Conventional wisdom says selling consumer goods like footwear is a task better left for a gargantuan website. Lower overhead costs and competitive pricing are two of the main reasons.
Ann Matthews knew well that conventional wisdom when she opened Arktana shoes in 2014 in Camas. And the store thrived. It did well enough that Matthews will open the second Arktana on July 1 in The Shops at Erickson Farms in Felida, followed by a July 23 grand opening.
Matthews says it has not always been smooth sailing for Arktana as it navigated the hazards of independent, brick-and-mortar retailing. But she believes a combination of customer service, wide product selection and creative marketing helped the first location establish a niche and grow at 415 N.E. Fourth Ave. in Camas and create a path for the Felida store.
“Customer service is the very most important thing that we do,” said Matthews, a trait that helps the shop distinguish itself from bigger online competitors.
Playing an active role in the community also is important, she said.
“I love to collaborate and work with other businesses,” she said, and that’s led to holding fashion shows, fundraisers, shoe auctions and private events in the Camas store, typically featuring food, wine and discounts.
“We try to be the place where other businesses can bring their employees or their customers, too,” she said.
Matthews’ approach earned her recognition in 2017 with the Entrepreneur of the Year award at Washington Main Street’s Excellence on Main Awards Ceremony in Ellensburg.
She anticipates a similar approach at The Shops at Erickson Farms, 10706 N.W. Lakeshore Ave., Suite 108.
In addition to the noon to 7 p.m. July 23 grand opening with refreshments, raffles and gifts with purchase, Matthews says she has reached out to local groups. Arktana will be a sponsor for a nearby golf tournament, she said.
Marketing alone isn’t enough for a small store to survive. Matthews, who once worked as direct sales leader for a company selling sterling silver jewelry, has a sense of some of the extras needed to compete.
Selection is one of them. The store carries shoe brands such as Bed Stu, Pikolinos, NAOT, Sofft, and Antelope and handbags from Bed Stu, Latico, Aunts and Uncles and Baggallini. Matthews recently added clothing to her inventory, focusing on packable basics from Spanx, Jag, FOIL and Yest. Arktana also has sterling silver jewelry, sunglasses and the Hipsi Invisible belts.
The store offers styles from Spain, Portugal, Italy, Israel and Brazil as well as local producers.
As a small wholesale customer, she’s occasionally lost brands that decide they want to sell online only. Matthews says that’s OK because, “the new lines come out, we find them at the shows and we can bring our customers new and exciting products that they end up liking better anyway.”
She still sells Sorel brand boots, the successful Columbia Sportswear subsidiary. She has to compete with lower prices at the Columbia employee store but, again, Matthews says customers will buy from Arktana for the same reasons other products flow from the shelves. Also, there’s an advantage of selling to local customers who don’t want to make the trek to Oregon.
And about that name — Arktana. It’s a nod to the home state of Arkansas for her husband and her own home state of Montana.
A development in February may have encouraged independent shoe sellers that the game was tilting their way. That’s when Payless ShoeSource declared bankruptcy and announced it would liquidate its 2,100 stores.
That would not be an accurate reading of the market, said Andy Polk, spokesman for the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America.
“There are some independents that are struggling,” Polk said in an email to The Columbian. “Retailers are having a hard time, generally, with pricing and margin because consumers nearly demand to see discounts at every store. The independents doing well have the right product in store and great service.”
Matthews believes Arktana fills that bill. And she’s banking on Felida-area customers backing up her gamble.