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Louise Dirks | We Are Alberta

Louise Dirks, owner of Edmonton-based Gravity Pope shoe and clothing store, shares how a hungry Vegas trip, Doc Martens mania, and super-star staff propelled her shop to platform heights.

Starting small in 1990, Dirks has nurtured Gravity Pope into a fashion chain of six stores, two franchises and a lucrative online business. Her original vision was rare at the time: to import shoes from all over the world. International shoe-shopping trips seem like a great gig, but it was not always so easy. 

"I remember a season where I was so broke that I literally flew to Las Vegas with not a dime in my pocket, and I strategically scheduled dinner with a supplier every night so that I could eat, and that was my Vegas trip." 

Strategic dining is one of Dirks’ tips for business growth. Here are five more:

1. Pay attention to the trends—and capitalize on them.

"[In 1990], I was partners with someone who owned an import shop. We started bringing in footwear, and one of the brands we brought in was Doc Martens. The demand for Doc Martens was insane. We just had so many people wanting the product, when we had shipments arrive, we would literally sell them out within a week. We would have like six or seven names on one box, and if someone didn't come to pick up their shoes, we'd call the next guy and the next person and so forth."

"We started filling up the import shop with Docs and it soon outgrew the space that it was in, so we started looking for another spot to expand the footwear offerings, and that's when Gravity Pope opened."

2. Expand your customer base.

"Our audience is way wider than most stores because we cater to a fashion customer, we cater to a comfort customer, we cater to a sport customer, we cater to children, we cater to old people, we cater to transvestites, we cater to everybody. That's really rare, I think."

3. Try something new, and track the results.

"Our online business is growing way quicker than any of our other businesses at this point, and it will be interesting to see whether that is something that we have to put more focus into and whether that's where the growth is."

4. When something you tried doesn't work out, learn from your mistakes.

"I've been able to build the company better by the mistakes that I make, so I think it's important to recognize those—that those, in some ways, are triumphant."

5. Grow for the right reasons: your customers and your staff.

"I've never had any sort of plan...I never had a vision to continue to grow. The customer was the one who was demanding the growth more than I was. The evolution of what I was doing seemed to be flourishing, and so it made sense to move forward."

"The other thing is satisfying employees. Having one store and not having the sort of room for upward growth for an employee can be difficult. Together, we've grown this. A lot of the staff I have been with me for many years, and together it seems like we want to build something and grow something."

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