Kathryn Bielefeld – Shoe Sensation Inc.
“See a need and fill a need” may very well be Kathryn Bielefeld’s career mantra at Shoe Sensation Inc.
It’s certainly a principle that has guided Bielefeld to the position she has today as the director of new store construction for the Jeffersonville, Indiana-based family retail shoe chain. Beginning as an intern in 2011, she systematically sought different roles with the Midwestern retailer, which, with her help, now has more than 200 stores in 19 states.
The challenge, she says, has offered her the satisfaction of long-lasting results.
“Seeing a completed store—when it all comes together for a grand opening—is something tangible our team can be proud of,” she says. “It’s something we all brought to fruition that we know was done well.”
Keeping it simple
Sometimes it’s that simple focus on the basics that helps make things better.
Producing a nice clean concept of a family-style store for the best price is one of Bielefeld’s primary objectives. Shoe Sensation Inc. also sees itself as a contributing community partner, donating to organizations like the Clark County Youth Shelter, supplying shoes to those in need or sending warm socks to our troops.
The formula is working, Bielefeld says.
With Shoe Sensation already home to 205 stores in the Midwest, she says the goal is to expand this model to southern states—anywhere people need good shoes at affordable process.
“Shoe Sensation is very much about product and simplicity at the end of the day,” she says. “It keeps things moving and allows the customer to focus on the product instead of the store.”
The production time frame for any store is typically 18 weeks, Bielefeld says. In most cases the chain utilizes leased spaces, constructing stores ranging from 4,000 square feet to 15,000 square feet—with the average being between 5,500 and 7,000 square feet. The price to build a store ranges from $85,000 to $200,000, with many variables determining the final cost.
“It can be an unpredictable process, for sure, and keeps me learning every day,” she says. “You must fix mistakes, stay on schedule and stick within budget—all while managing people, personalities and maintaining pride in your work.”
Staying in stride
The interior designs are by no means radical, Bielefeld says. The color palette tends to be neutral with only the flashy marketing materials adding a pop of color.
“It’s a family shoe store and we want the focus to be on the product, making styles easy to locate with minimal distractions,” she says.
To meet production objectives, Bielefeld uses Smartsheet software to manage workflow and collaboration, relying on it to assign tasks, track project progress, manage calendars and share documents.
“Scheduling people and projects and getting everyone on the same page is huge,” she says. “With such tight deadlines we need everyone to follow through with expectations and do what we expect them to do—which may not always happen.”
But it’s not just technology that makes this happen. Bielefeld credits contractors Randy Wood of Jim Wood Company and Stan and Shawn Morris with Stan Morris Construction; project managers Jack Cooper and Ron Eisenhauer; project coordinators Becki Silcock and Denise Hardy; and warehouse manager Mark Hagan.
“We’ve had a great working relationship for a few years now. It does make it easier and can save me some time from having me make additional site visits,” she says.
The right fit
Forging meaningful working relationships is easy when you love what you do, says Bielefeld, whose youthful exuberance made up for an initial lack of experience, largely because she fell in love with the business.
Bielefeld earned her bachelor’s degree in interior design from Sullivan College of Technology and Design in 2011. It was her year-long internship at Shoe Sensation in 2010 as an assistant store planner, however, that really ignited her interest in the world of commercial retail design—so much so that she came back and applied for a job as lead designer in 2016. By February 2019 she was promoted to director of new store construction.
“It was the case where I assumed different responsibilities and worked with another designer before starting to move into a project management role. For a job like this, there’s no handbook; you learn from experience,” she says.
When her predecessor left, Shoe Sensation offered Bielefeld the job and she jokingly says it’s been crazy ever since.
“It’s the art of letting go of control. You cannot predict everything,” she says. “You can do everything up to certain point to the best of your abilities, but then you have to let go and just be patient. As the saying goes, ‘you can lead a horse, but you can’t make it drink.’”
With experience as her greatest teacher, a supportive network within the company has allowed her to grow. Time management and her ability to organize and communicate have served her well. And she happens to like paperwork and is good at it.
“Being thrown into a variety of circumstances has defined who I am now,” she says. “What I do is something I find both interesting and enjoyable.”
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