published Tuesday, June 2nd, 2009

Low overhead means low prices and steady sales

by Brian Lazenby
Audio clip

Jerry Sear

Sear’s Shoe Store has provided footwear from a modest strip mall along Fort Oglethorpe’s LaFayette Road for 45 years.

The store’s owner, Jerry Sear, admits it isn’t the most popular spot or one that typically receives the most traffic, but it is the key to much of the store’s success during what some have called the worst economic recession since the Great Depression.

The space he has occupied since the mid-1960s allows him to keep the overhead low and, consequently, his prices low.

“We’ve got a good reputation for giving a good price,” Mr. Sear said. “We’re off the beaten path, but if we were to move somewhere else, the rent factor of the billing cost would make it worse.”

Mr. Sear, 67, declined to provide sales figures, but he said they have been relatively flat since 2008.

  • photo
    Staff Photo by Allison Kwesell Jane Young tries on a pair of cross-triainer New Balance shoes at Sear's Shoe Store in Chickamauga, Ga. Ms. Young says she's been shopping at the store for over 20 years.

“We haven’t grown any, but we haven’t slowed either,” he said. “The only thing a small man needs to do is keep his overhead low.”

Tommy Kimbrell, assistant manager at the store, said another reason for the store’s success is its vast inventory.

He said he is unsure how many pairs Sear’s Shoe Store keeps on hand, but inside the 15,000-square-foot store, rows of shoe boxes are stacked from the floor to the ceiling in multiple rooms.

“We have a large enough inventory where someone shouldn’t have any trouble finding what they need, and our prices are usually better than most,” he said.

He said the stacks of shoes in the store are only about 50 percent of the total inventory. More are kept in two warehouses and are rotated into the showroom as others are purchased.

Mr. Sear said that since the recession began, he has increased his advertising budget, which he believes has been successful.

“We try to be loyal and fair to the customer, and we try to stay up on the latest trends,” he said. “We try to have something for everybody.”

In more than six decades, the biggest change Mr. Sear has seen has been increased competition. Combating it, Mr. Sear said, takes effort.

“We try to stay with it with hard work and long hours,” he said. “I’m 67, and still I work 80 hours a week.”

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