The foundation for a growing, family-owned retail shoe store chain — The Shoe House — is being laid one-step-at-atime in the East Valley. The first of several The Shoe House stores opened its doors March 24 at a relatively small shopping center at 2910 S. Alma School Road in Mesa.
“We don’t want our stores in large shopping malls,” said president and co-owner, Alan Miklofsky, 48. “We’re focusing on a specific market and a particular type of customer.”
The new Mesa store will be headquarters for The Shoe House chain which is expected to grow to four or five more in the Valley in the next few years, said Miklofsky.
Expansion in the Valley is the next phase of a successful retail shoe store business started by Miklofsky and his wife, Annette, in Tucson in 1982.
They have three stores in Tucson.
The Shoe House stores, meanwhile, are expected to draw more than $6 million in gross revenues this year, Miklofsky said.
It began with one store 24 years ago with two employees — the Miklofskys — that earned the family a total $70,000, he recalled.
Today, the stores have more than 40 employees and expect to hire an additional 35 when the new facilities open in the Valley, he said.
The Miklofsky’s success story goes back eight generations to Poland, where Annette Miklofsky’s ancestors owned and operated a shoe factory that provided shoes throughout Europe.
However, they were forced to close during World War Two when the Nazis invaded Poland. Her parents fled to the United States.
“They never had a chance to expand,” said Annette, a vice-president who heads the company’s Human Resources Department.
Ironically, her husband, a native of New York and she, a long-time Tucson resident, met and married in 1979, adding another chapter in their shoe sale tale.
“I was a manager for a shoe store chain before we met,” he said. “Her father owned a shoe store in Tucson and we bought it in 1982. It was the beginning of our family business.”
The Miklofsky family includes two sons, Michael, 24, a graduate of Arizona State University and The Shoe House general manager; David, 22, a sales representative for a shoe company in Texas and vice president of the Arizona chain and Karen, 15, a high school student who works part-time at the Tucson facilities.
The Miklofsky children each started working parttime at the Tucson stores when they were in their early teens.
“There’s a tremendous need for stores like ours in the East Valley,” said Michael, who earned a degree in journalism from ASU but decided to remain in the shoe store business.
“We offer customers the so-called old-fashioned, person-to-person attention when they come to our stores,” Michael Miklofsky, a Mesa resident, said.
“We’re a Mom-and-Pop shoe store,” he added.
He said, for example, that his sales staff measures a prospective customer’s feet and then asks them what style of shoe they’d like to try, a service not always found in many stores in large, shopping malls.
Besides walk-in customers, The Shoe House also is preparing a Web site where it will eventually offer shoes and other items, such as purses and accessories that can be purchased through the Internet.
The majority of their business, however, is direct sales, said Alan Miklofsky, who estimates he has sold more than 600,000 pairs of shoes since entering the business more than a quarter-century ago.
His stores have an estimated 28,000 pairs of shoes for sale, including 6,000 in the Alma School Road store representing 40 different brands.
“The shoe business began to change in the 1980s,” the elder Miklofsky said.
“That’s when people started looking for more comfort, including greater use of athletic shoes.”
The term — “tennis shoes” —a name that was once used to describe nearly all athletic footwear is somewhat obsolete today, he said.
“Athletic shoes” is now the commonly used phrase for soft, comfortable fittings and that make up about half of the shoes purchased.
Nevertheless, one aspect of the history of shoe sales still remains unchanged — women are more fussy when buying shoes than men, said the veteran shoe salesman.
“A man will usually come to the store knowing exactly what style of shoe he wants, will try several pairs and then, in a relatively short time, makes a decision to buy,” he said.
“A woman wants to see more variety and we show them a lot more shoes. They usually take much longer to decide, especially when we have a new brand.”
Womens shoes make up 30 percent of the Mesa store’s inventory, mens comfort shoes account for 20 percent and the remaining 50 percent is athletic shoes for both men and women.
Prices on average range between $60 to $150 a pair — much lower than the extremely pricey shoes the popular Carrie Bradshaw of the TV series “Sex And The City” prefers and occassionally wears during an episode.
But even with the latest style trends, The Shoe House continues to aim at a specific group of customers who tend to be more selective.
“Our customers are generally older, and they have a pretty good idea of the kind of shoe they want,” said Michael Miklofsky, who also heads the company’s marketing program.
“They’re the ‘sit-and-fit’ customer who wants a person-to-person relationship with us.”
He said the company also uses a direct mailing of more than 30,000 postcards sent to regular and potential customers. The mailing list is expected to grow when more stores open, he said.
Another attraction is offering customers with foot problems an on-site pedorthist, or expert in shoe styles to help foot ailments.
“A lot of doctors believe its best to send their patients with foot problems to a store that has a certified pedorthist,” said Chuck Taylor, who studied podiatry for two years before receiving a certificate from the Board of Pedorthics Footwear Association (PFA).
The PFA certification in not required in Arizona, said Taylor. Its mission is to educate pedorthists such as Taylor to help customers select the best shoes that alleviate foot problems.
“I’m a shoe pharmacist,” Taylor said. “I fill a doctor’s prescription for custom shoes for their patients.”
The Shoe House
Owners: Miklofsky family — Alan and Annette and their sons, Michael, 24 and David, 22 and daughter, Karen, 15
Reside in: Mesa and Tucson
Business: A family-owned, retail shoe store chain with new headquarters at 2910 S. Alma School Road, Mesa
Key achievement: Started a retail shoe store in Tucson in 1982 and earned $70,000. Today, owns and operates three stores in Tucson and the first of several in the East Valley that combined are drawing more than $6 million in gross revenue annually
Success philosophy: Find a niche in your market that attracts customers and allows you to operate successfully — Alan Miklofsky
Information: (480) 844-3909; hours: Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 6 p.m.