Hit your 30s and haven’t launched that successful startup yet? Here’s one giant reason not to panic. Premium member Louise Matson is living proof that hitting your stride doesn’t always have to happen in your 20s or 30s. She used her 17 years of experience in the airline industry to fill a gap in the market for fashionable and comfortable women’s shoes at age 47. Here’s how she did it.
Tell us your brand story…
The idea of Louise M shoes came up through a combination of my experience in the airline industry and my Entrepreneurship studies. The airline uniform guidelines for cabin crew shoes are specific and difficult to find in many retail stores. After exhausting my usual Italian shoe retailers looking for new work shoes, I found myself having to wear inferior footwear that I felt like grandma in. I wanted to look professional yet fashionable and importantly be comfortable for hours on my feet. Something had to be done, so ‘Louise M shoes’ was born.
How long have you been running your business, and what were you doing before that?
Prior to developing louisemshoes.com in 2013, I was a flight attendant for 17 years while being a mum doing the school runs and sporting activities. My flying career gave me the knowledge of airline uniform standards, and the availability, plus the pros and cons of footwear being worn by female crew. My girls completed university and I decided it was time for me to return to university and complete an undergraduate degree myself.
Have you always had an entrepreneurial spirit?
No, I can’t say I have, I was a late bloomer. I didn’t even know what ‘entrepreneurial spirit’ was until I majored in it at Curtin University in my 40’s. I believe however that I wouldn’t be doing Louise M today without having been on the life journey I experienced beforehand. Previous life experiences lead to new life experiences.
How did you set up your business? What were the first steps you took?
I registered my business name and secured my domain name, and then went in search of shoes. First in Australia, before attending International shoe fairs in Europe. This is when it became exciting! I then travelled with a suitcase (sometimes two) full of shoes around Australia visiting the Qantas and Virgin Australia cabin crew bases so crew could meet me and try the shoes on. I am extremely grateful to both airlines for the support.
How did you first fund your business? Would you do it again now?
I self-funded the business as a sole trader, and now have a business partner who provided equity. Louise M is now a registered company. I would definitely do it again, although I’d hold on tighter to my money before deciding to hand it over to others.
What advice would you give someone who wants to launch in retail today?
It’s your dream, so trust your gut. Stick to your plan. Listen to others, but be aware that they can steer you in another direction, and before you know it you are spending precious time and money rectifying the misdirection you have gone in. Additionally, retail is difficult [today] so a niche is essential.
How has your business evolved since you first launched?
I am very particular about the products I choose, not just any [type of] shoe is allowed in. I initially sourced well-established European brands that met the needs of my target market. I am very proud to be transitioning into stocking solely my own brand Louise M™. I am extremely fortunate to have found and built a relationship with a wonderful family owned shoe manufacturer in Italy. The same factory manufactures shoes for a luxury Italian brand, so I have the best of the best making our shoes. My knowledge and confidence in my product has soared through hands-on discussions during factory visits, attending shoe school in NYC, and customer feedback. I am very proud of how the business has evolved.
Louise with Business Chicks Global CEO, Emma Isaacs at our 2016 Movers and Breakers conference
What has been the most challenging experience you’ve faced in business so far? How did you overcome it?
Knowing what to do next and how to achieve it is a constant challenge. I simply make sure I take an action. That initial action is important, without it you go nowhere. The other is that I do not speak Italian, which is a challenge as my suppliers are based in Italy and speak limited English. In the past, the family member with the best English has helped me communicate during shoe design and material meetings. During our visit in February they arranged for an interpreter to be with us for the day. Italian lessons are on my to-do list.
Given online businesses aren’t able to have a direct face-to-face presence with customers, what is the most important thing for your customers to experience when buying Louise M shoes?
The most important thing is communication whether by email or I prefer to speak to my customers by phone if they need help. This gives me a true sense of how they are feeling about their purchase, their needs and expectations, and how I can truly help them find the perfect shoe for them or solve their concerns. It is important for my customers to know that I am here to help them, that I truly care and I want them to love their shoes.
What kind of shipping methods do you use?
We chose Australia Post’s Express Post after looking at all options. We want our customers to receive their shoes in record time. We aim to surprise and delight with not only our product, but our service too. The postbags are a perfect size for our shoes, whether using a 3kg bag for one pair or 5 kg bag for 2 pairs. As we reach growth targets, Australia Post offers additional products that we will be able to implement.
Airline crew are known for needing (or perhaps simply wanting!) shoes instantly. This happens when new crew are in initial training and are told they need shoes by the end of their training school. They may search regular retailers only to find they cannot find anything that meets the strict criteria of the airline industry, and often find out we have the best range. A slightly urgent email or phone call to me and I assure them I can post it today using Australia Post Express Post and they will have in 1-2 days.
Where do you see Louise M shoes in five years?
Louise M™ will have an extended shoe range that not only the airline industry love, but all women love to wear. With a solid customer base in Australia, we’re aiming now for global reach. Our next task is to find the right people to work with to achieve and support this vision.