Kuru, a DTC Shoe Brand, Solves a Pain

Selling shoes online is notoriously competitive. Zappos, Amazon, big-box retailers — all are vying for a share of the consumer footwear market. Nonetheless, Sean McGinnis’s employer, Kuru, an independent shoe company, is thriving.

“Kuru footwear focuses on foot pain,” he told me. “We’re a direct-to-consumer shoe manufacturer. We engineer materials that cradle the heel and protect it from repetitive strikes. Our technology is patented. So folks with plantar fasciitis and other types of foot pain buy our shoes.”

I recently spoke with McGinnis, who is Kuru’s senior vice president, about the complexities of online shoe selling, maintaining product focus, and utilizing Magento, among other topics.

What follows is our entire audio conversation and a transcript, edited for length and clarity.

Eric Bandholz: Where did the name Kuru come from?

Sean McGinnis: It’s from our founder. He started the company back in 2008. He wanted a short name that began with a hard consonant. Sort of sing-songy and a bit rhythmic. Plus kuru in Japanese culture means “cool” — as in “That’s really cool.” Like, “Kuru.”

Bandholz: Give us a short overview of the brand.

McGinnis: Kuru footwear focuses on foot pain. We’re a direct-to-consumer shoe manufacturer in Salt Lake City. Our company evolved from a business plan contest at the Entrepreneurial Institute at the University of Utah. We engineer materials that cradle the heel and protect it from repetitive strikes. Our technology is patented. So folks with plantar fasciitis and other types of foot pain buy our shoes.

We have about 50 men’s and women’s styles. And each of those has multiple colors, sizes, and widths. It adds up to about 3,000 SKUs.

Bandholz: I imagine there are many operational complexities with selling footwear online — sizing, shipping, returns.

McGinnis: Yes, it’s complicated. Communicating fit, comfort, and appearance is very challenging.

Our in-house team consists of an ecommerce manager, developer, and quality-assurance person. We also have an external development agency. We’re on Magento. For marketing, we’ve got an internal, eight-person team handling everything from email, paid search, paid social media. We use an external agency for the shopping engine side. It’s a really interesting business.

Bandholz: Your shoes are attractive. How do you communicate that they relieve pain?

McGinnis: We’re still working that out. When I joined the business last year, we had migrated platforms and removed a lot of the foot-pain content. The thought was that we’ve tapped out in the foot pain market, and we needed to pivot to more of a lifestyle brand.

But we’ve moved back to that foot pain customer. People were saying on product reviews, “I’ve tried everything to help with my foot pain. Finally, I found something that works.” And once they find us, they tend to keep buying. So we work on developing attractive shoes that can accommodate our technology.

Our customers are all over the board. The only thing they have in common is two feet, and one or both of them hurt. We’re able to find those folks via the keywords they search for on Google and Bing.

Paid search in Google is by far our biggest driver of customer acquisition. We’re focusing on the bottom of the funnel, catching people who are saying, “I have a problem over here.”

And we’ve got thousands of five-star reviews.

Bandholz: I love that strategy. Do what you do best. Get really good at it. And then capture all the business that you can. So most of your marketing budget on customer acquisition is paid search on Google?

McGinnis: Yes. We spend about twice on Google what we spend on Facebook. We spend about half of the Facebook amount Bing. We’ve actually turned Facebook off completely for a couple of weeks because it’s our lowest-performing channel.

We manage return on ad spend for each channel to a blended rate for the whole business. It’s 4-times or better, typically.

But email marketing is huge for us. We’ve doubled revenue in the email channel this year. And organic search traffic is important, too. In February, we had the best search-engine-optimization month ever in the history of the company.

We have two real competitors in our space. One is great at SEO and paid search, like us. The other is taking a different approach with shopping networks and similar.

We prefer to control all aspects of distribution. We don’t sell on marketplaces and in physical retail stores. One-hundred percent of our revenue comes from our ecommerce site,

Bandholz: You might be my first guest that uses Magento.

McGinnis: Yes, I inherited it. Would we choose Magento if we were building from scratch today? I don’t know. My two previous ecommerce experiences were a customized Magento 1 shop and, when I was with Sears, a custom build.

We have a great development hybrid system of internal experts and an outsourced agency. We’re getting a ton of stuff done. I don’t see any limitation with Magento. And my ecommerce manager has multiple years of Magento 2 experience. He’s able to execute on his own without involving a developer.

And we’re self-hosted; we’re not using Magento Commerce.

Bandholz: You’ve doubled revenue from email marketing this year. How?

McGinnis: We were on Listrak when I arrived last year. We’re very happy with Listrak. We’ve changed almost everything in our tech stack in the past year except Magento and Listrak. Although the email wins that we’ve had this year were not all related to what Listrak brought to the table.

We just started pushing emails more frequently. Our new products certainly help. We used to hit the list Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Now we do it every weekday. Interestingly, we have not seen a massive increase in unsubscribes, But, again, revenue literally doubled from Q1 to Q2 2020.

We also send triggered emails, such as post-purchase and abandoned carts and browses.

Bandholz: Where can people learn more about you and Kuru?

McGinnis: Our website, again, is We’re also on Twitter, although we’re not super engaged. You can find me on Twitter and LinkedIn.

See “Paid Search Drives Kuru Footwear to 2021 Success.”

Eric Bandholz
Eric Bandholz
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