It is a common story for many entrepreneurs featured in SWAAY: she has a full-time job (often in finance), she has an idea, she pulls double duty working her day job and her evening side hustle, until one day something pushes her out of the nest to turn that once-sidelined passion into a full-fledged business. Such is the background of Sarah Caplan. After launching her shoe brand Footzyfolds, Caplan became the captain of the e-commerce division of the parent company of KidsShoes.com, which specializes in manufacturing high-end kids’ shoes for retail stores, and has pivoted to expand into the online shopping market.
E-commerce is the new norm, and it has been a rough year for retail. 2017 will likely see an unprecedented amount of store closings, including Macy’s, JCPenney, and Bebe, which expects to close all stores by the end of May this year. Retail has the stubborn problem of high start up and fixed costs. Rent and inventory make it nearly impossible to compete with the convenience of online shopping. Amazon is a testament to the now-ubiquitous process of exclusively shopping online. With over 100,000 unique visitors per month and plans to scale up internationally, KidsShoes.com is riding the rising tide of the online retail monolith.
Sarah Caplan Courtesy of Sarah Caplan
Although Caplan’s background in entrepreneurship is impressive, her ingenuity is best illustrated by the development of her app KidsSizing, which she created for KidsShoes. Seeking a strategy to differentiate KidsShoes.com from the competition (think Zappos) proved to be a challenge.
Without the possibility to undercut the sales prices of similar e-commerce shoe companies, KidsShoes.com had to create a market opportunity from elsewhere. Like many light-bulb ideas, Sarah’s inspiration came from a personal frustration: kids shoe sizes were different for every brand. She saw an opportunity in this common predicament and capitalized on it.
“In order to be able to be different from the retails that we were selling our brands to, I had to come up with a concept of what is going to separate us and how can we be different if we are selling the same shoes to Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s and all the places that get the brands that we have on our website.”
Her experience with her then one-year-old was exhausting: trying on countless pairs of shoes, buying several, then returning most of them, coupled with the ever-changing size of her child’s shoes. And proper-fitting shoes for children is an important and finer detail that is often overlooked. Short and long term damage to the feet can result from ill-fitting shoes, and children usually can’t tell if their shoes bother them.
“I came home and ordered him three more pairs of shoes because I got his size, and they came in the mail but none of them fit.”
After they went back to return the shoes, the store said that the sizes change and vary between brands. It’s a common problem for clothing in general; at one store you are a medium, while at another you’re a small. It exemplifies a challenge for online shopping: you never know precisely what you are going to get. In the world of kid’s shoes, Caplan says that “getting your kid’s foot measured means absolutely nothing. It’s all about how the shoe is made.”
“How are parents ever shopping online for their kids if all the shoes are made differently?” poses Caplan.
This problem needed to be mitigated, and a solution for KidsShoes would put them ahead of their competitors in terms of customer convenience. With her background in project management and ability to communicate in the tech world, Caplan collaborated with developers to develop the app KidSizing. Simply place your child’s foot on your iPad or iPhone, and it’ll generate a correct size for every brand that KidsShoes.com carries, ensuring you get the correct fit each time. The project proved to be the right move, and Sarah is adamant that her skills in project management and implementation are integral for the success of the app, and recommends it as a skill for every other facet of people’s lives.
Picture Courtesy of KidsShoes
Though there already were similar sizing apps, what separates KidSizing from those apps is that the app is linked directly to the manufacturer – KidsShoes.com itself.
“Everybody can have an idea,” Caplan explains. “It’s how you get it off the ground, and it’s how you implement it and bring it to market.”
In addition to KidSizing, Sarah also identified another market gap in children’s shoes – fast fashion. KidsShoes launched their own kids’ shoes brand, Sydney Jordyn, in order to keep up with the latest fashions in kids wear and “come up with the latest items in fashion for kids, very quickly.” Sydney Jordyn is well on its way to becoming the first stop on the web for the freshest styles for children’s footwear.
