UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Shaping Leaders, Driving Results

UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School

Alumni Profile: Following her “Sole” Passion

5/15/2006

Kassandra McClure Rempel (BSBA ’95, MAC ’98) left UNC Kenan-Flagler with numerous job offers, choosing to work in Ernst & Young’s personal financial consulting department. How she went from working at a top accounting firm to launching a designer shoe catalog and Web site is as simple as this: she followed her passion.

Rempel founded SimplySoles in 2003 because of what she calls her “unsatiated footwear fetish.” Living in Washington, D.C., she faced parking problems that took the fun out of her shopping sprees. And at the time, clothing catalogs tended to market shoes as afterthoughts, if at all, using microscopic images that didn't show detail. Unable to find a catalog or Web site from which she enjoyed buying footwear, Rempel saw an opportunity, and SimplySoles was born.

Aside from a few pages devoted to accessories, each of the catalog’s 36 pages features just one beautifully photographed shoe, in nearly life size (if you happen to wear a size four). Rather than offering every style on the market, SimplySoles highlights, for instance, one black pump per season, the best one Rempel can find. She says, “Our customers appreciate not having to sift through 100 pairs of black heels to find the right one.”

In this way, Rempel and her four employees have positioned themselves as personal footwear shoppers. A customer may ask about the perfect mother-of-the-bride shoe, for instance. Or, having bought an unusual style from SimplySoles, someone might call for advice on what to wear it with.

Because she recognized that customers would be apprehensive about buying shoes without trying them on, Rempel decided to make returns easy and exchanges free. In the event of an exchange, SimplySoles will ship the replacement shoe before the customer returns the original pair, a practice that replicates the in-store experience of trying on two pairs and deciding which to keep.

With her uncluttered catalog, her generous return/exchange policy, and her avoidance of a 24-hour call center in favor of a few employees who know the products well, Rempel has defied the key rules of catalog marketing. Her instincts have been rewarded by return rates well below the industry average, a loyal customer base — several women buy five or six pairs of shoes each season — and an expectation of profitability well before the industry average of five years.

The last few years have been intense: learning about printers and mailing lists, attending trade shows, establishing her business with footwear designers, obtaining credit, predicting demand, hiring and retaining employees. On top of that, she has an infant son and a second job helping the founder of a major technology company manage his family's charitable efforts.

The skills she learned in the UNC Kenan-Flagler MAC Program helped launch her career in personal financial consulting. And now, running her own business, Rempel says, “Everything from cost accounting to marketing takes on new relevance. I may not use or even remember everything I learned from textbooks. But my education at UNC Kenan-Flagler undoubtedly gave me the confidence to build on that knowledge base.”