When Patricia Snelson’s mother was a bride-to-be, she was on the hunt for one of the many things a woman about to get married wants.
Buying white shoes is not a pre-wedding task usually worth mentioning.
No. When a woman wants white shoes, she simply enters a shoe store and sees a pair she likes, determines whether they are actually white or ecru or shiny snowy eagle wing colored and then asks for her size.
Snelson’s mother did this, of course.
She asked for her size.
But the man at the shoe store did not carry it.
“The only thing I have for you,” he said to Patricia Snelson’s mother, “is a box.”
The only thing I have for you is a box.
Shoe salesman to Patricia Snelson’s mother, who requested a size 11N
Snelson shared this — let’s face it, tragic — story with me Wednesday, a day after her first-place win in the Hilton Head Island Economic Development Corp.’s “Bring Your Business Idea to Life” competition.
Her mother’s footwear experiences and Snelson’s own podiatric problems in recent years led Snelson, who lives on Hilton Head Island, to develop what would become her winning pitch, Tip Toes Custom Shoes.
She was among the six finalist teams that presented their ideas to judges in a “Shark Tank”-esque competition held in the rooftop bar of Poseidon Coastal Cuisine on Hilton Head.
And she didn’t think she would win.
“I thought even if I’m one of the two teams that don’t place, I’ll be happy for the exposure,” Snelson said.
The competition began in October, when HHIEDC put out its call for business pitches.
Board members hoped they would get 25.
They received 73.
Entrepreneurs from as far away as California and Ohio submitted ideas, but most came from local people, including high school students.
Among the ideas that didn’t make the cut were concierge services, real estate apps, a beehive rental company and one very specific plan for a restaurant that would offer healthy food choices to the inebriated after closing time.
You know drunk people and their demands for spinach-cucumber shakes, tofu dogs and snacks they won’t be ashamed to type into their food journals.
Actually, maybe that’s the secret. Maybe America needs to get drunk to eat healthy foods … wait, did I just pitch a business?
“Kale-cohol: Drink this until you black out and thank us after you finish that beet salad.”
The six finalists included Kraig Blatchley and Daniel Brock of Ridgeland (Blatchley Power Inc.); Jason Hale and Noemi Ray of Hilton Head (PaceMate Inc); Erin Lentz, Debi Lynes, Paul Griz and Stephanie Cauller of Bluffton (hellopages); Matt Papka of Hilton Head (Elev8bikes) and Michael Tripka and David Arnal of Bluffton (Honey Horn Meadworks).
The idea behind the competition was to encourage home-grown businesses, ones that could be based here but have a wider customer base, one that reaches far beyond the Hilton Head bridges.
“We want people to know you can live here and work here,” said HHIEDC board chairwoman Maryann Bastnagel before the event began. “We’re not just golf.”
Bastnagel is, in fact, exactly the type of person HHIEDC is hoping to appeal to.
She has a management and information technology consulting company based on Hilton Head.
Every day, she makes sure to take a 15-minute walk on the beach.
“Because this is why we live here, right? But I’ve got to work, too.”
During the final pitch event Tuesday, Snelson held up a blue 3-D printed foot and told judges about her plan to offer custom footwear to people who need shoes to fit their orthotics or for people who have two different foot sizes — anyone with foot issues, actually.
Ever since coming up with the idea for her “digital cobbler” business five years ago, Snelson — who goes by Tip, hence “Tip Toes Custom Shoes” — has set out to educate herself.
She is enthralled by technology and a big fan of Ted Talks. She’s started networking, consulting experts and is taking classes at SCAD, where she’s learned to use an industrial sewing machine and cut leather.
Along the way, she has run into potential new customers, people who inevitably tell her “I need something like this” or “My mother needs something like this.”
One thing Snelson is banking on beyond the obvious customer-base — baby boomers — is the stiletto generation, women who have forced their feet into Barbie-arched towers daily and who will be feeling the pinch even worse as they age.
She pictures salespeople taking scans of customers’ feet across the country and then allowing customers to design their shoes online. The shoes would cost about $300, which is about the price of the outlet version of Jimmy Choos.
In addition to the $3,000 cash prize, Snelson will be enrolled in the Don Ryan Center for Innovation. She won a number of professional support services as well. The second place winner, Tripka and Arnal with Honey Horn Meadworks, received $1,500. The third place winner, Papka with Elev8bikes, won $1,000. Audience choice went to Blatchley and Brock of Blatchley Power. They won $500.
After the competition, Snelson, a mother of four and a grandmother of one, had a phone call to make.
“Allie, I won!”
Her daughter, a manager of a restaurant in Chicago and a fan of very high heels, was just leaving work and on her way to her car, which was in a nearby garage.
“I was just about to cry,” Snelson’s daughter said.
“My feet hurt so bad.”