By Hope Katz Gibbs
Editor and Publisher
Be Inkandescent Magazine
This issue of the magazine on soul wouldn’t be complete without an article on shoes. I felt very fortunate to have recently met Toni Hall, owner of Size 12 Shoes, headquartered in Lakeforest Mall in Gaithersburg, MD.
We bumped into each other at a Washington Wizards game, where she was not just rubbing elbows with the players — she was sharing her goals and products with potential customers on and off the court.
We recently sat down with the 5’11 fashionista who has a size 12 foot to find out what inspired her to open a shop that sells shoes and accessories to women with a larger stride.
12 Questions for Toni Hall
1. What gave you the idea to open this business?
It started with my own frustration about not being able to find attractive shoes in my shoe size. Sure, I could shop online, but nothing replaces being able to go into a store, see a selection of fabulous shoes, and try them on. So I decided to open a store that is fun to be in and sells the type of products that I want to buy.
2. You started the business in 2009. How has your business plan changed over the years?
After writing my business plan, it took almost a year to get everything organized, ordered, and ready for customers. So my first store opened in April 2010. It was a tiny shop, about 400 square feet, and was located in an industrial warehouse park in Gaithersburg. In 2011, we moved to the larger 800 square foot space we’re in now in Lakeforest Mall. I love having a storefront and getting so much foot traffic. This is a much better location for us.
3. Did you grow up in the metro Washington, DC, area?
I was born in DC, but when I was 7 months old, my sister Natalie and I moved to Jamaica to live with our great-grandmother. She was a seamstress, teacher, and shopkeeper who ran a grocery store. Although I was really young, I remember watching her, and I think that planted the seed for me to get into the retail business. I came back to the DC area when I was 5, and have lived here ever since. I attended Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, VA, where I majored in business, then transferred to Montgomery College in Maryland, where I graduated with a degree in interior design.
4. Did you ever want to become a shoe designer?
I actually did, and that was my initial idea when I founded the company in 2009. I figured that if I wanted high-fashion shoes, I would have to start designing them myself. But after trying to get my first prototype developed on a shoestring budget, I realized I needed more capital and more resources to accomplish that goal. As I was doing research into designing shoes, I stumbled on some fabulous designs and designers that were already out there. That’s when I decided to open a retail shop, with an online component.
5. What are your plans and goals for the future?
The next step is to build up the online ordering portion of the business, and then I’d like to franchise the concept to other entrepreneurs around the country. I also want women who share the same frustrations that I do to be a part of the Size 12 brand, the empire, and the legacy. I want to develop our own shoe line, as well as become a resource for large-size mens’ shoes.
6. What is your favorite part about owning a shoe store?
I love being my own boss. I wear a lot of hats, quite literally because we sell them, but the most gratifying part of being in my business is the customers’ reactions. They are just so happy when they find us, and that makes me remember why I did this in the first place. I also enjoy being a buyer and selecting all of the merchandise that we carry. Plus, it’s a perk to buy shoes for myself at wholesale prices.
7. What are some of your biggest frustrations?
It’s hard when you see where you want to be, but know that you are just not there yet. That realization keeps me pushing forward. Earlier this year, Natalie became my partner in the business, and that has helped push my stress level way down. She is full of energy and ideas about marketing and advertising, and that keeps me motivated.
8. Do you have a favorite client?
Sandy. Before we even opened in the mall, she would stand outside of the store and look through the window when we were painting the walls. I came out to meet her, and she told me, “I am so excited that you are here. I want everything you have in there.” Her faith in the possibilities of what we could become was inspiring. True to her word, she has become one of our best clients.
9. Have you always loved shoes? Do you have a favorite pair?
When I was old enough to make my own money, the one thing I would do every year was to buy a pair of shoes for my cousin on her birthday. She wore a size 10, and I could always find cute shoes in that size, so I would live vicariously through her. It’s pretty silly, but I figured if there are cute shoes to be had — someone that I loved should wear them. Now that I have this store, I have a lot of shoes in my size. One of my favorite pairs is my cheetah-print cowboy boots. I also adore my cerulean-blue peep-toe pumps. They are gorgeous.
10. Is it tough to keep up with trends?
An exasperated, yes! That is the hardest part of the business. You have to buy in quantity to get a good deal, and that’s hard to do — especially when the options are so few. But it’s my goal to change this. I am certainly up for the challenge.
11. What would you tell others who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
I would say if you have passion and ambition, you could do anything. For me, it was definitely a higher power leading me, because I didn’t have the resources, but I had the idea and a lot of determination. I would also suggest they do a considerable amount of research, have a strong vision for what they want, and plan out exactly what needs to be done to make their goal become a reality. Write down as much of your dream as you can, save your money, and with some hard work, it’ll take off.
12. Where do you envision Size 12 being in five years?
It will be a household name. To get there, we’ll continue to serve our market of women who wear shoe sizes 10 to 14, and help them dress their feet beautifully and fashionably. That’s my dream.
Visit Size 12 at its Lakeforest Mall location:
(upper level opposite of Red Robin)
701 Russell Ave
Gaithersburg, MD 20877
Store Hours: Mon-Sat 10-9 PM; Sun Closed