The Secret to the NFL Shoe Sisters’ Success
Kathleen and Kristina Cuce (COO-cheh – like “checkers), founders of Cuce Shoes did not go to school for fashion or design. At Old Dominion University in Virginia, Kathleen went for Pre Law and majored in Political Science and Criminal Justice. Kristina was Business and Finance major.
After graduation, their parents, who had always been in the food and beverage industry and own several restaurants in Virginia Beach, let their twin daughters run one of their high-end restaurants. The sisters have always had a great entrepreneurial spirit about them as they started in the restaurant industry working at their parent’s restaurants when they were 12. The twins learned great work ethic, how to communicate with customers, and how to run a business.
Their years in the hospitality industry would prove to be pivotal to their next endeavor.
Who are these ladies?
(Excerpt from their website) Cuce’ Shoes was founded in 2010 by Kathleen & Kristina Cuce, identical twin sisters who share a passion for everything fashion and sports.
“On November 15th, 2009, we flew from our home city of Virginia Beach, Virginia to Indianapolis, Indiana. We were heading to watch the Indianapolis Colts take on the New England Patriots at Lucas Oil Stadium. It was extremely cold and snowy as we made it to the Stadium for the 8:30 p.m. game. By the time we arrived to the arena, our feet were soaked and freezing. Luckily, it was 75 degrees in the dome so we watched the game in comfort and awe….though our tootsies remained soggy the entire time. As we surveyed the other women in the Stadium, we noticed every female fan was dressed head to knee in team apparel. Hats, scarves, jerseys, bracelets, jeans, everything but SHOES! We asked ourselves, could this actually be a part of a niche market that has been overlooked by other companies?
We stopped brainstorming in the 4th quarter as we watched the COLTS come back from a 13-point deficit with only 4 minutes remaining. Indianapolis ended up beating New England by 1 point in the final seconds of the game. Everyone will remember this game as the top game in rivalry history. But we will remember it as the day that an idea was born; the day that changed the course of our careers.
When I saw that my MsCareerGirl Editor had posted in our columnist community about the opportunity to interview them, I immediately requested the gig. I was checking emails in bed – (7am on Saturday is sleeping in for me) as I eagerly responded and included pictures of my family and I from Packer games and a picture of my shoe shrine in my closet so she would know how fitting it would be for a huge NFL fan and shoe lover like me to interview Kathleen and Krsitina. The early bird got the worm! We excitedly set the interview meeting. Without further ado, it’s time for kick off!
How did you transition from running the restaurant to your own business?
Our strong work ethic and customer service skills acquired since we were 12 were still in play as we started our next career – three general rules still apply:
- Working long hours
- Talking to customers
- Making sure the numbers all add up
What was your biggest challenge?
Kristina called the NFL licensing department every day for a month. They finally called us back and asked, “What do you want?!” After listening, he told us we could come up to New York City for a 20-minute meeting.
We knew nothing about footwear. Taking our own boots from our closet, we taped logos on them for our presentation to the NFL.
We got lucky. We are believers that timing is everything. Our meeting was at a pivotal time when the NFL had just started focusing on women and marketing products for wives and girlfriends. So right at the time they were putting this huge initiative together, they had two female die-hard Colts fans calling them. If we were a year earlier they wouldn’t have taken our call and if we were a year later, then someone else would have already been doing it.
They loved it because nobody else was doing it. That part was easy. The part that followed was the hard part.
Licensing took about a year. We made a ton of mistakes the first year. We lost a lot of money from those mistakes. We learned as we went. Somehow we had enough money to make it to year two.
Business-wise, our obstacles were finding a manufacturer that would work with all of the logos, ensure quality control, and deliver high quality, cruelty free footwear. That is huge for us – we’re huge animal lovers – it is not only an ethical choice but also it would allow women to wear the boots in rain and snow.
Our next big hurdle was introducing a new product to the market.
No one had a history of ever doing footwear with logos and here we were trying to introduce a brand new product in an already lacking industry. Half of the stores (mostly pro shops) didn’t even carry footwear. Talking buyers into testing out a new product was a definitely a challenge for us.
What did you say to those who doubted you/projected their fears to you?
For the most part our family was supportive. In our first year we were working 16-hour days. When we went to our first trade show, a lot of licensees said “Oh you aren’t going to make it. How the hell do you think that you’re going to compete with people in this licensed club? It’s full of big companies like Nike, Under Armor.” They looked at us as two females just trying to have fun. We kept our chin up and stayed optimistic. Here we are five years later – we showed them. One of the biggest tradeshow licensees always joked that they never thought they’d see us again after the first year. Now we’re friends.
What is one of your favorite moments from this experience thus far?
Our first year there were only three products featured in the NFL commercial and ours was one of them. (Author note: I totally remember seeing this commercial and thinking Ooooooo football boots!!) We had a tradition that no matter where we were – at home, in a bar, we would just scream bloody murder whenever it came on. And it played all the time. That really put us on the map.
Our second year, we were in the Fit For You campaign with Alyssa Milano. They flew us up to New York to be in the shoot and they flew us up three months later with all of the owner’s wives for the launch of the campaign. That was probably our highest moment.
What advice do you have for career girls who are not passionate about their job but don’t know what do next?
- To focus and stay strong when you’re doing something new.
- Try not to bite off too much.
- Don’t spend any money until you make money.
- Always plan.
- Expect the worst – so you are prepared for it. I think people go into business thinking they have a great idea and expect the rest of the world will think its great. Sometimes it works out like that if the timing is right. Sometimes it doesn’t.
- Go for it while you still have a job.
- Go slow.
So what do I think was the biggest secret to their success? Timing. Timing is everything. They entered a niche market at the moment when the NFL was looking to expand to the exact same audience. Yes, they made costly mistakes. Yes, they faced doubts from industry partners. But with their perfect recipe – equal parts realism and optimism plus timing that was spot on, these twins made their stylish shoes a success.
To get fashionable footwear of your own go to www.lovecuceshoes.com/.
It was an honor and a thrill for me to interview the Cuce sisters. After our interview, Kristina and Kathleen sent me a pair of Green Bay Packer boots!! I can’t wait to wear them in Lambeau at a GB game this November and when I do I will be sure to tag their Facebook and Instagram so they can see me rockin’ my Cuce NFL Swag. #gopackgo