the first store in Zumbrota in November 2014, Hawley has experienced both successes and challenges and has learned what it takes to be a business owner in the competitive retail market. A self-described shoe fanatic, Hawley began to consider opening her own business after accompanying her friend and fellow Zumbrota business owner on buying trips. The two agreed there was a need for a shoe store in the area, and after Hawley signed the lease on a newly-renovated building on Main Street in Zumbrota, Luya Shoes was born.
IMPORTANCE OF COMMUNITY
Hawley credits the supportive community of Zumbrota business owners for much of her early success. She says there is camaraderie and a bond between them—a sisterhood—and in those first months of opening Luya, Hawley had what she calls “instant customers,” because her colleagues often referred their customers to her shop. Hawley is also appreciative of the support from the Small Business Administration. They helped her create a business plan, walking her through key elements of owning a business, such as marketing, margin and insurance costs.
Also important to the business’ success is the market research Hawley conducted before opening the store. “I learned the majority of women want to be left alone to play with shoes,” she says, “and that they do not want to be rushed.” Hawley thought a lot about the store’s design and asked many women what they would like in a shoe store. Those conversations informed the store’s layout, which is more like an art gallery than a store, with respect to how shoes are displayed. Hawley likes to use atypical fixtures and colorful, eye-catching displays throughout the store. Also, all the sizes she carries are out on the floor, rather than in a back room, making it easy for customers to know what’s available. Through research of various brands, she decided to purchase shoes primarily from Portugal, Spain and Israel, because “their largest export is shoes. I’m drawn to the quality—the leather is amazing.”
Just a few months into opening the store in Zumbrota, Hawley encountered what many retailers experience during the first quarter of every year: a significant dip in sales. The combination of cold, snowy weather and customers catching up on holiday bills put a damper on sales, something Hawley was unprepared for those first few years in business. She says it’s still frustrating for her, but she has learned it’s a normal part of the business cycle. What is helpful for her is to keep a positive attitude, practice gratitude and reach out to the business community for encouragement and support.
Competition from online sales is another challenge Hawley has experienced. While many brick-and-mortar stores also maintain an online presence, Luya Shoes does not, primarily because of Hawley’s belief that people need to try many shoes on in the store before making a purchase. In her research she learned 50% of shoes purchased online are returned. Part of customer service, she says, is asking people who come to her store about their footwear needs. From there, she and her staff, who know how different brands fit, are able to make knowledgeable recommendations. A method Hawley uses to overcome online competition is to work with brands that will not price their shoes for less online.
In December 2018, Hawley decided to close stores in Edina and Red Wing due to underperformance. Describing the closures as “a hit, emotionally and financially,” she’s not deterred from looking at new opportunities. A new Luya location in Excelsior will open in May 2019, and she’s currently at work on a collaboration with a clothing store in Wisconsin. “I’m keeping my eyes and ears open,” she says, “awaiting new horizons.”
Holly Galbus is a freelance writer and news reporter.