Welcome to The Shoe Garden - For women with longer feet!

It takes time (& nerves) to put together the perfect shoe collection

I’ve spent most of this week trying to find time between gorgeous customers, emails, phone calls and 25 huge cartons of Summer stock deliveries, to consider which shoes and boots I will be purchasing for next Winter. 

It’s a little hard to channel the cooler months and anticipate what people will like in around eight months’ time when this week the temperature outside is topping 30 degrees and you’re admiring countless sandals as you unpack them.

But picture me out the back of the shop.  

In front of a large, white cupboard in the hallway that’s a perfect blank canvas. 

I have a big ball of BluTac and I’m sticking up photos from catalogues that I’ve cut out. Some brands don’t have catalogues, so I take photos myself, print them out and stick them up instead.

The photos are organised into columns, each representing an important category: flats, low heels, high heels, glam, ankle boots and long boots. Oh, and ath-leisure, too. 

I arrange them in order of retail price, cheapest at the top.

Anything that goes to a size 13 and above gets marked. They’re extra special as, while my size 13+ market is approximately only 15% of my customers, they deserve a choice. They’ve been even more starved of options than the rest of us.

And then, well, then I stand back and ponder. For. A. Very. Long. Time!

Without exception, I want more than I can afford. Sometimes three times more than I can afford, which showcases my love for a gorgeous shoe or boot! 

But being a self-taught, getting-tough business woman, I have also learned I must stick to my budget; stick to what sells well (eg. more flats and low heels than high); stick to suppliers that give me great payment terms, discounts and are lovely to deal with; and stick to finding the best collection for a wide range of needs, tastes and budgets that I can.  

I ponder and consider and fret and dream about shoes for these few hectic weeks. I do know that I will eventually settle on an exceptional range; it just takes time.

So, until next week, when hopefully my Winter 2018 order is finally locked in…
Carol & CCx
 

Not much need for shoes … at least for a weekend!

For someone who owns a shoe shop and adores gorgeous shoes, I was so happy this past weekend to not be wearing any shoes!

Walking along the beach on North Stradbroke Island, squishing the sand between my toes and letting the cool salty water wash over them, was idyllic.

I hadn’t had a weekend off work in a very long time; a weekend away was long overdue.

So last Sunday, CC and I were on the 7am barge to Straddie and while the weather was grey and miserable (somewhat matching my mood at that moment), the next day was divine and my mood, spirits and outlook soared.

I forgot an important lesson, you see. To spend time in, with, watching and admiring nature is soul-satisfying and nurturing.

I sat and watched a kangaroo munching on grass with her joey peeking out of her pouch. I saw whales slapping their tails with carefree abandon. I got teary when I saw it for the first time. It was just so beautiful.

I also admired for ages a turtle bobbing up and down in crystal blue water and gasped when I saw dolphins hurling themselves through the air. And all day I listened to kookaburras laughing and each time I felt my heart grow a little more.

I stayed at the divine (and dog-friendly) Stradbroke Island B&B and was made to feel so at home. Hosts Diane and Denis were so gracious and kind. I can’t wait to go back!

This is not to say that during these two days of bliss I ignored the retail world. Within an hour of arriving, I had already bought a fabulous caftan that I wore most of the time I was there. I was a little proud of that!

Early on Tuesday morning, on the first ferry back to the mainland, I started tapping away on my iPhone to create a post for Facebook. Then I realised what I was doing … I put the phone away and just sat and watched the sunrise as the ferry glided through the calm water back to Brisbane.

I’ve been feeling fabulous ever since. Lesson learned.

Until next time,
Carol & CCx

CC on the beach

 

Happy tears at The Shoe Garden

A woman cried in my shop this week.

She sat in the front showroom and wiped away her tears, but they kept coming.

Normally, you’d think this would be a problem if it happened in your shop, but it’s not uncommon at The Shoe Garden.

The woman was focused on her daughter who was smiling and laughing as she tried on a beautiful pair of sandals.

Her daughter is 40 and for the past 20+ years has struggled to find shoes that fit.

Other than thongs.

Or sneakers.

But watching her try on shoes was lovely for her mother. At one point., the daughter said: “I can’t believe I have girly feet again.”

