MILWAUKEE – Kathryn Jackson operates her business from the most modest of headquarters — a windowless office in a nearly 90-year-old industrial building that has attracted an eclectic mix of small firms, artists and musicians seeking inexpensive space.
"We kind of try to run lean," Jackson said.
But there's nothing downscale about Jackson's market. Her firm, Protect Your Pumps LLC, targets women who spend hundreds of dollars on a pair of shoes and want them to look great heel to toe and top to bottom.
A Tuskegee University business graduate who found that corporate life didn't suit her, Jackson, 28, launched the firm in 2011 after having a brainstorm while selling pricey shoes at Neiman Marcus in Chicago. Now she sells her clear adhesive shields all over the world.
Stick them on the bottom of a pair of Jimmy Choo stilettos or Manolo Blahnik snakeskin thong sandals and the soles will stay as sleek and shiny as the uppers.
"It is a bit of a niche market," said Jackson, who on this day was wearing a pair of taupe Michael Kors pumps. "There are a lot of women who wouldn't think to protect the bottom of their shoe."
Jackson has nurtured her online business through social media and connecting with fashion bloggers who share her enthusiasm — she has about 70 pairs of shoes — for footwear.
The shields, which are made by a Pennsylvania company, cost $7 to $10 a pair and come in packages of three, 10 or 20 pairs. They typically should be replaced after being worn five to 10 times, Jackson said.
"Some of the girls buy a 10-pack or a 20-pack a month. And they are not buying $50 shoes.
"Some of them are high executives at big companies with a lot of disposable income. Some of them are wives of NFL, NBA players."
But Jackson said her customer base also includes "that woman who saved for months to buy that one pair of Christian Louboutin or Jimmy Choo shoes, so she's really interested in preserving them."
Pushing for further growth, Jackson recently started offering monthly subscription plans at discounted prices that she hopes will generate a steady revenue stream.
Rising sales could help Jackson in her plans to develop other shoe care products and maybe even prompt her to resume her former pace of footwear purchases.
"I don't buy as many now because I run a business," she said.
But the appeal remains.
"For women, a good pair of shoes just gives you the right attitude," Jackson said.