Christie’s House of Birkenstock

by Cindy Steele

Christie Stidd is in the “comfortable” shoe business here in Brown County. Her shop, Christie’s House of Birkenstock, is a Birkenstock specialty store located in the big blue house on Locust Lane, just off East Main Street in Nashville.

The main room is a tastefully decorated area with a wooden floor, rugs, and a couch. Customers can relax while they try on their Birkenstocks. “It is very comfortable which ties in with the fact that the shoes are very comfortable,” said Christie.

So what is so special about these shoes? “The shoe itself is therapeutic,” explained Christie. “It is designed like the foot. So many shoes that you see have pointed toes or very narrow heels and there is no real arch support to them. The shoes that we sell are the exact opposite of that. And a lot of people will see them and say, ‘Those are the ugliest shoes I have ever seen. They are really funny. I don’t get it.’ Once you put one on their foot, they have a whole new attitude.”

The Birkenstock concept started in Germany over 300 years ago. The United States discovered them about 35 years ago when an enthusiastic customer started selling them in health food stores, flea markets, and at events in her hometown. The Birkenstock distribution spread as a grass roots operation. The stores are not a franchise, they are all independently owned by entrepreneurs like Christie.

“There were so few places in the Midwest or in the state of Indiana where you could get them that once word got out that we had them, the demand was huge. Birkenstock had just started this program with what they call ‘specialty stores’ where all you sell is Birkenstocks…When I started there was probably 78 stores in the whole country. And I think it has tripled since then,” said Christie.

When Birkenstock first introduced their product line they had two styles to choose from—the “Arizona” and the “Milano.” They were virtually the same shoe except one had a back strap. Over the years the company developed three or four hundred different styles and colors.

“We have a large inventory, that’s for sure,” said Christie. “There are probably around 200 styles and each style comes in anywhere from one to ten different colors. The sizes run from about a lady’s size 5 to a men’s 14. The European sizing is unisex so you don’t break it up into women’s and men’s.”

Birkenstocks can actually help alleviate some common foot problems. The sales staff is trained on how to recognize foot ailments and match the problem with the proper shoe. Christie’s prior experience as a doctor’s assistant was a big boon to the business.

Some of the more common problems addressed are pronations, plantar fascitis, and heel spurs. The shoe’s arch support and deep heel cup help put the foot in normal alignment and support the foot muscles.

“You always find out a little bit about a person’s life or their foot problem—how they got it—how long they have had it—how long they have struggled with it. And then when they call you in a couple of weeks and say ‘This is the best shoe. You have saved my life.’ That is completely rewarding. That is what makes it all worth it,” said Christie.

Many customers come from surrounding states and visit Brown County once or twice a year. “They have gotten to know us. They love the selection. They don’t have the selection in their town. They will buy what we have in the store or if they want something different we will order it and ship it to them,” said Christie.

In 1998, Christie remodeled, and redesigned the house with 1500 square feet of additional space to accommodate the growing business. She bought the building after leasing it.

In 1999, business was so good that Christie decided to open a second store in Columbus called “The Pampered Foot.” The other store is not a Birkenstock specialty store and carries some other European lines made in Germany, Italy, and Spain. The other lines also have the wider toe boxes and heels with an arch support system but can accommodate a narrower foot and some specific foot problems.

Six years ago, Christie started her business as the sole employee, doing all the work herself. Now she functions more as an executive—planning, buying, handling the advertising and marketing. “I’ve had very good luck with employees. I have had very good employees all six years,” said Christie. She described her store manager, Melanie Frank, and long time employee Sue Young as “invaluable.”

Christie’s House of Birkenstock sends catalogs twice a year to a mailing list of over 4,000 customers. Although Christie prefers the personal sales contact inside the store she does get some business through the Birkenstock web site and from mail order.

Owning her own business has come naturally to Christie. “My dad owned Little Champ Oil company in Columbus. He started in 1962 and retired 10 years ago at the age of 53. So I was around it all my life. I was around owning your own business—the stresses but the good side of it, too. Takes a lot of work, takes a lot of dedication. Some days are 12 hour days. Some days are ‘I’m not going to be there’ days. You have the flexibility. I have a 14 year old daughter Samantha that is in sports and have attended many sporting events.”

But success isn’t something that she has taken for granted. “One thing my dad always said that is very true, once you start it you have to maintain it. You can’t ever really let up. You have to constantly be on top of it.” The challenges never stop.

Take your tired feet into Christie’s House of Birkenstock for a check up. You might discover the Birkenstock experience is what your feet have been waiting for. Look for the big blue house behind the Trilogy Gallery.