Cobbler Union is making the gentlemen of Atlanta a little more dapper with one-of-a-kind comfortable shoes. They are bringing an age-old shoemaking tradition into the 21st century by setting up a direct-to-consumer revenue model through their e-commerce. It allows for them to cut down the cost of the shoes without sacrificing quality.
Co-founders Stephen Beehler, Daniel Porcelli and Santiago Pereiro have focused on creating a good quality shoe through small-batch production, using top-grade leather and attention to detail since 2014. It works. Since starting, they quickly caught the eye of shoe aficionados in Atlanta and abroad.
Cobbler Union contracts local artisan shoemakers in Spain, who have generations of experience under their belts, to revive a tradition often overlooked in favor of mass production. The result? An affordable yet beautiful shoe that you can be proud of. Now, Cobbler Union has sold shoes in 50+ countries and is aggressively expanding to Europe where it continues to receive sustainable organic revenue.
With last week’s Consumer Show at Switchyards under their belts and new retail store at Ponce City Market, the Cobbler Union team has gained incredible momentum in the last few months with little funding. Here, Cobbler Union talks about their e-commerce, B2C journey in Atlanta, why is important to focus on craftsmanship, and what’s next during 2016.
What’s your pitch?
Luxury prices are going up and their quality is going down. In many cases, people are paying high prices for the name on the shoe, not the actual shoe. But regardless of quality, many of these heritage luxury brands are using an outdated traditional retail model. The high markups that come from traditional retail continue to be passed on to the consumer. It doesn’t make sense anymore for a smart buyer.
Direct-to-consumer brands, like Cobbler Union, eliminate that markup from the get go. Additionally, our business model means we have a direct relationship with everyone that buys our shoes. This is valuable for both parties. Consumers get to know more about the product and get direct care plus we get direct feedback from them to improve our product and process.
Another important aspect to our business model is how we produce our shoes in small batches. This allows for us to offer a more diverse collection of shoes. We spend less of our capital holding massive amounts of inventory and instead, we are constantly launching new batches of shoes to either restock a particular style or to launch a new design. Cobbler Union’s business model and small-batch production process means consumers can get extremely high quality shoes at an affordable price point. We define luxury by quality and craftsmanship, not by high prices.
How was your experience at Switchyards’ Consumer Show?
It was great pitching at the Consumer Show because the audience is awesome. They’re there to support and help, not judge. I think one of the strongest aspects of Atlanta’s startup scene is that there’s really a true sense of genuine community and Switchyards is at the epicenter of that. Atlanta in general has “a rising tide, lifts all boats” mentality and I find that truly special about the city.
Let’s talk about branding behind your name and your focus on tradition.
Part of the reason in which we named the company Cobbler Union is to bring recognition to the shoemakers. A lot of shoe brands out there are named after one person — the designer, or either it’s a made up name. For us, the real heroes are the artisans. Shoemaking is a dying profession. Fortunately there’s been a bit of a menswear renaissance in the last five, six years, allowing the profession to start to come back. By calling our brand Cobbler Union, we’re putting these artisans on the pedestal, and giving them the recognition the deserve.
Our focus isn’t glitz, glam, price, flashy Rodeo Drive, it’s humble. We use craft paper boxes. The showroom is supposed to be a little bit of a souped up cobbler shop with unpolished floors and exposed brick and antique everything. It’s putting those artisans at the forefront of the brand, because they’re the ones actually making the shoes, and they’re the ones that should have a spotlight on them.
How’s the e-commerce area growing, now two years in?
Online has been great. Definitely growing. The ability to grow there is obviously faster and essentially kind of unlimited. We’ve also found that a lot of men are finding us online and then when they naturally come to Atlanta for business, they will stop by and buy in store. Once having tried on the shoes and experiencing the brand they now have the confidence to order from us online whenever needed. The store and e-commerce site have been complimentary to each other.
As a founder of a fashion startup, do you feel like you had enough resources to succeed in Atlanta? What are some lessons learned that may help other founders?
Atlanta might not be the first place that one thinks of when starting a menswear company. But, Atlanta has delivered more than I could have possibly imagined. The amount of young talent, with a startup mentality, coming out of Atlanta’s universities has been phenomenal. Couple that with a significantly lower cost of living and it makes taking risks much more feasible and enjoyable.
The biggest challenge to date for us has been finding funding for a consumer goods, B2C company in this city. But with that said, not finding funding has taught us to be smart with the capital we do have. We make every dollar count and I think that is a critically important mentality. One of the most effective aspects of Cobbler Union so far has been the speed of our execution. We couldn’t and didn’t wait for funding to start growing — things we couldn’t afford to do, we just made happen. We had to trust ourselves and those risks have taken us to a place where our organic revenue is now able to sustain us.
What’s on deck for 2016?
On deck for 2016 we’re going to be launching a line of bags in the fall, which I am pretty excited about. Our leather bags are currently being made outside of Seville, Spain. We’re working on a weekender, a tote, and a soft briefcase, and potentially a backpack. We also launched belts at the beginning of 2016, which are all cut made to measure with interchangeable buckles. If all goes really well during the holiday season of 2016, we’ll start looking into the idea of opening another store outside of Atlanta.