How I Made It

Start-up CEO shares his top 3 tips for aspiring retail entrepreneurs

Let's get some shoes: Footwear entrepreneur stumbled into creating demand
Let's get some shoes: Footwear entrepreneur stumbled into creating demand

Evan Streusand, CEO of handmade shoe-seller Fortress of Inca, has three major tips for aspiring entrepreneurs who are looking to break into the manufacturing industry:

1. Use materials that will last a long time

2. Treat employees well

3. And avoid products that require different sizes

Streusand, who officially launched Fortress of Inca in 2010, began by selling shoes to friends and acquaintances, and then started going into stores to present them to managers. His first big break came when he got his merchandise into Free People and the J. Peterman catalog, which helped to build momentum. "Our first three years, we doubled our sales each year," Streusand told CNBC.

An intense focus on materials is key to his business, and he believes making something that will last and isn't too harmful to the environment should be an entrepreneur's top priority.

"I would not feel right about making something that's just going to get thrown away in six months," he said.

Making a great product for consumers isn't enough, however; you also have to treat your employees with respect.

"We like to think that the people who make our shoes are just as important as the people buying our shoes," he said.

Of course, building a successful company does not come without setbacks.

Streusand's biggest mistake when he first started was ordering more products than necessary, he told CNBC.

"If you're going to order inventory, I'd say order less than you think you need," he said, adding that it's better to be out-of-stock than to have too much of a product.

Fortress of Inca
Source: Cameron Jordan

Streusand said having less inventory can be beneficial.

"If you don't have enough inventory, the worst thing that can happen is that a store comes to you and says, 'We want this. We'd love to order this right now,' and you say, 'We don't have it,'" he said.

"That sucks because you miss out on a sale, but at least they're going to then think, 'Well, next time we have to get to these guys earlier.'"

In that vein, Streusand advised against manufacturing merchandise that is size dependent. "Avoid sizes at all cost," he said.

"Everyone's foot is different. It makes things very, very difficult. You have to keep the whole run of sizes for everything; it makes life a lot harder," he said.