Left: Store Manager - Curtis Fitzgerald | Right: Owner - JP Hudson
[column width="50%"]South Carolina may be famous for resort destinations and historical Civil War landmarks, but if Tennessee transplant JP Hudson has his way, the Palmetto State will soon be known as home to one of the country's premier sneaker boutiques. Hudson originally developed the idea for Sneaker FF while working part time at Foot Locker, as he pursued his graduate degree in The Citadel's MBA program. (His passion for sneakers had been sparked at an early age, fostered by a mother who would take him to the local sneaker shop once a month.) Armed with an MBA and real-world insight into the sneaker marketplace, Hudson cut the ribbon on Sneaker FF on November 3, 2012. It was the realization of a dream come true and the culmination of plenty of hard work, and the good people of Charleston, South Carolina, are fortunate to reap the rewards.[/column]
[column width="50%"]Sneaker FF is set in a historic Charleston carriage house, where a warm exposed-brick aesthetic goes hand in hand with a welcoming atmosphere. Hudson recently sat down with Freshness to detail the challenges he faced in opening the picturesque boutique, as well as what the future holds for Sneaker FF.
Sneaker FF 237 King St Unit D | Map Charleston, SC 29401 [/column]
[column width="50%"]What did you do before opening the store?
In 2008 I graduated from The Citadel in Charleston, SC with an undergraduate degree in business administration and completed my MBA at The Citadel in 2010. I was not allowed to have a job while in undergrad at the Citadel due to it being a military college. In grad school I started working at Foot Locker to feed my passion for shoes and be around the culture. Once I completed my MBA I left Foot Locker and went from job to job never being fully satisfied.
So in 2011, I went to work at Finish Line as an assistant manager. At the time I was not happy with the pay and I happened to get recruited by a textile company Parkdale Mills three months into the job in Tennessee where I am from. The pay grabbed me and I thought I would love it. The recruiter sold me that I would make a career with this company. Spent a year with this company and realized it was not for me. I quit with nothing planned but an idea to create my sneaker boutique.[/column]
[column width="50%"]Three weeks out of my job, I went for it. Created a business plan, showed it to my parents, and they had faith in me to financially support my life long dream. They knew I had knowledge about the industry considering I bought shoes on a weekly basis and I was always into fashion and reading up on what was going on in the industry.
Why a sneaker store?
Sneakers have always been my passion from an early age. My mom used to take me to the local sneaker shop once a month and thats where I caught on to the craze. So from there I always wanted to have a sneaker store of my own one day. I wanted to share my passion with others and see the smile on their face that I get when I pick up a new pair of sneakers. I want to do what other stores aren't doing and thats giving people a true place to hang out, a unique place to shop, and friendly neighborhood service.[/column]
[column width="50%"]What did you take away from your experience working at Footlocker and Finishline when opening your store?
These stores gave me insight into customer buying habits. I was on a sales floor regularly so I got to see what people were attracted to and what kind of clothes they were wearing. It really gave me a sense of the type of store that Charleston needed and Also gave me a sense of how much product should be ordered to meet demand. I saw things that would do great in this market but had not been given to this market.
I also took away what not to do in order to gain a competitive advantage. That entailed really picking out the premium lifestyle product and apparel that these stores I worked at were missing the boat on and didn't have access to. Also, the environments of these stores are boring. They are not very welcoming for anyone to just come in and hang out. It's strictly just to come in, be sold to, and leave with no real relationship established with the customer. Where as my store is set in a house that dates back to the 1850's so it immediately resonates with people to want to come and hang out regularly while checking out the new product and art in the store.[/column]
[column width="50%"]What other struggles did you have trying to open a boutique?
I definitely had struggles with the City of Charleston in getting all the permits to start construction. It took 2 months to begin construction on the store space. I was afraid at one point it might not happen due to the steady delays. I remember my dad said just flow like water around these obstacles. That helped me stay positive and fight through these blocks in the road.
Also, finding the right people to work at the store with me. There are a lot of dishonest people and I wanted a person with loyalty and integrity. I interviewed some people I knew over the years but I ended up bringing on my best friend Curtis to manage the store. I was able to steal him away from Foot Locker. He actually used to be my boss at Foot Locker and we developed a great bond while there. I will always remember how good he treated me as an employee and the respect he had for me.
Starting the boutique without Nike was scary. Nike has a 54% market share right now in the sneaker market. I think last month alone they had 178 shoes out of the top 250 sellers. That was worrisome, but I knew being positive would make the store succeed. At the end of the day good product is good product and people like good customer service. We got off to an amazing start without Nike, Converse, Adidas, and Vans. I am actually getting ready to apply to Nike in a week and have obtained Converse, Adidas, and Vans.[/column]
[column width="50%"]Now that you've been open for six months, what do you need to do in the next six months to keep the business running smooth?
A number of things. Obtaining a Nike account to please their large customer base that shops at our store. Nike will bring in more traffic and satisfy our customer's wants. Nike is the top footwear brand and I want the top brands in my store.
Also, continue to be on the forefront of introducing cool trends to my market to please our customer base. Our customers always want to have the shoes and apparel no one has. We just added Zanerobe which does a great job on the jogger pant which is big right now and we will be bringing in Adidas, Converse, and Vans into the mix come July.
Continue to get the word out. In the early stages we have done a great job with social media and word of mouth. Our location blows people away so they are going back and telling their friends. We also have big events at the store that include live musical performances by local DJ's and hip hop artist in our courtyard.[/column]
[column width="50%"]In running a sneaker store, what takes up most of your time, day to day?
There are number of things throughout the day. I usually give myself a check list and start my day early so I can get most of the things done before the store opens. I do a lot of emails to my brand reps asking about collaborations I want in my store and turning in orders, reading blogs, fulfilling online orders, interacting with customers, updating social media pages and website. Then the dreaded bills...ha. I am very lucky to have Curtis my employee/friend because he does the media side of things. He does all of the photography and product shots as well as art to hang up in the shop. All in all, most of my day is spent in store. I want to make sure I get a chance to interact with each customer so they know who I am and what the "Sneaker" brand is all about.[/column]
[column width="50%"]You are lucky to have a mom who took you to a sneaker store once a month. What are some of your favorite childhood sneakers and now?
I loved the Reebok Pumps growing up and the Charles Barkley models. I even wore some Adidas sambas and gazelles. I was a big soccer player so I wore adidas to play in and wear around. As I approached high school I got into the Air Force Ones, Jordans, and Air Max 95's, and New Balance. College consisted mostly of Nike Dunks. Currently I am heavy into retro runners. I love the Asics Gel Saga. Gel Lyte III's are nice, but I prefer the look of the saga over the Gel Lyte III. I also love the New Balance 1300. Probably the most comfortable shoes in my opinion. However, my favorite shoe of all time is the Jordan black/cement III. The look of the shoe is incredible and you can pair it with so many outfits. [/column]
[column width="50%"]Any last words for our readers?
Do not be afraid to take chances and share your passions with other people. Anything is possible in life and its important to be yourself. Do what you want to do, Like what you like, and do not let other people influence your decisions. Thank you so much for seeking the store out and giving me this opportunity to share with the readers.[/column]