Entrepreneur Q&A: George Sullivan, founder of The Sole Supplier

We chat with George Sullivan, founder of The Sole Supplier, about how he grew his business from a blog he started five years ago.

Trainers are arguably one of the most popular among the shoe styles: they’re comfortable, they’re versatile and many of them have whacky designs.

Demand is high, especially for certain high-profile sneakers. The problem often is that once they make their way over the Atlantic and are released in the UK, a lot of people don’t hear the news.

To solve this problem, George Sullivan created a blog which has developed into a business. He talks to SmallBusiness.co.uk about how it works.

What is The Sole Supplier?

The Sole Supplier helps you find trainers from over 50 different retailers online. Through our website and app, we deliver all the latest releases, launch dates and confirmed stockists to our readers. From here, they can buy directly from retailers before pairs fly off the shelves.

How did the company come about?

I’m a self-confessed trainer and technology geek so it was perfect for me. It’s from my own personal frustration with the lack of information available around UK release dates, where to buy them and queuing up every weekend outside stores, that I decided to create my own platform to make it easier.

What is its USP?

One of our USPs is our industry and business focus – casual footwear searches done via our website and app. We have a great community of partners (brands and enthusiasts) who provide us with new and exclusive content every day as well as a team of researchers in-house.

In the past, we’ve worked closely with Nike and Adidas to reveal information on exclusive releases, including Yeezy and Jordan products, first.

It’s also our mission to reach new audiences, telling the story of what’s behind the designs and opening their eyes to trainer culture.

Our technology makes us unique as we are able to create a tailored experience for each individual user. We not only match you with trainers you’ll love, but also to relevant news stories and content we create.

How did you go about investment when you were starting up the business?

The Sole Supplier started as a blog in late 2013. We have always been self-funded with no external investment. This is important for us to keep the platform unbiased and authentic as a news and educational resource.

“We only push shoes we believe are good, not what makes us or the brands the most revenue”

Rarely do we work with retailers or brands on fixed fees to promote shoes. The only time we do this if it makes sense for our audience. We only push shoes we believe are good, not what makes us or the brands/retailers the most revenue. Our content is authentic and unbiased.

A large portion of the partnered retailers we work with will pay us a small commission for a sales conversion from our website without passing any additional cost to the customer.

What are your goals as a business over the next five years?

We have just recently re-launched The Sole Supplier app, focusing on giving our community a more tailored user experience and an easier purchase process, matching them to the right trainers for them and giving them push notifications if a model is re-stocked or launched.

The Sole Supplier app has just been relaunched
As time goes on we aim to become the home of footwear searches, expanding the range of products we cover. Almost like what Amazon is for everyday products, but with trainers.

We’re also about to relaunch our own authenticated marketplace that has been under development for 12 months. It will allow buyers to shop with confidence and know they are getting genuine footwear for a good price.

What made you decide to include raffles in your business model?

Due to the nature of limited releases, it’s becoming almost impossible to purchase the latest must-have trainer. This is especially true now that many people are creating bots or apps to push ahead of the queue when a release drops.

This is why online raffles are created, to ensure bots can’t skip ahead of the queue and everyone has a fair chance to get their hands on a high-heat release.

Online raffle systems work by users entering an email address associated with its retail account and entering into a raffle. The winners are then chosen at random and the winner is notified via email.

 How do you stay ahead of the competition?

By ensuring our content is as relevant and as up-to-date as possible, so our readers keep coming back to our pages.

We offer direct links to all the retailers who will be stocking high-heat release when they are announced. Even with trainers that aren’t released yet, we show who will be stocking them, so our community has the best chance of securing the latest in-demand trainers.

Our app is now faster, smarter and creates an easier purchasing journey for our readers because it generates an all-in-one solution.

Our technology understands at a real granular level what users like and what similar users like, enabling us to match products to people and give them the right communications rather than wasting their time.

By signing up, users can select their brand, favourite styles and shoe size. We can then recommend products which align to their own personal preferences. We send push notifications as well when a product is re-stocked or launched.

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Anna Jordan

Anna is Senior Reporter, covering topics affecting SMEs such as grant funding, managing employees and the day-to-day running of a business.