Providing her customers with the correct fit and style of shoe is a top priority for Nana Byun, owner of the newly opened Shoe City & Stride Rite, a family-friendly store that stocks long-lasting quality brands like Clarks, Hush Puppies and of course Stride Rite.
Byun comes from a family that has been in the shoe business for 40 years. Her father, John Byun, a South Korea native, opened his first shoe store on Fordham Road in the Bronx, later establishing seven other stores around the New York City area.
The Byun family has had a loyal customer following over the years, and Byun is hoping to replicate that again in her new business.
As a child, Byun helped out in her father’s Fordham Road shop, serving as a cashier, then sales clerk and later learning the ropes as a shoe buyer. For a while, Byun attended college in the hopes of studying the culinary arts, but decided it was not for her. After a four-year stint in the navy, she returned to the shoe business, an industry she knows and loves.
“I tried a lot of things, but eventually went back to the shoe business,” said the friendly entrepreneur, who often looks to her father for guidance, but also relying on her mother, Sooky, for additional help in the store.
The selling of shoes may seem straightforward, said Byun, since everyone needs footwear of some sort. However, there are several factors that help retailers stay one step ahead of the competition, she explained.
As a shoe store appealing to the whole family, Byun provides her customers with a high level of service. That means measuring the feet to determine the correct size, asking customers if any problems exist with their feet and then selecting the shoe that will best fit.
Byun, a Closter, New Jersey resident, specializes in finding just the right width of shoe for her customers and is particularly adept at accommodating customers who use orthotics.
“The hardest aspect of this business is knowing what the majority of my customers are looking for,” said Byun, referring to the advance knowledge she must have before prospective customers even walk in the door, as well as knowing the specific trends that will appeal to everyone.
Not an easy task, to be sure, but Byun said her experience over the years has taught her to listen to what customers are saying. “In my opinion, you can’t sell without listening first,” she said.
In this brightly lit store, which was designed by her sister, Jinna McHugh, a fine artist, Byun carries a lot more than just the tried and trusted family brands. Catering to men, women and children, Byun has selected a range of manufacturers that will appeal to everyone.
Brands like Nine West, Naturalizer and Baldino, all of which produce trendy yet comfortable shoes and boots for women, are popular with Byun’s customers, while the Keen and SAS shoe brands are also a favorite. Byun also carries Mocassin shoes and boots, in addition to a selection of Merrell casual footwear.
While many of these brands can be purchased in other stores, Byun said customers won’t get the type of service and detail to attention she offers. Because every type of shoe is made differently, it’s important to pay attention to the details.
Things to look for include the level of arch support a shoe provides, the width and length of a shoe and if that’s comparable to a customer’s foot, the type of material in the shoe, matching the shape of one’s foot with a similarly shaped shoe, and whether or not a new shoe feels comfortable when tried on for the first time. “If one’s foot isn’t set right into a shoe, then the whole body feels it,” noted Byun.
Often customers may want to buy a shoe because it looks good, but Byun cautions them to consider comfort first. “I say to customers, don’t go by the height of the heel; go by the inside of the shoe.”
Byun said her store is a place where the whole family can not only be outfitted with quality shoe ware, but will also be provided with a more economical alternative to the discount shoe stores that sell cheaper products but fail to last for a long time and the large department stores that don’t offer the trusted advice she willingly provides.
“I see a lot of potential for business here in White Plains,” said Byun. “I believe in my shoes.”
Shoe City & Stride Rite is located at 188-190 Martine Avenue in White Plains. The store is open Monday through Saturday, 10 a.m. to 8 p.m., and on Sunday from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. From now through Dec. 31, government employees with a valid ID can get a 20 percent discount on a pair of regularly-priced shoes. For more information, call 914-761-1101.