Jillan Aimable

Jillan Aimable, perennial entrepreneur, at her Shoeaholics branch on Frederick Street in Port of Spain. —Photo: JERMAINE CRUICKSHANK

SHOEAHOLICS, which has grown into one of Trinidad’s most well-known influencer brands, is looking to expand in the region and internationally by offering both custom and ready-made footwear.

Who is the driver and chief executive officer behind the nine branches of Shoeaholics? Her name is Jillan Aimable.

During an interview with Express Business last Friday, Aimable, a mother of two, explained how she decided to get into the shoe business and her strong love for shoes.

She got into business by selling GNC products and other wholesale items, while working at Scotiabank as an assistant manager for business development.

“I really wanted to grow in the banking sector as my degree is in International Marketing Management. But in 2009 I took a vacation with my sister in Los Angeles with the aim of opening up a boutique. I got lost in the Shoe District. My absolute fetish is for shoes and I ended up spending all my money on various kinds of shoes that vacation.”

The 35-year-old said when she came back from Los Angeles she opened a store called Shoe Fetish and after a year it was rebranded into Shoeaholics.

Her shoe business thrived and expanded from her first store in 2010 in the Arima Dial Mall to a second store in Chaguanas and then the other branches throughout Trinidad and one in Tobago at the Lowlands Mall.

Covid impact

But like many other business people throughout the world, the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything.

In recollecting about the first and second lockdowns which took place April last year and this year, Aimable said her first instinct was to protect her approximately 100 employees.

“As the retail sector was closed for three months we decided to do food hampers for staff and pay a portion of salaries and their vacation. I consider my staff like family, so there was never a question of closing up the store permanently, but how it was going to get done in a timely manner.”

She noted that before the second lockdown, the branches throughout Trinidad were operating on 30 per cent of expected revenue as consumer spending power was not there.

“In the second lockdown which lasted almost four months, the shoe store was selling through our online means. That helped pay the staff in order for them to care for their families, because at that time we had no idea when the retail sector was going to get the green light to reopen.”

What Aimable also noted in this pandemic is that from 2020 to now canned food items rose from 20 per cent to 75 per cent. So she decided to open a food line.

“My idea was for people working on minimum wage to comfortably buy basic food items, so I created a tin food line with red beans, sardine, corn and other tin items on an online page called lakepropertyholdings.myshopify.com. The goal was to donate a lot of it and sell below the supermarket prices and the response has been so overwhelming that we are now expanding the line to 100 other food items at a low cost.”

According to the business owner, the Covid-19 pandemic allowed her to expand by identifying a need in society and addressing it.

Another market she ventured into was quality laminate flooring.

“What made me pivot into the flooring market was that I was doing renovations on my house and when I was pricing floorings it came to me that I can go to the manufacturers and order the proper water- and fire-proof floors that would enhance one’s house space.”

Freight prices

On the issue of freight, Aimable said a container which used to cost US$2,500 to clear, now costs US$16,000. She said that spike in cost is painful, especially for those who have to be clearing goods regularly as their manufacturer is based in China.

The owner also lamented that the lack of foreign exchange has been a major challenge as well.

“All in all the brand has not done badly under these trying circumstances and nothing cannot break us, as we are here to stay. It’s how you manage your business and learn to adapt and make changes to suit the times,” Aimable added.

Box

Jillan Aimable was born and raised in Sangre Grande and attended North Eastern College for seven years.

She was also a swimmer on the national under 16 team and at 16 she was crowned Miss Sangre Grande.

At age 20 Aimable graduated from Anglia Ruskin University (ARU) in England with her Bachelors in International Marketing Management.

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