As a business owner, I love it every time a customer walks into my shop, but I do enjoy it especially when new customers visit. Their reactions are priceless, or those of their relatives who know how difficult it has been for them to find shoes that fit, let alone are fabulous.

Tears, hugs, high fives, dancing, breaking into song … I’ve seen and heard it all!

I feel their pain and their joy. I struggled, too, to find shoes that fit my size 12 feet for such a long time, which is why I knew, I just knew, that when the idea popped into my head one emotional Sunday in November 2011 to open my own longer-sized, women’s shoe shop in Brisbane, that it was a rock solid idea. Nothing could have, or since has, dissuaded me from that.

There was a chasm waiting to be filled of desperate girls and women who were being neglected simply because their feet were a few centimetres longer than what was deemed the norm.

Sharing such an emotional journey with my customers is incredibly rewarding and inspiring and is truly one of the best things about my job.

Until next time,
Carol & CCx

I hugged boots and was speechless … what happened at the Winter 2018 Shoe Expo!

It was the luscious, blush pink microsuede boot that did it … I picked it up and hugged it.

As I stood there, swaying slightly (seriously!!), I knew there was a different vibe in the air. I could feel it!

Whereas this past Winter saw shoes and boots that were quite subdued in style and with little colour other than various shades of taupes and browns, it looks like 2018 will see an explosion of bold colours and textures for when the temperatures cool.

Nearly all the ranges I viewed at the shoe expo on Monday were braver and more exciting than I’ve seen before in a winter range. Yes, there was always an offering in black, and some sensible and classic choices that I will always include in my range, but some of the colour choices were particularly surprising.

While there is still a fair bit of metallic, especially rose gold, I saw a lot of gorgeous styles in shades of beautiful blue, from sky blue to cobalt and navy, often mixed with other colours. Indeed, that was a definite trend … two-toned creations, or even three or four!

Striking shades of green got a nod, from khaki to grassy, and lots and lots of red of all hues, from plum to cherry and everything in between.

Grey was a gorgeous neutral that appeared a few times, as well as the aforementioned, swoon-worthy blush!

And it doesn’t end with colour … textures and style have been ramped up a notch, too.

Think pastel pink and blue pythonskin-patterned, patent leather for a sassy ankle boot!

Imagine a patchwork of colours and patterns on beautiful flats.

Pretty embroidery and lush brocades on shoes and boots were a highlight, often also appearing on brogues and lace-ups.

While ankle boots again reigned supreme, there were more long boots available than the past few seasons. It looks like they are making their inevitable comeback.

Slides or mules were also very popular, as was the use of velvet: very tactile and lovely to wear.

Block heels were common, on both shoes and boots, as well as unusual heels at jaunty angles or with flashes of metallic trim.

And the pick of the season so far (I still have a few more brands to see so I’m being a bit presumptuous) but I was super impressed (almost speechless, in fact!) with the Katie ‘n’ Me range, an Aussie-designed brand that I’ve stocked from Day One. It was a superb range that I’m incredibly excited to show my gorgeous customers in February or March next year, along with so many more delightful, long shoes and boots across all my favourite brands.

But, as always at this time of year, while my mind is swirling with options and ideas of what to buy for next winter, I also have a superb summer range due in coming days and weeks and a long, hot summer ahead. Some has already arrived; so much, much more is still to come.

Until next time
Carol & CCx

Colour tree

Life as a shoe shop owner … one week at a time!

For a while now, I’ve been thinking about my blog and feeling a little lost as I write it; a little unsure of its focus or purpose.

Given that I’m popping up in your Inbox every Friday, or you’re reading this on my website, I want this to be worthy of your attention.

When I thought about it, I decided that what I really want to write about is my life as a proud shoe shop owner; what has happened in that week in either shoes or in my business. I want to give you an insight into the shoe business!

This new direction was inspired by last week. My, what a week it was. You know, when everything comes together; when things that never usually happen do happen; when the unexpected and the unnerving rattle you a little?

What I learned after this week is that it’s pretty darn easy to do what you have to do when life is humming along nicely (things like eat well, exercise, get stuck into your to-do list at work and at home, ensure the world knows you’re still around by socialising occasionally, even though you feel like you’re drowning in work…). The real test is when challenges are thrown at you. Or the odd grenade.

