An Enduring Footprint
Concept: Shoe cleaner and shoe care line
Headquarters: Corona, Calif.
Mission: To grow successful entrepreneurs through education and opportunity with Shoe MGK
Strength of Concept: Markup of 500 to 600%; “magical” product demonstrated in common area
Number of locations: 60
At the core of every successful specialty retail business is a good product. For Shoe MGK, it’s their shoe cleaner that has made the company a fixture on the landscape for 25 years. Now owners Shawn and Rebecca Wiltshire are looking to walk all over the map and expand their footprint through an efficient network of owner-operators.
According to the NPD Group, the shoe industry is a $64 billion market in the United States alone. That’s billion with a B. Why would anybody not want a slice of that? That’s where Shoe MGK comes in.
Partners and husband-wife team Shawn and Rebecca Wiltshire believe that magic is dusted into every aspect of their specialty retail business, comprising a whole line of shoe care solutions. Together, they are poised to take their line of products—and their associated brand partners—to the next level.
There’s magic in the care
What is Shoe MGK? At its essence it is a line of products that cleans almost every kind of shoe. The cleaner-conditioner is the “800-lb. gorilla in the room,” Shawn says and is the key to the “magic.” There are a variety of kits that customers can choose from, including the MVP kit which includes the cleaner-conditioner, a water and stain repellant, touch-up white paint and a Shoe MGK brush.
Over its 25-year history, the business has added custom items for a variety of shoe materials from leather, sheepskin, suede and nubuck. Kits for different styles of shoes—leather, dress, sports—are also sold. The company recently launched Caps Magic for cleaning caps and kicks. Single-use wipes and two-ounce kits (in TSA-allowed bottles) are also available. In addition, Shoe MGK sells deodorizers and sandal cleaners.
Given the success that Shoe MGK has enjoyed, it’s intriguing that the genesis for the shoe-cleaning solution lay in an entirely different product: glass cleaner. Shawn started the business in 1992 in Orange County, Calif., when he was just 19 and working his way through college; he sold a glass cleaner at a local swap meet. Looking to expand his weekend business, he wondered what market he could target next. A basketball player, he liked his kicks and a large variety of athletic sneakers were just coming on the market at a time when Michael Jordan was making waves. It had to be shoes. He mixed a few chemicals with the help of a few friends and the MGK formula was born. Shawn partnered with a manufacturing company to private label the product, a decision that paid dividends rapidly. That manufacturer, David Williams, is now the co-owner of the product.
Shoe MGK took off so well that Shawn has never looked back. “Originally the shoe cleaner was going to help fund the glass cleaner. Five years in, the shoe cleaner really started growing on its own and took over the entire business,” Shawn laughs.
Rebecca says that they have two types of customers: “one that already knows our product, loves their shoes, and is a return customer.” The other is the one who needs to be educated about the efficacy of the product on whom the demos work really well, Rebecca says. “When they get their shoes cleaned and they look down, the look on their faces is amazing. They don’t realize how quickly and easily we can clean their shoes. The demo is super high-impact and gives the customer immediate gratification.”
Shoe MGK provides owner-operators with comprehensive turnkey solutions: the schematic at the mall location, a television to run demonstration videos, professional signage and a complete training manual and guide.
All in the family
Shawn was a cart retailer with six mall locations in California and was looking to expand even more when he met his future wife, Rebecca who was a specialty leasing director in southern California. They joke around that Shawn would take Rebecca out to lunch every month insisting that he did the same with all his leasing managers. Rebecca later found out that she was the only one who received such indulgences.
After they got married, Rebecca left the corporate leasing world to bring her experience to Shoe MGK. This partnership renders the Wiltshires an ability to see both sides of the fence and understand the whole picture. “Our past gives us a unique viewpoint on this industry. We’re able to understand both the retailer and leasing manager needs and work to bring this balance into every location,” Rebecca says, adding that the relationship between the operator and the leasing manager can be a crucial one that can support and grow operators or hinder and break down an operation.
Being a family and having started from scratch themselves, allows the Wiltshires to recognize novice entrepreneurs and include them in the larger Shoe MGK family. “We’re in it with you from A to Z,” Shawn says, “It’s very hard to have a business that makes money and profit in one year and we have. We have repeat customers. We have had carts open for more than ten years. It’s more than just a flash in the pan, we’re all in together as part of one family,” he says.
Such commitment to their operators manifests itself in more concrete ways. Owner-operators are invited to an annual dinner in Las Vegas (usually at the industry tradeshow SPREE). “We are not just a wholesaler. We work to create brand partners of our product,” Shawn says, “We work with our partners to bring Shoe MGK shoe care centers to strategic malls across the country where our operators and our concept will be most successful. We work closely with our operators in all areas of the business including leasing, visuals, training, guidance and support.”
“As a brand partner you receive an online account giving you access to ordering, sales and marketing tools, new product release information and general information on the state of the Shoe MKG nation,” Shawn says. “Operators who grow with us also have the opportunity to receive territorial rights and access to other Shoe MGK revenue streams which include fairs, specialty shows, and downline commission revenue for promoting new growth among their teams and through online sales websites.”
Kickstarting the future
With a promising markup of 500 to 600 percent, Shoe MGK is getting ready to strategically expand from its current 60 locations to at least 300 across North America and internationally. Plans are already underway in Panama.
With well over 35 million shoes cleaned (and two million pairs annually), the company is the oldest and most well-known, the Wiltshires report. “Our business passion is to see those we’ve helped come up. To put energy and support into entrepreneurs and see them thrive,” Shawn says. “Our operators are passionate about their kicks. They have found a great way of earning great money doing something they truly love.”
That mantra has percolated well in the immediate Wiltshire family as well. Shawn and Rebecca’s three children, who have grown up with the business, learned a slogan when very young: “What does Shoe MGK do? Cleans shoes and makes money.”
It’s the basic formula that has worked over the years and one that is on the cusp of delivering the same to a whole host of new owner-operators.