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Q&A: This Nike-Backed Subscription Service on How it’s Upended Children’s Shoe Shopping

Children cycle in and out of pricey footwear in a blink of an eye, which means more shopping and more spending for parents. Portland, Oregon-based EasyKicks wants to streamline the whole process while minimizing costs with its children’s sneakers subscription box service.

Founded by former Nike systems innovation director Dave Cobban and former Nike innovation solutions manager Alex Mestas in 2016, EaskyKicks offers parents three-, six- or 12-month subscriptions for new children’s footwear by brands like Nike and Converse for a monthly fee of $20.

EasyKicks subscribers can pick one shoe from a wide selection of current sneakers for children sizes toddler to grade school. Subscribers are able to exchange worn and outgrown shoes for new pairs as often as they like at no extra charge. The company only requires that used shoes be returned once the new styles arrive so they can be donated or recycled through Nike Grind, Nike’s process that turns surplus manufacturing materials and athletic footwear into sports and play surfaces.

The startup is currently backed by Nike’s venture-capital division and stocks Nike brand footwear exclusively. However, in the early days, Cobban said he would run to a nearby sporting goods store to replenish stock. “We had about 50 customers, and just by the reaction from those initial customers, we knew we had something,” he said.

Now, Cobban meets with senior leaders at Nike every 90 days with feedback about the company’s sales and growth trajectory. From there, he said Nike decides whether it wants to continue to fund the company.

Cobban said EasyKicks has benefited from having a “big brother” in Portland. “To have a company like Nike as a trust factor on the back end is pretty amazing for a startup. That’s when we really started to see growth,” he said.

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Here, Cobban shares with Sourcing Journal how the company plans to offer solutions to parents’ shoe shopping woes, and why he believes “leasing” footwear may be the future of retail.

Sourcing Journal: How did your experience at Nike inspire you to launch EasyKicks?

Dave Cobban: I was the systems innovation director within the Sustainable Business & Innovation at Nike. That is where the original idea of EasyKicks was born. I had this idea of a circular economy, where I asked myself how can we work with our customers to develop a business model where they would want to give back the shoes at the end of life so that we can recycle them.

And in researching that, I began talking to parents whose kids were going through shoes as fast as you can believe. I spoke to a few moms who thought [a subscription service] was a brilliant idea for the environment, but also for themselves because it would save them the stress of having to go to the mall.

SJ: What niche does EasyKicks fill?

DC: For us it’s not just a niche. We believe there’s a whole movement going on around the idea that you don’t have to own things. Because essentially EasyKicks is about leasing shoes. We lease the shoe to the customer, they use them to the best of their ability and then they order a new pair. And I think it’s going to get bigger as the world gets comfortable with the idea that it’s not what you own, it’s about what you do with it. The joy comes from seeing kids putting on their EasyKicks shoes, getting out of the house, getting off their screens. Our mission is about getting kids active.

When we were visiting moms and asking them about what shoes they most need, they used the phrase the “everyday shoe.” I had never heard that phrase at Nike. We serve the “everyday shoe” needs.

SJ: How often are new styles introduced?

DC: We don’t work in seasons in the same way other companies do. We have a baseline of 40 shoes in different styles and colors. And then every week we add one in and take one out. We’ve found with our customers 40 is a great number. Any less and there are not enough choices, and any more and there are too many.

SJ: How do you decide which shoes get added to the inventory?

DC: Our merchant team gets access to Nike the same way that Foot Locker does. We can look three seasons ahead and make our picks. The difference is we have live inventory, meaning we only show customers shoes that we have in stock, which means they’ll never get disappointed with stock outs.

SJ: Can parents decide to keep a shoe?

DC: Yes, about three months ago we introduced the “keep after 90 days” policy. If the kid is either a slow swapper or really wants to keep that shoe, they don’t have to return it.

SJ: On average, how often do parents swap out shoes?

DC: The average is every 60 days. When we first interviewed moms they told us they would swap every three months. But what we realized is that when they were buying the shoes at the mall they were buying the shoes two sizes too big. So now with EasyKicks, parents are able to get their kids the right size shoe.

SJ: What are your most popular styles right now?

DC: The Hustle D, a relatively new shoe from Nike. It’s not a take-down shoe from an adult product, it’s kid exclusive. It’s like a basketball shoe with a Velcro strap.

One of the things that we’ve seen from our customers is that the styles that have alternative closures, like the [Nike] Presto slip-on and the [Converse] Chucks that have zips, do really well for us. Also, the [Nike] Flex Experience or the [Nike] Tanjun. And just recently we put out the new sandals that Nike has done and people snapped those up pretty quickly.

It’s not always the same thing doing well for us month after month. We saw a shoe called the [Nike] Dynamo for toddlers and preschoolers that was very popular in Asia. The North American Nike team thought it wouldn’t work in [the U.S.]. We put it up, and it killed it. So now Nike is actually taking lead from us and putting it up on and in their stores.

The biggest things that [parents] ask for are Mary Janes. So, we brought that feedback to Nike because they used to do a Mary Jane a few years ago.

SJ: What are some other categories you’d like to add?

DC: Cleats definitely. We’re always asked about performance shoe subscriptions because kids go through a series of sports activities. One season it’s baseball, then it’s soccer, then football. In time, for a little extra money we can allow parents to have two shoes out at the same time. So, parents can have a sports shoe and an “everyday shoe” out at the same time.

SJ: What has been the customer response so far?

DC: The feedback has been incredible. We’ve got an 84 net promoter score [a tool used to measure customer experience and predict business growth]. And if you go on our Facebook page you’ll see that we’ve got over 100 five-star reviews, with an average review of like 4.7. It’s a dream come true for so many parents. They always ask us why someone didn’t think of this before.

SJ: Who do you see as your biggest competition?

DC: There’s no one really doing the same thing, but we believe the principle of this idea is going to grow and other brands will jump on it. And we want this to be about more than just shoe delivery. We want this to be a club for kids.

SJ: What’s next for EasyKicks?

DC: We’re going to start offering other plans. Some of our parents want the ability to order a lot more at the same time. And others, like parents of  sneakerheads, want premium products. And we’re trying to get all of this out before the back-to-school season.