Lori Andre began her journey as an entrepreneur nearly 35 years ago opening Lori’s Shoes on Lincoln Park’s Armitage Avenue. Several decades later, she has three stores (Chicago, Highland Park, Northfield) and a thriving online business. She has never swayed from her original vision: fashionable, high-quality shoes that you don't find everywhere, at great prices. Her unique retail model features stacks of shoes on the floor along with racks of shoes along the walls, for customers to help themselves. In our first, “Spotlight on the Woman Behind the Business” we sit down with Lori to learn more about what it takes to run a successful retail business in the always evolving fashion industry.
Q: How did you decide to start the business?
A: After graduating college, I was working for a fine art print gallery, helping to curate collections for art collectors and doing corporate sales. I loved my job, but I always wanted to do something on my own. My husband was in law school, and we had just gotten married and were living in Lincoln Park. We saw there was a space for rent on Armitage. I initially wanted to do gourmet takeout, but I was talked out of it. I thought, I love food, but I also love shoes.
The original concept was a discount store (in ’83 we were in a recession). I did some research and was able to make a connection with a group of wholesalers who sold overruns and cancellations. I filled my store with name brand shoes at discount prices. It all started on a shoestring budget with a $20,000 loan from my parents.
Q: You have the most unique shoe selection of any store in Chicago, are you still involved with a lot of the buying?
A: Yes, of course. Twice a year I travel with my husband to Milan where we attend Europe’s largest shoe fair. We have built relationships with many smaller Italian manufacturers there. We select styles from these vendors to create the L’dea by Lori line for our stores. We look for styles that are on the forefront of fashion, but not so aggressive that people can't understand them. We're also very conscientious about the price point. It's just having an eye, honing in on certain items that are new or fresh or might not yet be represented in the U.S. I also travel to New York, Las Vegas and LA multiple times per year to attend shoe and accessory shows.
Q: You work with your spouse. Is that hard?
A: No, it's the greatest thing ever. We do different things, so that helps. He does all of the merchandising and the inventory control. We're very fortunate that we can work together.
Q: What are some of your proudest accomplishments?
A: The first is that I have three amazing kids. The second is that I’ve stayed in business for 35 years and I still love what I do.
Q: What is your greatest attribute?
A: My determination. There are so many challenges every day in business, and if you don't approach every day in a positive, determined manner, you can't continue to be successful.
Q: What is your greatest fault?
A: I probably obsess too much about certain things. If we're out of a $2 hair accessory, that drives me crazy.
Q: What is the best lesson learned from your parents?
A: My dad taught me you have to have just an amazing respect for people, no matter where they came from. From my mom I learned to ask a lot of questions. Information is just so valuable.
Q: What is one piece of advice you’d give to young women today:
A: Weigh all of your options when it comes to where you want to be in life in terms of your career or taking a job. Think about what a year from now will look like, so that you can make a good decision and a practical one.
Q: What are some of your top-selling brands?
A: Vagabond, Jeffrey Campbell, Jslides and our own L’idea by Lori brand from Italy.
Q: What is one of your secrets to success?
A: Listening to my customers. I'm on the selling floor at least three days a week. I love it! Also, the help of a great staff of people, some of whom have been with us since the beginning.
Q: What do you consider your biggest mistake?
A: My mistakes are the little yellow sale tags on shoes.
Q: What are your guilty pleasures?
A: Italian cheese (Pecorino and Tomino) along with an Aperol Spritz (the Italian apertivo) and patatine (potato chips).
Q: What’s your favorite restaurant in Chicago?
A: Sai Cafe for sushi.
Q: Favorite Coffee Shop?
A: La Colombe for my Almond Milk Latte.
Q: What couldn't you live without in your closet?
A: My bathrobe. I've had it since my oldest son was born. It's cozy, comfy and just reminds me of home.
Q: What's something essential in your vanity?
A: Profumo di Firenze Terrarosa, my signature fragrance.
Q: How do you wake up/revive in the morning?
A: Two shots of espresso with hot water, steamed almond milk and Truvia.
Q: What is one shortcut you take in life?
A: When I cook, I don't measure. I just taste.
Q: What did you want to be at age 13?
A: What I actually was — an entrepreneur. I was selling beads by the scoop and making necklaces and selling them to my friends.
Q: What is the one pair of shoes in your closet you can’t live without?
A: My Vagabond Casey in black.
Q: What would you say is your greatest attribute are as a successful business owner in a highly competitive industry?
A: My intuitiveness.
Get to know our personal stylists, Leslie (left) and Sophie (right), and hear what they have to say about Spring 2017!
Sophie and her personal style: I’m definitely a minimalist. My colors are: White, black, grey, taupe and navy. I practically live in denim. I like to accessorize with some jewelry. And, lipstick is a must.
My favorite trends this season are: Patterned socks with just about everything, including loafers, sneakers, and pumps. I love all the interest in material and color; brocades and pastel velvets, just to name a few. Rose gold sneakers look fresh this season. Espadrilles should be part of anyone’s shoe wardrobe. Block heels and lace-up sandals for day or night will continue throughout the season. I love that look with denim.
My favorite brands this season are: Our own brand, L’idea by Lori that are made in Italy. I love Jslides, and Vagabond. (You will often see me in my Vagabond Caseys)
Leslie and his personal style: I’m definitely a “jeans and t-shirt” kinda guy. But, I always pay attention to detail. I like to mix and match different colors and textures.
My favorite trends this season are: I really like the open back (mules) for this season. I love the casual look of mules with a great pair of distressed crop denim. Platforms and flatforms are having a moment this Spring. You can pair those with a wider leg pant or cropped jean. For the more adventurous person you can also pair a platform sandal with a sheer socklet. I still like the off-the-shoulder top that has interest in material, like a beautiful floral eyelet. My favorite colors this season are the dusty rose, khaki and shades of melon. Bold stripes make a statement this season.
Twice a year, I travel to Milan, Italy to attend Europe’s largest fashion footwear exhibition.
Here’s a sneak peak of what’s in my suitcase…
I always travel with these beauty essentials. These help stay hydrated and feeling fresh during the trip.
I never leave home without my gold bangles and watch from my mom. My Hermes tuile is always nice for a pop of color.
Levels 99 denim embroidered jeans and denim shirt, paired with my Silent D loafers in pewter.
Chic, but comfy sweats from N.Philanthropy, paired with my equally comfortable Zalen sneakers from Dolce Vita.
Faux leather leggings from Blank NYC, paired with my favorite Crime London sneakers.
BB Dakota bomber in navy blue with The Fifth Label tee. Paired with my Jslides Annabelle in bone leather.
Buonogiorno! Of course, a croissant and cappuccino for breakfast.
Everyday is an eating experience in Italy.
Who can resist dessert?
I always leave time to spend at least one day in the countryside with my husband Brian.