Brisbane-based husband and wife Alan and Caroline McCulloch have run their shoe retail operation for a number of years, as part of their podiatry practice.
But it wasn’t until last year that the McCullochs realised there was a gap in the market for a brand of comfort footwear that didn’t look hideous.
Plenty of experiments with cut-up shoes later, Frankie4 was born. Alan McCulloch explains how the business is looking to keep in step with changing consumer demands.
So, you already stock your own brand, don’t you?
Yes, that’s right. I’ve been a podiatrist for the past 20 years and sell shoes as part of the practice I run.
We stock a number of brands in our two retail stores and we’ve had a trial of the Frankie4 shoes and we now want to go to a broader market.
At the moment, Frankie4 sits with the major comfort brands in our stores. The feedback has been great so far and we’ve realised that we could do it a lot better than some of the other brands out there.
Why does the market need Frankie4?
There’s a massive hole in the market for comfort footwear that’s attractive. There’s not a lot of choice in the specialised footwear market and it doesn’t really appeal to the general population.
As a podiatrist, I’d spent a lot of time recommending certain footwear to people, but it made them feel unattractive. There wasn’t really a fashion element to a lot of the brands. They are pretty ugly.
How did the idea come about?
It hit us between the eyes after getting feedback from patients who stated their unhappiness with what was out there on the market.
I spend a lot of time fiddling around with shoes and I came to the realisation that we could do better and that it wouldn’t be a huge challenge us for us to do it.
How long has it taken you?
We had a six-month lead-up to production and we’ve spent the last eight months trialling the product. We currently have three styles and we’re about to move that up to five.
Interesting business name you’ve gone for there...
Yes! Caroline, who is the major designer of the shoes, has a terrier called Frankie. We felt that the name could span across different segments, such as Frankie4 Nurses or Frankie4 Businesspeople, or whatever.
We do casual ballet flats and other standard shoes that the average punter will say, “I’d wear that.” There’s a lot of corporate people who want to jog to work and look good, for example.
You designed the shoes yourself, didn’t you?
Yes, we started from scratch. But as we had a lot of feedback, we could build upon our experience with patients and use the retail store to test things.
It’s great to get honest, regular feedback for your product, there’s nothing quite like it. That was all the research we really needed to do.
What’s so good about the design, then?
The design of the shoe reflects how the foot moves. It has a rounded heel, like a person’s heel, and rolls through the movement in a natural way, like sports shoes do.
We strengthened the mid-area and put in a generic orthotic inside. There’s a sizeable insole inside that’s removable – you can use the shoe as a starting point.
The shoe has a lined foam component, again like a sports shoe, rather than leather, which is less forgiving on feet.
We cut up a lot of shoes and did a lot of trialling before we got what we wanted.
How has the manufacturing process been?
We got a manufacturer in Sydney to help us produce them and we’d trial them with patients, which was good, as we had a manufacturer not too far away that could change things if we needed to.
We did change the design 10 to 20 times though, which was incredibly frustrating – there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing.
You rely a lot on your communication with your manufacturer – it has to be spot on. It was hard for our manufacturer as we were making a new kind of comfort shoe, but it’s easier after the first one.
There’s a misconception about how shoes are made. People think they are just reeled off by machines, but the shoe has to pass through 100 pairs of hands – it’s very labour intensive.
There are a lot of components to a shoe – it’s like the recipe in a cake. If you don’t get the top binding on a woman’s shoe right, for example, it’ll fall off and the shoe will be no good.
How are you going to get these shoes onto peoples’ feet?
We wanted to get the first run down in Australia to allow us to tinker around with it. The next level is to get the shoes manufactured in China – there’s no other option, really.
We charge around $220 for each pair of shoes, which is in the range of what you’d normally pay for a comfort shoe. We’ve sold around 50 pairs a month so far and we’re looking at ramping that up.
The next step is to go to influential stores and ask them to stock the shoes – not necessarily in high volume to start with, but to get those key influencers on board.
If we get 10, I’ll be happy. We can then go to standard footwear stores in a year’s time, to stock them in volume. We will go for 10 to 20 stores in the first year, nationally, and then look to double that in the second year.