It started when my garage door went crazy last Sunday. Who would have thought? Up and down it went, not caring which button I pushed, until it closed completely and would not open, not even manually. Already panicked with a website issue and ongoing emails to get it sorted; already pretty tired after spending the morning un-doing my sale which had ended the day before; I was flummoxed. I had to be at a lunch with friends and I was already late and it appeared that I wasn’t going to be driving anywhere for a while.

I raced upstairs and called a taxi. I raced back downstairs and smelled smoke. I raced back upstairs to cancel the taxi and lunch and then stayed at home to monitor the situation while trying to get hold of the after hours electrician. He was unavailable as he had had an accident and was in hospital. His day was much worse.

Although, I have to say, I was in a fair bit of pain myself. My back went during all this and oh boy, did it hurt. I’ve been struggling since this time last year with back issues and have never felt as vulnerable. Then I was diagnosed with osteoarthritis in my hip and the back issues seemed to disappear. Until it happened again. Luckily I could see my physio on Monday thanks to a cancellation and she was confident, after lots of intense and deep remedial treatment, that it would disappear in a few days. It did.

Meantime, my darling dad went into hospital also on the Monday to have knee reconstruction surgery. It’s never nice seeing anyone you love in hospital or in pain or not feeling well. He made it through the fog of morphine and anaesthetic and after five nights in hospital, returned home and is learning to use crutches and be a passenger in a car for a few weeks and hopefully not too much of a back seat driver for mum’s sake!

Midweek, my darling Maltese CC also had a health scare. I ditched another early morning appointment for the second time (the first time I had to cancel because I still couldn’t get my car out of the garage!) and raced her to the vet. She was checked thoroughly and no reason could be found for her state. She was completely miserable and uncharacteristically disinterested in life. At 13.5 years, I was quietly beside myself, but after a sleepless night, checking on her constantly, she was back to her normal self the next day. Tail wagging; jumping around; happy as can be.

And then yesterday, just when I thought life had calmed down a little, I broke up a fight outside the shop.

No fisticuffs were involved, or even weapons, but there was lots of pecking and an awful amount of screeching and feathers flying as it was a fight between about 15 to 20 birds!

I know it’s nature and nature can be harsh, but I couldn’t stand to see so many birds at risk on such a busy road doing whatever it was they were doing. As it turns out, a woman driving past stopped to help and a man collecting his drycleaning, helped me untangle two of the birds whose claws were twisted together. Not sure if that’s how you “take down” someone in bird land but geez, it was vicious. And while one was down for the count on the road after a sickening thump with a car, and the two that we separated also seemed hurt, all three ended up flying away.

So perhaps that’s the lesson. No matter what happens, hang in there and stay tough. Life shakes you up sometimes and the test is to keep fighting! Eventually things will work out and you can fly again.

Until next time,
Carol & CCx

Deciding to open a shoe shop in just four hours

I am not sure who is more excited that I am in The Australian Women’s Weekly this month … me or my darling mum who has been reading the magazine for decades!

It was very exciting to open up to page 76 and see my story about deciding to change my life, walk away from my 23-year career and open my own longer-sized shoe shop … all in just four hours.

The main story is all about the lost art of spontaneity, so I guess I qualify as someone who embraces being spontaneous!

I have always been, and continue to be, a firm believer that life begins outside your comfort zone. That is where the magic happens.

Until next time,
Carol & CC

PS. I love it that even CC gets a mention in the story! As she should.

AWW

 

 

Every pair of shoes sold helps a woman build her business

When I’m explaining the work of the amazing MicroLoan Foundation Australia, there’s one story I can’t tell often enough.

It’s when Dorothy, the leader of a lending group in regional Malawi, said to me: “I used to have to beg my husband for money. Now he comes to me.”

Fist pump. High five. Squeal.

I wanted to do all these things, but I remained calm and smiled as I sat with Dorothy and the interpreter and she told me about life after receiving a small loan; a loan that has helped her grow her humble grocery stall and given her independence and respect.

It’s simple really and that’s the power of it.

A poor woman in regional Malawi is given a small loan in order to start or grow her business.

Not just that, she is given training in business practices, often through song or dance as she is often illiterate.

Not only that, she is one of many women in a group that act as each other’s support and collateral.

And not just that, she is now empowered to achieve amazing things and help not just herself but her family. All because someone believed in her.

