High end sneakers, with strong appeal amplified by today’s basketball stars and their endorsements, can be hard to find and very expensive. After paying the price for a new pair, buyers may find the new “kicks” do not fit like they had hoped.
ColaKicks in Five Points, opened by former University of South Carolina roommates Adam Patrick and Josh Kilgore about a year ago, offers the perfect solution to this quandary. Their sneaker resale store serves customers looking to buy or sell coveted high end sneakers.
“Adam and I started with just the two of us,” Josh says. “We would have a bunch of people come by and just hang out. It was kind of a barbershop vibe. You don’t have to come in and shop all the time. Come in, and we will talk about shoes, sports, or anything.”
Today the store has six employees, many who used to hang out at the shop sharing their common interest in sneakers and collectable garments.
“Adam always collected shoes, but I was mostly a Goodwill or thrift shop guy,” Josh says. “I would buy whatever I thought I could potentially sell on eBay, not exclusively shoes.”
It was a way to make money at first to help with college expenses. “Then we realized that we had a passion for it,” Josh says. The pair soon began exploring the idea of opening a specialty shop.
“Basically, all through high school, I played basketball and was always wearing sneakers,” Adam says. “My parents eventually said they wouldn’t buy them for me anymore. I realized that there could be money in this one niche trade.”
Adam focused on marketing because he was a longtime collector and also knew more big-name athletes. He is majoring in sports management but has not yet graduated from USC. Josh, who already has an economics degree, worked behind the scenes, developing the business plan and conducting research for their entrepreneurial startup.
The business partners’ first, short-lived pilot store was located in a tiny, 800-square-foot space on Rosewood Drive. The pace was decidedly slow, and after a string of break-ins, their insurance company almost dropped them. Although they sold some shoes online, they kept running out of inventory. They needed to buy people’s gently pre-loved sneakers, which meant they needed clients coming and going from their store daily. So they decided that relocating to a place with more foot traffic might make a difference.
“We had about 40 pairs of shoes, so we risked it,” Adam says. “Now we have 2,000 pairs of shoes.” They sell the shoes from their much larger 5,600-square-foot Five Points store. “We added shirts because we had the space. We also have jerseys and vintage clothing. Stuff from the ‘90s is really popular right now.”
A Two-Way Street
The ColaKicks business model focuses on buying gently used, in-demand sneakers and selling them for a fraction of what they would cost in the retail world. About half of their customers sell their shoes, providing inventory, and about half buy these coveted styles.
“People like the affordability of it. When some of these shoes come out, they sell for $200 or more, and we can sell them for about half that,” Josh says. “For 90 percent of what we sell, the retail prices range between $160 and $200. People may go to the mall and buy them new, wear them a couple of times, and sell them to us. The affordability factor keeps people coming back.”
Both Josh and Adam agree that their average customer at ColaKicks varies widely, but most are male. “Sometimes they are college kids,” Josh says, “but most of the time, they are 25 to 35-year-old men.”
Increasingly, girls and women are a growing demographic in the world of basketball kicks. A recent news story illustrated that point to NBA star Steph Curry of the Golden State Warriors. He lends his name to a popular brand of basketball shoes for Under Armour, the “Curry 5.”
A 9-year-old girl, who wanted to purchase some Curry 5s, was disappointed when she found no girls’ sizes of the Curry 5 were listed on the Under Armour website. She wrote a letter to the basketball pro expressing her dismay, particularly in light of the fact that Steph has two daughters and has been an outspoken advocate for gender equality. Steph immediately wrote the girl back explaining that he had taken steps to rectify the problem and even sent the girl a complimentary pair of Curry 5s.
Right now, ColaKicks carries about 90 percent men’s shoes, but it does have a small women’s selection.
“I believe the shoe culture is expanding,” Josh says. “Athletic shoemakers need to produce more products that include styles for girls and women. We need to do the same.”
ColaKicks absolutely guarantees the authenticity of their sneakers. “We have built a reputation for ourselves,” Adam says. The partners take that standard very seriously and would never sacrifice that hard-earned reputation by accepting bogus shoes. Even if the prices may seem too good to be true, customers still can trust they are getting the real deal.
Adam says that pricing is decided on a case-by-case basis. Various apps for sneakers mimic the blue book guide for cars. The store owners often check StockX.com when they are assessing the worth of a particular pair of sneakers. Describing itself as a “stock market for things,” StockX is a recognized authority in the sneaker and street wear industry. As such, it can be used as a reliable indicator of what people are paying for brand-new sneakers. “For used shoes, we have to use our judgment,” he says. “We like to keep our prices lower than others.”
“I think the biggest challenge for us is in building and maintaining customer relationships and keeping both parties happy,” Josh says. “Someone may go to the mall and buy a pair but only wear them once. When they bring them to us for sale, they don’t always understand that we offer less than what they paid originally. I don’t want to come off as low-balling them, but I also don’t want to charge too much for the person who comes into the store to buy those shoes expecting to pay less.”
Adam has lived sneaker culture for years. His favorite right now is the Off-White Jordan 1.
“Off-White also has a designer clothing line; it’s a collaboration with Nike,” he says. “There’s a pretty high demand for the Off-White brand and Kanye West’s shoe line, Yeezy. Jordans will always be Jordans, and they will always sell.”
A note of caution: collecting these kicks may be habit-forming. Sometimes customers come into ColaKicks to sell their high-end sneakers only to turn around and buy another pair they see in the store. Exclusive, in-demand, authentic sneakers can run collectors thousands of dollars. For some, price is not a deterrent if they are the true, coveted grails for which they have been searching.
“Some people have $1 million shoe collections,” Adam says. “It’s a different culture.”
The very nature of sneaker culture demands that the partners have a bricks-and-mortar shop.
“All of our inventory comes from people coming in off the street. We need to be here,” Adam says. “We actually have to turn away shoes daily. We get 50 to 60 pairs of shoes a day sometimes. It’s insane!”
Customers hanging out at ColaKicks stand a pretty good chance of spotting a standout college athlete or even a professional sports star. Word has gotten around, and ColaKicks is a destination for serious sneaker aficionados.
“We have sold shoes to celebrities and USC athletes,” Adam says. “We do have one pair of shoes that were Ray Allen’s (three-time NBA champion and Hall of Famer). Also, former Gamecock Sindarious Thornwell of the LA Clippers and A’ja Wilson of the Las Vegas Aces have been customers. Most athletes from USC during the past three to four years come to us. Roddy White (retired leading receiver for the Atlanta Falcons) has even bought shoes from us!”
Josh hasn’t had much time to process the shop’s success so far. While it did not happen overnight, it came pretty swiftly. He has no desire to grow the business online just yet but entertains the idea of possibly opening another physical store location. He likes the Columbia area, but he does not want to ponder those future factors prematurely.
“We have more than exceeded my expectations in one year,” he says. “People like what we do, and I guess we just got lucky. I don’t want to really push an online store because I like having people come in the store and talk — and actually touch the shoes they are going to buy. You can’t really do that online. These decisions go much further than money. It’s about building the shoe culture in the city.”