joules polo end shoe store expands from South Tampa to International Plaza
Leigh Peters spent seven years in New York City as a buyer and seller for designers such as Calvin Klein, Donna Karen and XOXO.
In 2001, the Tampa native came home to be with family and decided to launch her own business. But it wasn’t women’s fashion that beckoned; it was Italian made children’s shoes.
“When you have young kids; your passion shifts to them,” said Peters, 38, who has two children, ages 5 and 7. “I wanted something that was unique to the area. This was something you couldn’t find here. And I was already very familiar with the brands from living in New York.”
Peters and her husband, Michael, president of an advertising firm, researched the children’s shoe market, and in February 2005 opened Poco Pattino (Italian for “little shoes”) in South Tampa. The store specializes in outfitting little feet in unique, high quality, hard to find shoes from Italy, Sweden, Japan and the United States.
The store got off to a slow start, said Peters. Many parents weren’t familiar with the European brand shoes she sold. But as word of mouth grew, so did business.
The store draws mostly South Tampa parents. Peters regularly heard from customers who didn’t live in South Tampa and wanted a more centralized location and longer operating hours.
In August, Peters opened a second shop at International Plaza.
“We really wanted to draw from the surrounding Bay area,” Peters said. “We now have customers coming from Clearwater, St. Petersburg, Sarasota and other areas. [This store] accomplished what we hoped it would.”
With about 1,100 square feet of selling space, the International Plaza store, which is on the second floor just outside Nordstrom’s,
offers a collection of children’s shoes from infant to junior size 6 including new walkers from Stride Rite; hip, casual Diesels and Sketchers; and run as fast as you can Nikes.
The shop also carries Geox, a line of light, breathable shoes; the Lelli Kelly line of embellished Mary Jane sneakers; Tsukihoshi, a light weight machine washable sneaker; Naturino’s colorful leather shoes for girls; and the eco friendly brand Simple, made from recycled tires. Shoes are priced from $29 to $100.
There’s also a play area where kids can entertain themselves while moms shop a collection of ladies shoes many in the same styles as the kiddies in sizes up to 10.
“I wanted [the children] to be able to run around and do things and be present while their moms pick out what they like. I think the store is a very happy medium,” Peters said.
First time customer Lisa Holland strolled in on a recent afternoon with daughter Heidi Skinner, 3, looking for a pair of soft soled shoes. She bought a pair of Doodles.
Peters measured Heidi’s feet and offered Holland advice on how to find the right pair of shoes and which shoes run narrow and wide. There are no widths in European shoes.
“They’ve really got a great selection of unique shoes,” Holland said. “I’ll definitely be back.”
Ellen Davis, spokeswoman for the National Retail Federation, said children’s shoe stores can do well in a recession because children always need shoes.
“Parents still want to be able to provide for their kids, even in an economic downturn,” said Davis. “While that may mean parents aren’t buying shoes that are as expensive, and they might not be buying as frequently, they still see children’s footwear as a necessity instead of something that’s just nice to have.”
Peters knows turning a profit in the midst of a recession is a daunting task. But she believes her retail experience and customer service will see her through.
The service doesn’t end when you complete the sale, she said. The shop keeps a file with a child’s size and preference and will call when the store is having a sale.
“Everyone tells me if I can hold on and make it through this, I’m going to come out swinging,” said Peters, who will continue to operate the South Tampa store. “Kids need shoes. Maybe not the $80 or $90 pairs,
but [their parents] will buy the $30 or $40 shoes. And I carry it all.”