Gimre’s has been in business more than 100 years; what advice would you offer to businesses just starting out?
“There are several things and it’s hard to rate the importance, but number one is you have to have a passion for what you do. You have got to be all in. Number two you’ve got to have people work with you that share the same passion you do. You’ve got to have the right product, you’ve got to be sure there’s a demand. Lastly, you’ve got to market your product. Even in a fairly small community like ours, you have to let people know what you’ve got. Once they come, you have to have the people and passion to present it in a proper way so they understand the value of what they’re receiving.”
How important is a good pair of shoes?
“It was best described by a customer one time who said, ‘The two things I don’t scrimp on are shoes and a mattress because you’re on one or the other all your life.’ I took that to heart and I’ve repeated it over and over because it’s the truth. What you’re standing on supports your whole body, and if you’ve got a non-substantial, squishy foundation — It’s the reason doctors and podiatrists will send people to us for foot ailments — because we carry better grade shoes. There’s a difference structurally between a shoe that costs $30 or $50 versus a shoe that costs $100 or more.”
How do you distinguish between what’s quality and what’s not? What makes a good pair of shoes?
“There are several components, but number one would be the material. Thirty years ago, if a shoe was (made of) man-made materials it was plastic and your feet would sweat like crazy. Today, there are some man-made materials that are just as breathable as leather. The cheaper shoes today still most likely have the lesser expensive man-made material. The support on the bottom is also important. You want to avoid a shoe that you can twist like a sponge. A third of the bones in our body are in our feet and you need proper support.”
Is there anything that makes you cringe when you see it?
“No. What puts a smile on my face is when someone comes in with a cheap pair of shoes and says ‘My feet are killing me.’ Then we get them in a good pair of shoes and they walk around and say, ‘Boy, what a difference this makes.’ We’ve had people come back and say the shoes have changed their entire life. We turn those cringes into smiles by putting them into good footwear.”
What considerations do you take into account when someone comes in looking for a new pair of shoes?
“It’s an education about what the difference is between a cheap pair of shoes that will feel good for the first five minutes versus shoes that will feel good tomorrow, next month and maybe even years down the road.”
Have you had any unforgettable or famous customers come through the door?
“When ‘Kindergarten Cop’ was filming, I helped Arnold Schwarzenegger. He took a size 13 in a Rockport boat shoe.”
Do you offer other services beyond sales such as shoe repair?
“We don’t do any repair. There is great repair shop called The Shoe Fix (965 Commercial Street) that we send all of our repairs. He does fabulous work.”
Has the business changed compared to 10 years ago? 25 years ago?
“Yes and no. It hasn’t changed in the sense that we will carry better-grade shoes. It hasn’t change in the sense that it’s all about serving the customers and having people who share the same passion to help people. That hasn’t changed. What has changed is the type of business competition. We’re now competing with the Internet. Most of our customers still want to feel the product. It’s pretty tough to buy shoes off the Internet and know if they’re going to fit or not. People can come in here and get properly fit. A lot of people may not realize that their shoe size may have changed over the course of time. Our feet are always changing as we grow older.”
How did the 2008 recession impact your business?
“It didn’t impact us a ton. 2009 was a down year, but people have always found the value in good footwear. Since 2010, business has grown every year. 2016 was our best year in business in 125 years.”
How do the seasons impact your business? Cruise ships? Weather?
“We just had a cruise ship in yesterday and it was a third of our business for the day; We get business from the passengers and the crew. Our merchandise arrives three to four months before the actual season. For instance, we received our spring items in February and March. This spring, with all the rain we’ve had, it’s been a little bit tougher sell.”
How do you determine what to put on your shelves so far in advance?
“In some essence, it’s a little like the lottery. You roll the dice. You have a fairly good idea based on history of what kinds of shoes and brands are popular. We talk to our reps and other retailers in the same demographic area. There’s always people coming in and wanting the same shoe that they had before, and then there’s people coming and asking ‘What’s new?’. You have to balance between what you decide to carry season to season and what you’re going to have new each season. It’s finding that perfect blend of what’s new and what’s tried and true.”
What are the latest trends? Any fashions making a comeback?
“Birkenstock has made a big resurgence. They were really popular in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now, for the past two or three years, they’ve been one of the top brands. We’ve quadrupled our inventory of Birkenstocks the past few years just based on the simple economics of supply and demand. To a certain extent, Dr. Martens have also made a resurgence. Salt Water Sandal is another brand that was definitely popular with kids in the ‘80s and ‘90s and now they’re parents and their kids are wearing them. You see an ebb and flow of brands.”
What are some of the newest brands you’ve started carrying? And why?
“We’ve carried KEEN for about a decade. We ran into them at trade show and it just looked like a true northwest type of shoe. It has been for several years our number one selling brand in the store. We’ve carried New Balance for years and Birkenstocks forever. We’re not a true fashion house, we carry more practical shoes.”