Tim Tam owns a particularly stylish collection of men’s shoes, all designed and produced by himself. In 2006 he had no experience designing shoes, but he knew how to establish a company, so he founded Carrucci Shoes. His shoes have since been sold at major outlets such as Nordstrom, DSW, and Off Broadway. Tim continues to design shoes and see them through to the market, always with quality in mind.
How did you get started with your business?
I was a consultant for a women’s shoe company from 2005 to 2006. I set the company up in the US and they did well. I figured, if I can build a company in a year then I can do it myself. I wasn’t interested in women’s shoes, so I decided to create a men’s shoe company.
How did you fund your business?
I didn’t get any funding. It would have been very difficult since I had no history of my trade. I am looking into funding for future expansion. Right now I have a couple interested investors.
Running the Business
How did you learn to run your business?
I had never designed shoes before, so I shopped and looked around. I went to trade shows; I shopped in Los Angeles, New York, Europe. I’m constantly brainstorming, looking through magazines, the internet. If I see something, I write it down, I take a picture. And I wear shoes other than my own so I can experience what other people make and how they differ.
I had to look for a line of manufacturers in China, which wasn’t easy. I shopped in China for material that I would buy and bring to the manufacturer who would create an initial sample. Then I’d show the sample to buyers in the US to see if it’s workable. My wife helps me by communicating with the manufacturers, which relieves me of working late at night.
Who was your first customer?
In the beginning I focused on building my brand and aiming for quality retail. I targeted boutiques and a mid-size market. I am still selling to some of those first customers. Since 2010 I’ve been selling to major outlets like Nordstrom, Off Broadway, and DSW. Major outlets are good because they buy in quantity and offer more exposure. Boutiques are good because they offer better profit and teach me the fashion trends.
I get some customer feedback through Facebook, but I get the best feedback from retailers. I’m constantly on the phone with retailers to know how they like the shoes and if they make a profit, because if they don’t make a profit, if there are too many customer returns or complaints, then they won’t buy.
What’s the biggest mistake you made in the first year?
My first batch of shoes were the wrong sizing. I made a great looking shoe but got the ratios wrong. I made a size 8 into a size 10. The retailer liked the shoe, but said that it was super big. We still sold all the shoes.
Also, I found out that fashion in the West Coast is two years behind Europe, so my ideas from Europe didn’t sell well in America. And selling to the European market didn’t work because of the shipping costs.
What’s the smartest thing you did in the first year?
I started with the right product – shoes made from good material that you can wear at work and in the evening. I offer quality at a reasonable rate. Americans are tired of import items that are cheap and don’t last. You get what you pay for. This is true when working with Chinese manufacturers.
With Chinese manufacturers, if you pay $5, you get a $5 value product. You might ask, can you do this for $4.50? They say, no problem. And then you ask, how about $3.50? They say, how about $4? You say, OK, and think, what a great bargain! But in reality you’ll get $4 worth of merchandise. The manufacturer is no dummy – he’ll give you a $4 product with the look of a $5 one.
I control the material as it arrives and leaves the manufacturer. I also randomly test shoes in a US certified lab for stability, durability, and chemical safety. The quality is backed by feedback from the retailers.
What’s the most rewarding thing about running your own business?
The experience I’ve gained. And seeing someone walking down the street wearing a shoe that I designed.
What’s the most challenging thing about running your own business?
Coming up with new ideas. I have new sample every day, though they don’t all become products. The good shoes stay on the market for four to five years. Customers and retailers will get tired of the same shoe, and so you have to keep dressing it up as a new shoe.
What business owner or entrepreneur do you admire most?
I like shoes by Alberto Guardiani. They’re very unique and very good quality.
What I’ve Learned
What do you wish you had known before you had started your business?
I wouldn’t do it anything differently.
What advice do you have for others starting their own business?
Like what you do. If you don’t enjoy it, quit, and get out. If you do do something, put the most effort in to get it right.
About the Author — Sarah Tang is a recent graduate of UC Berkeley where she learned to love the diverse personalities of mom-and-pop stores. She likes intriguing storefronts, creative specialty stores, and well-designed business websites.
This article was originally written on February 20, 2015 and updated on July 21, 2016.