Wednesday, December 26, 2007

That's One Large Step For Women

Jodi Grace is riding a trend: Feet are getting bigger. Her store, Big Foot, 5610 Fourth St. N, specializes in women's shoes size 10 and up.
photo-James Borchuck

A New Specialty Shop Offers Large Shoes For Large Feet.

By PAUL SWIDER, Times Staff Writer
Published December 26, 2007
From the St. Petersburg Times


Jodi Grace is not a big woman, only 5 feet 2 with a proportionate size 7 shoe. But like the market she is addressing, she knows people with big feet.

"When a woman has big feet, all her friends and family know it," said Grace, who in October opened Big Foot, a store that caters to women needing large shoes.

"I've had a lot of people come in and say, 'My father saw this store and told me about it.' How many fathers know their daughter's shoe size? Fathers of big-footed women do."

Grace's best friend is a size 12 so she has heard the stories for years about how impossible it is to find stylish shoes for big female feet.

One day, while Grace was telling her friend about career woes, her friend was again complaining about shoe shortages. And the idea was born. While a simple concept, big-shoe sales have their complexities.

"I thought, they're shoes, it's not rocket science," said Grace, 45, who has spent most of her career as a sales rep for others. "But I've learned a lot."

Those who don't know women with big feet think the store is a failure waiting to happen, Grace said; those with big-footed friends think it's a gold mine. Solving this latter group's pain is something like a public service, she said.

"It's not exactly social work, but people thank me all the time for starting this store," she said.

Grace did her homework before opening the store, but while business is good and growing, it's not in the areas she expected.

"I'm amazed at what's selling," she said. "The frumpy ones are doing 10 times better than I thought they would."

Grace had heard from her friend and others that it's hard for big-footed women to find style, so she deliberately downplayed the "old-lady" shoes. She also didn't think tall women would want heels, but they do. She's also waiting for the colorful sandals to start selling because her research told her big-footed women were tired of buying dull men's sandals and slippers.

Grace is playing on a trend: Feet are getting bigger. Humans generally are getting taller, but women's shoes seem to be growing more rapidly. Shoe stocks are changing, too, she said, perhaps because women now feel freer to buy their correct size instead of squeezing into the mainstream product that is on most shelves.

A hundred years ago, the average American woman wore a 3.5 or a 4, Grace said. The Professional Shoe Fitting Manual says that 60 years later, it was a 5.5 or a 6, then 8 or 8.5 during the 1980s. Now, the average women's size is somewhere in the 9s.

"I'm convinced it's the hormones in the food," Grace said. She also said that women are often attracted to taller men, which could create a kind of natural selection for tall genes that correlate with big feet.

The culture certainly has its examples of big-footed women. According to the Web site, tall women celebrities like Geena Davis, Nicole Kidman, Tyra Banks and Uma Thurman all wear size 11s or bigger. But even Meg Ryan or Paris Hilton at 5-8 clock in with 11s, as does 5-6 Kate Winslet.

But Grace is not aiming at the celebrity market. Her average price point is about $70.

She goes after the athletic market. She has already sent letters to every high school women's basketball coach in Florida. Soon, she'll go for volleyball. With the 2008 Women's Final Four slated for the St. Pete Times Forum, Grace is working on that audience, too. She already has her foot in the door of the coaches' conference right before.

But Grace also wants more of the cross-dressing/transgender market. She expected it and researched to prepare for it but hasn't seen as many customers as she hoped.

She suspects it's because that community is disorganized, so word hasn't gotten out yet. It will soon, though, she said, because she's already getting referrals from some men she has helped.

"They live in secret," Grace said. "They tell me it's psychologically helpful for them just to come and talk to me."

She sometimes stands in front of the store as a lookout while a man tries on shoes. She is planning invitation-only sales events where she'll cover the windows for privacy.

The window has been a telltale for the store, too. Grace still works as a sales rep for a carpet company, so the store is closed Mondays and Tuesdays. She said that on Wednesdays, when she comes in, she can see nose and hand prints from where the curious eagerly tried to see exactly what was inside.

While the business has been a learning experience, one thing she got right was the name. Colleagues told her women might find it too blunt and offensive, but she said customers appreciate the directness.

"They're adults," she said. "They know they have big feet."

Paul Swider can be reached at or (727) 892-2271.

Fast facts

Big Foot
5610 Fourth St. N
St. Petersburg, FL
(727) 525-3300

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