Speaking exclusively to My Business ahead of her presentation at the annual e-commerce expo, She Wear founder Stacey Head revealed the strategies to customer-led products that she employs in her business to avoid a similar fate to Shoes of Prey, the custom shoemaker which collapsed in March this year.
She Wear, founded in late 2012, manufactures and retails workwear boots specifically for women. Around six months later, her boots were worn by female contestants on renovation show The Block, creating an explosion in demand.
“We do design a lot of our footwear around customer feedback, but there’s different streams of feedback, and a lot of feedback is subjective — you know, ‘my favourite colour is purple’, ‘my favourite colour is pink’,” said Ms Head.
“It’s weeding out the needs and the wants, and with us being a practical type of business, we sell, obviously, work boots and hiking boots, things like that, we segregate out what’s a need and what’s a want.”
Ms Head established the business after working in property development and finding that all of the boots on the market were designed for men’s feet, and not women’s.
“I found them [to be] very heavy, very uncomfortable, and I’ve got a pretty standard woman’s foot... so if I was having that difficulty, how about everyone else who needed work boots?” she said.
“So I imported a pair from the UK [which] fell apart in a couple of months, and I thought ‘this is ridiculous, someone has to do something about this’.”
According to Ms Head, She Wear’s first products generated positive feedback from customers, “but we knew we could do better”.
“Women were coming to us and saying ‘we want really lightweight footwear’; ‘we want metal-free so we can pass through metal detectors and not have to take our boots off’; ‘we want a zip so there’s easy access’. So we look at the needs and wants, and focus on the needs first, and I think that’s a big difference,” she explained.
“People need comfort and safety, but they don’t necessarily need a monogram: even though it’s beautiful and lovely, it’s not a necessity. And I think that’s a really big key: looking at the feedback you’re getting and segregating that feedback from those customers.”
Shoppers don’t really know what they want
Ms Head suggested that too many businesses get caught on something of a customer feedback loop, because consumers often don’t really know what they want — a lesson that Shoes of Prey learnt the hard way.
“I think you really need to listen to your customers, but take it on board as market research: it’s not the be-all and end-all,” she said.
“We’ve had instances where we’ve made something that everyone’s told us that they wanted, and it doesn’t translate to sales. What people want and what they are going to purchase are two completely different angles.”
That, said Ms Head, is a delicate balance to determine whether feedback is objective or merely subjective.
“You do have to be really careful of that subjective feedback, and you’ve got to mitigate the risks — if you’re doing something that is a little bit out there and is more on the want spectrum than the need, do a small production run or look at the long-term financial risks,” she said.
“We’ve all taken risks and some work, some don’t, and I guess you’ve got to be in that business, or you’ve got to be in the driving seat of your business, to be able to say ‘we’ll take this risk — if it delivers, great, but if it doesn’t, what can we fall back on. So, it’s obviously really doing due diligence on your financials as well.”
She added: “We also notate everything that everyone says and, like I said before, we put it as a need, as a want, and also if there’s a common theme with people... we just always make sure that we’re taking it on board and we’re listening, but we’re also making sure that it’s something that’s going to translate into sales.”
Her comments echo those of Disrupt Sports co-founder and Optus My Business Awards 2016 winner Gary Elphick, who in 2017 told My Business that too much choice leads to “analysis paralysis”.
“We spent six months building an engineering platform. We were like: ‘You can now design up your own surfboard as an engineer in full CAD. This is the most technically brilliant thing I’ve ever been part of’,” said Mr Elphick, whose business sells custom-made sports gear.
“We put it there and we waited, and waited, and waited, and waited, and we had seven people use it. This was over a month.
“The boards they’d made were terrible... People were [telling us]: ‘This is brilliant, but it’s far too technical. I want you to guide me through the process. I want you to tell me what I need as well. I want to be part of it, but I want to be secure in knowing that there is a good shaper behind the scenes [who] knows what they’re doing’.”