Last year's SNAG Professional Development Seminar 2011 was about Niche Marketing. Ever since then I've been looking around for examples of successful niche marketing.
In this case, successful niche marketing can be defined as finding a specialized market for exactly what you love to make and being able to make money fulfilling that market.
Recently, I discovered the amazing cowboy boots made by Lisa Sorrell on Crafthaus. In an online conversation, she revealed that she has a waiting list of up to a year! How about them cowboy boots!
Below is an interview with Lisa Sorrell about her niche market and how it came about. I suggest watching the PDS 2011 presentation about Niche Marketing with Hilary Pfeiffer, Emiko Oye, and Deb Stoner to learn more about niche marketing.
How did you begin making cowboy boots?
I discovered boot making through a want ad placed in the local newspaper seeking someone “to stitch boot tops.” I never heard of boot-making or worn a pair of cowboy boots. The ad was placed by the legendary bookmaker Jay Griffith, who was a cantankerous old alcoholic. A veteran of both WWII and the Korean War, his favorite phrase, “GODDAMNIT!” was usually delivered at full volume.
It was only supposed to be a temporary job, but boot making appealed to me because I could create beautiful and colorful designs with sewing, knives, and hammers.
How do you find your customers?
I opened my own business, Sorrell Custom Boots, in 1996. Initially, I didn’t think any further than opening the doors and hoping customers would hear about me and order the intricate and colorful boots that I made for my husband and myself.
I caught the eye of Tyler Beard, a noted boot historian, and collector who was working on his second book about cowboy boots entitled Art of the Boot. Tyler featured four boots from our personal collection and suddenly those were the type of boots I was being asked to build.
That was my first introduction to the power of marketing. I’m not a cowboy and can’t pretend to be one, and I have very few customers who are cowboys. While I build a traditional cowboy boot, my own personal philosophy is that cowboy boots are a way for men to wear high heels and bright colors.
Who are your customers?
My typical client is a businessman, often one who enjoys western art and owns a second home somewhere in the West.
How did you develop your niche market?
I choose the venues I attend very carefully. I put a lot of time into thinking about who my typical client is, and who I want him/her to be. I don’t select events at random, I choose events where that client is likely to be.
I particularly enjoy introducing cowboy boots to new markets. In the past few years I’ve done the Baltimore Craft Show, the American Craft Exposition in Evanston, Illinois, and the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C. These aren’t areas where one would typically imagine cowboy boot wearers to be, but in my way of thinking that simply means a whole show full of people who don’t know they want cowboy boots yet.
When I go to shows these are the types of boots my husband and I wear. They’re types of boots I have on display in my booth, and they’re well represented in my portfolio. I position myself to attract the client I want and to encourage him or her to order the type of boots I love to build. I prefer making intricate and colorful boots and I like to use exotic leathers.
How do customers influence the commissions?
Since each pair of boots is a commission, the client has a large part in each design decision. Some clients choose from a portfolio of work, some request small changes in colors or patterns that result in new designs, and others bring drawings or ideas to be translated into a personal and wearable piece of art. This element of collaboration is the beginning. After the client takes the boot and wears them they begin to also take on the shape and personality of the owner, completing the partnership.
How do you structure your commissions?
I build two to three pairs of boots per month. The waiting time is usually around one year. Boot prices start at $3500, with additional charges for designs or exotic leathers.
A deposit of half reserves a spot on the calendar and the second half is due during the month the boots are being built before they’re shipped. An order form filled out by hand, detailing all leather, color, and design choices avoids problems. This form filled out in triplicate (one for the client, two for my files) is a record of each decision and it’s proven to be an invaluable part of the ordering process.
Do you make exhibition/competition designs?
I prefer to make competition pieces for either my husband or myself following my own taste. My boots have won awards for best artist in both Art to Wear and Leather categories at the Western Design Conference in Jackson Hole, Wyoming. Other awards include the Founder’s Award at the American Craft Exposition in Evanston, Illinois, Bronze Award winner at the Smithsonian Craft Show in Washington, D.C., and a Gold Medal in shoe-making competitions in both Wiesbaden, Germany, and Rotterdam, the Netherlands.
More information about Lisa Sorrell boots:
Lisa enjoys speaking, teaching, and promoting the craft of boot-making. She regularly updates her Facebook page with photos and explanations of ongoing work in the shop; clients who are having boots built can watch as their boots are made. She also has a YouTube channel where she posts videos of boot-making.
This post was updated on March 19, 2022, to provide current links.