Abby Vitale searched and searched, but couldn’t find a sneaker she liked in a women’s size 7 last year at a shoe dealer convention in Crown Point. Whether it was a pair of Jordans, Nike Dunks or Adidas Yeezy, all shoes were for men.
That struggle led to an idea that, in just over a year, turned into a growing e-commerce business for the 21-year-old Indiana University student and her father. This also has created an online community for female sneakerheads.
Abby and Andrew Vitale launched Lilac Blonde in July 2021 from their family home in Fishers. It’s an online store primarily aimed at women between the ages of 18 and 35, a demographic that the Vitales say often feels left out of the world of “hype” or trendy sneakers.
Fans are spending big bucks on all the sneakers that are trending right now, and they’re waiting in long lines – at shoe conventions and also at outlets when new styles are released – to buy them. Abby Vitale said shoe retailers generally opt for men’s sizes, which means women are often frustrated when looking for the right size.
The hype sneaker industry “is very male-dominated. It’s mostly males it caters to,” Andrew Vitale said. “And Abby and I were walking around trying to find things that she likes at this big sneaker convention where people sell shoes, and it was hard to find your size.”
Lilac Blonde’s inventory includes footwear and apparel, such as activewear, sports bras, and biker shorts. And it recently introduced expanded options for kids.
“It all started with sneakers,” Andrew said. But the pair realized that women wanted a complete look. “The outfit was really important.”
Andrew manages the financial side of the business and uses his expertise in digital marketing and website building. He is a Partner and Head of Digital Marketing at Indianapolis-based Peak XV Marketing. Abby puts her social media and sneaker savvy to work.
They also focus on branding and personalizing the Lilac Blonde brand. The name is a nod to Abby’s favorite color – purple – and her hair color.
“We thought it would be a good thing to have a website, a place for women to go where they can easily find their sizes,” Abby said. “Because I know I love shoes, I know my friends love shoes, and they felt left out of the sneaker community because there was no size range available for them.”
Andrew, 50, said his love of sneakers developed in 1985 when Nike released their iconic Air Jordan 1 model. He passed his passion on to his daughter from a young age and they regularly traveled to shoe conventions over the years.
Over time, Abby has accumulated around 40 pairs of shoes, while Andrew’s collection has over 100.
“What really helped is that we love the shoes, so we love seeing the new drops, as well as the new shoes and inventory,” Abby said. “And it doesn’t really feel like a job.”
The Lilac Blonde website took a while to get started and was initially discontinued due to inventory issues, Andrew said. However, he and his daughter got down to business after attending another sneaker convention last year.
“I thought it would be good for Abby to basically learn about business, apply a lot of the things she does in school, and we’d work on it together,” Andrew said.
fight for space
Lilac Blonde has grown over the past year from 100 products to over 500.
The site recorded $250,000 in sales in the second half of 2021 after its launch. Andrew said the company is on track to achieve sales of $1-2 million this year and has set a target of $3-5 million for 2023.
“I think it’s an unusual level of success given that it’s been [just over a year] they’ve been in business, so I think that’s pretty spectacular,” said John Talbott, director of the Center for Retail Education and Research at IU’s Kelley School of Business.
“He’s grown way faster than expected,” Abby said. “We made some interesting moves this year. We’re releasing a lot more product inventory, and it’s gotten a lot bigger than expected. »
Jim Okamura, partner at Chicago-based retail consultant McMillanDoolittle, said the growing popularity of e-commerce “has provided tailwinds to many e-commerce businesses of all shapes and sizes. It has certainly increased the intensity of competition.
But he said startup retailers face many challenges. “One of the main challenges is how can they compete when there are so many others vying for the same eyeballs and clicks and ultimately the dollars they’re after,” a- he declared.
Abby and Andrew stressed the importance of being strategic in a crowded market.
They are working to drive customers away from major online shoe retailers such as Detroit-based StockX, New York-based Stadium Goods, and Culver City, Calif.-based GOAT. They are battling in the apparel market against brands such as Vancouver, Canada-based Lululemon and China-based Shein.
Andrew determines prices by observing market trends. He and Abby analyze every aspect of their business with the goal of increasing customer return rates. An Abby-initiated rewards program launched earlier this year.
To select products, Andrew will send Abby a pair of shoes and ask her if she and her friends would like them. This drives the majority of what the online store offers, Abby said.
“We also have shoes that I like to see but wouldn’t wear,” she said. “I do not know [own] all green shoes, but we have a lot of green shoes on our website because we know what our customers want by talking to them.
Andrew said the biggest challenge is gaining the trust of customers with so many counterfeit items floating around the internet.
Lilac Blonde products ship from its home base in Fishers and from its retail partners in Chicago (The Highest Sneaker Store) and Miami (Sauced Sneaks). Products arrive in Lilac Blonde packaging with a thank you card from Abby.
Their partners “list their inventory on our site and everything the customer sees is sold by Lilac Blonde,” Andrew said. “When an order comes in for their inventory, they use our packaging and ship directly to the customer as Lilac Blonde.”
Growth through social media
Lilac Blonde’s marketing is focused on Instagram and TikTok.
To curate the company’s Instagram feed for its 26,000 followers, Abby posts videos and livestreams, while Andrew takes photos. The Lilac Blonde TikTok account has over 7,100 followers, and the Vitales hope to increase that number next year.
Social media has helped Lilac Blonde create her own little sneaker community within the larger sneaker community, she added.
“Through Instagram and TikTok, we’ve reached out to so many women, from grandmas, to moms, to young girls getting their first pair of Jordans, and even boyfriends and dads getting shoes for their daughters, girlfriends and wives,” Abby said.
Okamura said small startups like Lilac Blonde should be nimble in their marketing. Challenges for e-commerce businesses include the marketing skills, technology, and budgets needed to increase awareness, drive traffic, and convert website visitors into customers. Data is critical to success, he said.
“Obviously, social can be a great equalizer, but social is also where all the big brands have moved most of their marketing as well,” Okamura said. “’How do we get initial brand awareness that ultimately leads to paying customers?’ And all of these are sort of their own distinct ceilings to cross.
He also cited customer experience and authenticity as major keys.
Fishers’ Katelyn Marando, who found Lilac Blonde via Instagram, said she used the business to buy Nike Dunks and Jordans for herself, her 3-year-old daughter and 6-year-old son.
“It’s great that they cater to women’s sizes, because a lot of times different sneakers that I would really like, I could only find them in larger men’s sizes, and it’s so great that you you can go to a place and they’ll most likely have your size, and now they have kids’ sizes,” Marando said. “And so it’s been fun shopping for them, too.”
Marando added that she’s willing to pay a premium through Lilac Blonde to find the shoes she wants because she knows they’re available. Buying women’s shoes through Nike usually meant getting lucky on your timing.
“You might have to pay a little more, but at least you know that if it’s a pair you’re obsessed with and love, you can find them on their site,” she said. “I never feel bad about paying a little extra to get exactly what I want and to support a small local family business.”•