How Houston’s Eight One Sneaker Boutique Embraced Change & Found Success

After a five-year run as a consignment shop offering rare and hard-to-find sneakers, Houston’s Eight One boutique made the unusual choice to switch lanes in 2016, becoming a more traditional sportswear retailer.

While the change came with some risks (namely that it lost marquee styles from Nike and Adidas, and is now playing the waiting game for account approval), it also provided financial benefits.

Husband and wife owners Carlos and Amanda De Los Santos told FN they have registered consistent single-digit sales growth each year, affording them the opportunity to open their second store in September.

The new 1,200-square-foot space sits in the high-traffic Marq’E Entertainment Center in the Spring Branch neighborhood, roughly 10 miles northwest of its Main Street door in midtown Houston.

Amanda said that the second location has connected Eight One with a new demographic of shoppers. “Main Street is more younger singles, and at the [Spring Branch] store, we’re getting more families,” she explained. “We never carried kids’ stuff before — and didn’t carry much women’s — but at this location, customers are asking for it.”

That new consumer base is presenting fresh opportunities for the retailers’ top brand partners.

Scott Pfaff, Vans’ Southwest regional rep for lifestyle, explained: “[The new Eight One location] opened up an avenue for us to bring in products that are takedowns of the adult stuff. People are buying mini-me products — older  brother, older sister, mom, dad — they want to dress the kids the same way.”

Eight One’s merchandise selection includes apparel, footwear and accessories that take strong cues from the culture of the city. It pairs gear and merchandise from the Astros and other local professional franchises with the latest sneaker releases from brands including Vans, New Balance, Puma and Reebok.

“They’ve built a niche in the athletic specialty area,” said Pfaff. “Retailers can get lost searching for their identity, but they very much know their customer: the tastemaker grounded in athletics but who leans toward the lifestyle appeal of limited products and collaborations.”

Within its footwear assortment, Vans is a hit at both stores, while New Balance is leading sales on Main Street, according to the owners. At the Spring Branch location, customers are buying more Reebok and Puma, and non-sneaker lines like Timberland and Clarks are also performing well there.

Though the athletic retailer hasn’t been a consignment shop for five years, Amanda said people still come in looking for the types of sneakers it used to carry, which included the latest and greatest Swoosh and Three Stripes styles.

“People Google us and see we used to carry Nike and Jordans, so they’ll come in and are like, ‘You don’t have that anymore?’” Amanda said. “But our customers have been receptive to the new business type. We’ve retained a lot of the customers who were coming in for consignment, and now they’re looking at the made-in-USA New Balance sneakers and other shoes — they’re broadening their horizons.”

However, not stocking product from the market’s two biggest brands does present challenges for Eight One. “It’s not hurting us right now, but [selling them] definitely would help because we’d reach a broader customer base,” Amanda said.

In the meantime, though, the owners have their hands full with the new location, and the couple said that more Eight One doors could be on the horizon elsewhere in Texas. San Antonio and Austin are on their short list, and the two haven’t ruled out opening other stores in suburbs surrounding Houston.

“We’re definitely looking to grow — more locations are always an option,” said Amanda.

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