A Mobile Shoe Truck Comes to Columbia

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COLUMBIA - Columbia has many food trucks that keep popping up over the city, and now a new shoe business is taking the same mobile approach.

Nathan Fleischmann is opening Stadium Shoes, a moving shoe truck, this fall. He said he has wanted to open a shoe business for a few years but didn't quite know how and what he wanted to do.

One day walking back from lunch, he said, a friend asked him, "If we can buy tacos and hamburgers and hot dogs from trucks, why can't you buy shoes from a truck?"

Fleischmann said there are several other shoe trucks across the country, but this will be the first in Missouri.

The truck will sell casual and athletic shoes, he said.

"You probably won't see dress shoes or high heels on the truck, but you probably will see ballet flats or canvas shoes," Fleischmann said.

Fleischmann won second place in this year's third annual Regional Economic Development, Inc. (REDI) #Boom Bounce Competition, an entrepreneurial pitch contest. He won $3,000 in seed money.

"It allowed me to take those financial winnings and put it toward stuff that I may not be the strongest at, such as legal paperwork and trademarking," he said. "Without this entrepreneurial start-up competition, I don't know if I would be meeting my goals in being able to launch as soon as this fall."

Sean Siebert, chair of the competition, said the shoe industry is almost entirely based on imports and is dominated by big-box stores.

He said this competition is unique to Columbia, because so many younger entrepreneurs take part, including high school and college students.

"Thirteen higher education institutes competed for first, second and third place prizes," Siebert said.

For the past three years, a start-up shoe-related business has won the competition.

"Footwear is a by-product of the entrepreneurial success that we're seeing with our young entrepreneurs," Siebert said.

REDI has already added two new high schools to this year's competition.

In 2011, 22-year-old twins Brynne and Bailye Stansberry, co-founders of TwoAlity, won first place for their clear rain boots with interchangeable liners.

"We were going against all these people that had medical devices and people who had been in the industry a lot longer than we had," Bailye Stansberry said.

Fleischmann said social media is a very big component in the success of his business.

"I think the mobile and transience of our residence, and the community at large, is reflected in social media," he said. "People like to post where they are, and what they're doing, and the new things that they're finding and the cool food that they're eating."

Fleischmann said that would help him decide where to set up his truck each day. He will post Stadium Shoe's location on his website and Facebook and rely on social media for customers.

Other mobile businesses have done the same. Kona Ice, a mobile sno-cone truck opened in May of this year. Co-owner Cathy Cook said the mobility of the truck is one reason for her and her husband's success.

"We get to go wherever we want and stay as long as we want," Cook said. "We don't have to sit there and wait for business to come to us, we can go where the business is."

Kona Ice attends events from pre-school birthdays to office parties. Cook said it doesn't take much to spread the word about her business.

"Your marketing is already done for you," she said. "I don't have to do a lot of marketing because the truck does it for us."

Cook said she drives the truck sometimes 12 to 14 hours each day. The couple also Tweets and posts their exact location on Facebook.

Virginia Wilson, director of small-business development at the University of Missouri Small Business and Technology Development Center, is not surprised by these entrepreneurs'' success.

She said market data shows that the shoe industry is experiencing leakage, meaning there is more demand than supply locally. People are shopping outside of mid-Missouri for shoes and going to bigger cities.

Wilson said these entrepreneurs are not just creating products.

"It's not a one-size-fits-all with these shoe businesses," Wilson said. "Each one is a different brand."