The proverb “necessity is the mother of invention” is especially true in the case of Colette Glover-Hannah.
The latest entry into University Beat's series on entrepreneurs with ties to the University of South Florida – in this case, a self-proclaimed “mompreneur” – came up with the idea of her company, Hannah’s Shoebox because of the needs of her own daughter, Elois, when she was a pre-teenager.
“I was blessed with a daughter with large feet – I had a six-year-old in a size six, and it kept growing until she was 11 in a size 11,” said Glover-Hannah.
The tipping point came that Christmas after they found a beautiful formal dress for Elois, but she had to wear what her mother called “basic ballerina flats” with it because they couldn't find dress shoes in her size that were also appropriate for an 11-year-old.
“As the size gets larger for women’s shoes, we also realize that they become more mature – most things came with a heel, and a heel that was not appropriate for a fifth or sixth-grader at that time,” said Glover-Hannah.
So her sister-in-law said the magic words that inspired Hannah’s Shoebox – “Someone should start a store!”
Glover-Hannah, who had worked as Director of Media Relations and Associate Vice President of Community Relations at USF, in addition to earning her Master’s Degree there, also spoke to other parents on her daughter’s volleyball team.
“I had my own in-house focus group,” she said. “So after realizing that this was a problem not just for myself but other parents, I did (national) research with the Small Business Development Center…to realize there was a void in the footwear industry for…tween girls shoes, and when I say ‘tween,’ I’m talking about girls between the ages of eight and 14.”
Hannah’s Shoebox carries fashionable, reasonably-priced shoes and sandals for school, as well as everyday use and dressier occasions, from around 10 to 15 national brands (more during the fall and holiday seasons), like Ralph Lauren and Madeline Girl.
And it’s not simply about style – it's also about how the shoes make the girls feel.
Glover-Hannah said body image is an issue for many girls and young women with larger feet. She pointed to a 13-year-old girl who was six feet tall and wore a size 14 shoe in the seventh grade as an example.
“This girl had been wearing men’s shoes for two years because her parents couldn’t find anything age-appropriate until Hannah’s Shoebox came along and we were able to find some shoes for her,” said Glover-Hannah.
“(Some girls with larger feet) tend to walk around with their shoulders bent forward, they don’t want to bring attention to their feet,” she said. “With Hannah’s Shoebox, because they’re able to wear the same styles that other girls are wearing, they’re able to become trend-leaders in some of the styles that we’re able to provide – it really changes the way they feel about themselves.”
Glover-Hannah’s own daughter, Elois, is now 18 and a senior in high school. She works as a style consultant for Hannah’s Shoebox. She even made the company’s initial pitch to representatives of Ralph Lauren. It’s in that role that Glover-Hannah has seen a change in Elois’ self-esteem.
She said that, at one presentation, Elois talked about how she was embarrassed to wear a size 11 shoe, particularly when people would ask her about the size of her feet.
“It wasn’t until we started Hannah’s Shoebox and she became an ambassador for the store, people started saying, ‘Where’d you get those shoes?’ So the conversation changed,” said Glover-Hannah.
Glover-Hannah advises anyone hoping to start a business to address a perceived need to do what she did: first research it and then act.
“Do it,” she said. “I tell people, ‘Just look around you – it’s that thing where you just say, ‘I wish someone would do this’ or ‘I wish they had something for that.’’ That’s where that void is, wherever you see a gap in services or products, think about it and go for it.
“It’s not going to be easy and it’s not simple, but it is worth it.”