The loan is paid back in around three months. Interest is paid, too, and that helps support the charity. The average loan is around $60. Once it’s paid back, another woman gets the $60 again. Then another and another.

I love, love, love the idea of microfinance as one way to assist people escape poverty and a way that treats people with respect.

That’s why I’m so proud this past week to have reached a huge milestone: I have helped to raise $20,000 for MicroLoan Foundation Australia since April 2015.

About $6k of that is thanks to my darling family, friends, customers and peers who have donated themselves or organised fundraising events.

Around $14k is what I have chosen to donate. Every time a pair of shoes (or a handbag, or even a can of waterproofing spray for that matter) is sold at The Shoe Garden, in-store or online, a donation from between 25c to $5 is made the following month.

I always wanted giving back as part of the DNA of my business; it’s a no-brainer for me. I love doing it. My customers love it. And amazing women like Dorothy get to change their lives for the better.

Fist pump. High five. Squeal.

Until next time
Carol & CCx

Ps. Below is a photo of mum and myself with the amazing women of the Dodo lending group. Dorothy is pictured to mum’s left, holding the extra sarongs.

 

Laughter is good for the soul

It’s nearly the end of the financial year and it feels like there are a gazillion things to do.

I’m stressed and tired and a smidge overwrought.

Then I saw this gorgeous video and laughed, really laughed, from the belly. I just love it so much. I shared it on my book’s Facebook page, reminding people how easy it is to go around in circles sometimes but, if you fall down, it’s important to pick yourself up again. And run to mum if you need to!

I wanted to share it with you, too. Take a moment. Enjoy. Laugh. Relax.

Until next time
Carol & CCx

Sourcing gorgeous long shoes is closer than you think!

“You must go to Italy or to the US to find all these gorgeous shoes,” I’m asked time and again.

I wish!

Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately for my budget, agents who represent all the brands I stock pretty much come to me.

Twice a year, a shoe expo is held at various hotels at Kangaroo Point, around 10 minutes away from The Shoe Garden. This expo travels to capital cities twice a year and each brand hires a room or two and displays all their offerings for the upcoming season.

In July, I see the next year’s Autumn/Winter range and in January or February, I see that year’s Spring/Summer range.

I’ve just finished making all my appointments for a full and busy day one Monday next month. They range from 30 minutes to one hour. Sometimes every shoe goes to longer sizes, so I spend much more time with these brands, but sometimes it’s only a small part of what they offer. Anything is better than nothing though, right?

I’m getting much better at preparing for this day-long feast of gorgeous shoes.

I wear something comfortable. I admit that I carefully select my shoes because, hello, I’m surrounded all day by people who work in the shoe industry and, like me, it’s often the first thing you notice about someone! I also have an extra bag for catalogues, plus my iPhone fully charged to take photographs. And I have my greatest asset: my Mature Age Consultant (aka my darling mum!) who has come with me to every expo since the beginning and is always a great supporter and confidant.

Actually it’s quite a family event. Mum and dad join CC and I for breakfast beforehand. Dad then takes CC for the day so she’s not lonely. She’s so used to coming to The Shoe Garden with me every day that she’s quite put out if she’s ever left at home by herself! Then mum and I head to our fist appointment and try and pace ourselves across the course of a really busy day.

So Kangaroo Point is a long way from Rome or New York, and not nearly as exotic, but it’s also lovely to have such easy access to gorgeous choices of longer-sized shoes so close to home.

Until next time
Carol & CCx

A fabulous extra for your suede boots and shoes

I love it when brands value-add.

It shows respect to their customers, that they care and that they value their ongoing custom.

Supersoft and Diana Ferrari, two Aussie brands I’ve been stocking since I opened The Shoe Garden, are going one step further with their suede shoes and boots by applying a water resistant spray to them.

How good is that?

FB zm_VIBRANT_BLU2048_1[1]That means gorgeous creations such as the Vibrant over-the-knee boot (which I’mzm_BAZAAR_BLK056_2[1] wearing as I type this!), or the beautiful Bazaar ankle boot, already have that protective coating essential when wearing suede.

Of course, it’s highly recommended to continue to protect your fabulous footwear by applying ongoing treatments, but it means you can wear these straight after purchase and know they are protected against the elements. Very impressive.

Until next time
Carol & CCx