Taking ownership of a footwear retail business just as the pandemic hit forced this young entrepreneur to employ innovative ideas and new technologies to continue sales.
Purchasing a business is a big and bold endeavor at any time. Mike Hsu never could have imagined how hard it would actually become when he bought Footprint (San Francisco, CA) in early February 2020 from his business partner. A single case of Covid-19 was introduced into the bay area on January 24th and by March 16th, the shelter in place orders were issued for the city. Mike looks back at the coincidence of it all and jokes, “my timing was impeccable”.
Mike was born and raised in San Francisco, coincidentally only a few blocks from his retail store.
He started his career in retail focused heavily on the e-commerce side of the business. He had no experience in actually running a retail store and by his own admission, didn’t truly appreciate all of the challenges an owner would face. With a global pandemic hitting, those challenges now seemed insurmountable.
“I had no POS system to rely on so that was the first thing to tackle”
Once San Francisco issued their shelter in place orders, Footprint had to shut its doors to in-store visits. Mike had to immediately develop a plan to keep revenue coming in while also maintaining his entire staff. “I knew at that point I wanted to keep everyone on board”.
The first problem Mike faced was that the store he had purchased had no POS system in place for managing inventory. He knew that this technology was going to be critical for handling online orders, managing orders taken over the phone and supporting curbside pickup all while the store remained closed to in-store visits. He decided to implement Shopify and take advantage of as many of the add-on automation features he could.
Mike was the only one at the store during the early days of the pandemic so he got to work and took an inventory of the entire store while his employees got all of the data entered into Shopify. Meanwhile, online orders were still coming in via their existing website so Mike had to perform fulfillment at the store by himself as well. Meanwhile, they introduced the concept of local pickup very early on. As Mike said, “We allowed customers to do local pickup before curbside pickup was a thing.”
“In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.” Albert Einstein
In June of 2020, the US was faced with yet another challenge to its economy with protests and sporadic looting occurring in cities all over, including San Francisco. The Footprint staff had to quickly board up the store and take all of the inventory out of the store and put it in storage.
With the store bare, an opportunity was born. Mike saw this as an excellent time to execute on the remodel plan he had envisioned when he bought the store. He immediately kicked off a two-month remodeling project that included new paint, floors, lights, and displays. One of the coolest features that were added was the San Francisco skyline as a backdrop to their footwear section. The goal was to create a clean, fresh, modern look that would make customers feel comfortable and at home in the store. According to Mike, “People would come by the store afterward and ask how long we’ve been here when in fact the store has been here for years!”
“My strategy has always been, when business is down, spend more money on marketing. You don’t cut marketing because then your business is going to go down even more”.
As Mike continued to evolve their strategy to drive revenue, they continued to look for other technologies to help his business make it through the pandemic. That’s when he found Locally, a company that allows retailers to share their inventory with them so that they can drive consumers looking for specific products in-stock near them. This technology gave Footprint an immediate boost to their online presence while driving traffic to the store via curbside pickup. They set up chairs outside so people could come by and try on shoes until mid-August, when they finally were able to open for in-store foot traffic.
In August, Mike heard about a new add on product to Locally called Lynkem ShopCast that automates digital marketing for retailers. He saw this product as another obvious way to have his marketing budget working much smarter for him. ShopCast now takes Footprint’s daily inventory and generates 1000s of Google search ads and populates multiple local shopping channel feeds every night. Mike no longer has to worry about whether his inventory is being seen by local consumer searches. With ShopCast automatically refreshing Footprint’s in-stock products on local online channels every day, the team can now work smarter and focus on the things that they are good at, merchandising, and selling products.
“I think we can only grow from here”
About the Author
Tim is the co-founder of Lynkem and has been building technology solutions for business owners for decades. He and his co-founder son Brian have roots in the retail industry and deep experience with digital marketing. Their passion for the outdoor industry drives them to help smaller retailers find less expensive but profoundly more effective ways to use digital marketing in their businesses.