Taking the Net Step

How Matt Fraser helped take SHOEme.ca from start-up to Canada’s fastest-growing online retailer

When Matt Fraser took on the role of chief operating officer last year at SHOEme.ca, he was no stranger to leadership. Prior to joining the online footwear retailer, Fraser served as president for YYoga as well as Gibbons Hospitality Group. But while some might see a transition from president to COO as a step backwards, Fraser sees a meaningful learning experience.

“Coming into a more focused role, it allowed me to understand the other aspects of the company,” Fraser says. “I understand the cogs of the wheel, so we’ve tried to focus on not setting up any silos—understanding where we can push, where we can focus, where we need to give, wh15ere we need to take.”

When Fraser joined SHOEme.ca, it was still in start-up mode, and he worked closely with the CEO to build the company into Canada’s fastest-growing online retail platform. Its business model, adapted from companies like Zappos and Amazon, has filled a need in the Canadian market.

FACTS & FIGURES

300%

Annual growth

3x

The headcount increase during Fraser’s tenure

“In Canada, there wasn’t an online retailer focused on shoes,” Fraser says. “And I think it’s been a real surprise to a lot of people who still expect to pay duties or shipping on products from the US. Every day we see great comments from our customers, who are so excited that we’re based in Canada and that we offer free shipping and free returns.”

In addition to growing its call centre, SHOEme.ca has taken customer service to the next level, rebranding it as the Style & Care Team: the “care” side answers questions about orders, returns, and exchanges, while the “style” side provides product expertise and fashion advice. The organization is also rolling out a personal shopping experience. “Redefining that has been really exciting, and the team is really invigorated,” Fraser says.

SHOEme.ca has harnessed the energy of a young, forward-thinking staff by encouraging innovation in unique ways. The company hosted a Dragons’ Den-inspired event where employees presented their ideas to potentially win a cash prize. “It was a really well-received event from across the company,” Fraser says. “We had people from our warehouse, our call centre, our marketing team—a woman who started two weeks beforehand ended up winning $1,000 with an amazing idea around logistics.”

The company also hosted a design forum that was open to anyone in the company to chime in on what websites they liked and what they thought SHOEme.ca could do better. “We had every level of the organization come in with their ideas for the website,” Fraser says. “Our lead UX [user experience] designers and our lead graphic designers were all there taking notes.”

“We’re growing so fast that I need to listen to everything and have everyone contributing.”

A lot of executives claim to have an open-door policy, but Fraser has actually created a culture that takes advantage of it. By encouraging anyone with an idea to schedule time on his calendar, Fraser has at least three meetings weekly with employees from across the company. “I usually come running out of those meetings [midway through] to grab people from different departments to come in and listen to their idea, and then get people involved in cross-functional teams to help foster these ideas,” Fraser says. “I say to everybody, ‘My job isn’t to have the ideas; my job is to facilitate great ideas and make sure they happen.’”

For Fraser, the most exciting part of his work is the people. “There’s nothing worse than coming to a company where no one cares, and here, these guys are so passionate—it’s just an amazing group of people,” he says. “They’re young and hungry, and I remember that energy. My job is just to keep it going.”

SHOEme.ca plans to continue to grow and become a household name in Canada. Along with its partner sites in the US—Shoes.com and OnlineShoes.com—the combined group is working toward the goal of becoming a billion-dollar organization by 2020. And both Fraser and SHOEme.ca are prepared to meet that challenge head-on, by keeping the start-up-fuelled fire of innovation burning.