The combination of being the manufacturer of an exclusive app and of a kids’ shoe brand has been fruitful for the nine-month-old company. In an age of rapidly changing markets and evolving customer taste, companies have to adapt quickly, and with purpose. KidsShoes.com wedged themselves in a crowded e-commerce market, but carved a niche within it by rolling out a smart marketing campaign and solid implementation.
New parents re-entering the workforce are often juggling the tangible realities of daycare logistics, sleep deprivation, and a cascade of overwhelming work. No matter how parents build their family, they often struggle with the guilt of being split between home and work and not feeling exceptionally successful in either place.
Women building their families often face a set of challenges different from men. Those who have had children biologically may be navigating the world of pumping at work. Others might feel pulled in multiple directions when bringing a child into their home after adoption. Some women are trying to learn how to care for a newborn for the first time. New parents need all the help they can get with their transition.
Women returning to work after kids sometimes have to address comments such as:
"I didn't think you'd come back."
"You must feel so guilty."
"You missed a lot while you were out."
To counteract this difficult situation, women are finding mentors and making targeting connections. Parent mentors can help new moms address integrating their new life realities with work, finding resources within the organization and local community, and create connections with peers.
There's also an important role for parent mentors to play in discussing career trajectory. Traditionally, men who have families see more promotions compared to women with children. Knowing that having kids may represent a career setback for women, they may work with their mentors to create an action plan to "back on track" or to get recognized for their contributions as quickly as possible after returning to work.
Previously, in a bid to accommodate mothers transitioning back to work, corporate managers would make a show at lessoning the workload for newly returned mothers. This approach actually did more harm than good, as the mother's skills and ambitions were marginalized by these alleged "family friendly" policies, ultimately defining her for the workplace as a mother, rather than a person focused on career.
Today, this is changing. Some larger organizations, such as JP Morgan Chase, have structured mentorship programs that specifically target these issues and provide mentors for new parents. These programs match new parents navigating a transition back to work with volunteer mentors who are interested in helping and sponsoring moms. Mentors in the programs do not need to be moms, or even parents, themselves, but are passionate about making sure the opportunities are available.
It's just one other valuable way corporations are evolving when it comes to building quality relationships with their employees – and successfully retaining them, empowering women who face their own set of special barriers to career growth and leadership success.
Mentoring will always be a two way street. In ideal situations, both parties will benefit from the relationship. It's no different when women mentor working mothers getting back on track on the job. But there a few factors to consider when embracing this new form of mentorship
How to be a good Momtor?
Listen: For those mentoring a new parent, one of the best strategies to take is active listening. Be present and aware while the mentee shares their thoughts, repeat back what you hear in your own words, and acknowledge emotions. The returning mother is facing a range of emotions and potentially complicated situations, and the last thing she wants to hear is advice about how she should be feeling about the transition. Instead, be a sounding board for her feelings and issues with returning to work. Validate her concerns and provide a space where she can express herself without fear of retribution or bull-pen politics. This will allow the mentee a safe space to sort through her feelings and focus on her real challenges as a mother returning to work.
Share: Assure the mentee that they aren't alone, that other parents just like them are navigating the transition back to work. Provide a list of ways you've coped with the transition yourself, as well as your best parenting tips. Don't be afraid to discuss mothering skills as well as career skills. Work on creative solutions to the particular issues your mentee is facing in striking her new work/life balance.
Update Work Goals: A career-minded woman often faces a new reality once a new child enters the picture. Previous career goals may appear out of reach now that she has family responsibilities at home. Each mentee is affected by this differently, but good momtors help parents update her work goals and strategies for realizing them, explaining, where applicable, where the company is in a position to help them with their dreams either through continuing education support or specific training initiatives.
Being a role model for a working mother provides a support system, at work, that they can rely on just like the one they rely on at home with family and friends. Knowing they have someone in the office, who has knowledge about both being a mom and a career woman, will go a long way towards helping them make the transition successfully themselves.