Sudbury man launch cool shoe business with friends
SUDBURY, Mass.—Jason Shuman was sitting in a chapter meeting of Sigma Phi Epsilon at the University of Miami when he had an epiphany, a revelation that encouraged the then-sophomore to start his own business.
The Sudbury resident noticed a lot of companies offer products with Greek letters to fraternities and sororities that tend to be overpriced and low quality.
"You're paying $100 for a sweatshirt with your logo on it and you're kind of looking at yourself when you get it. You're saying, `Why did I do that?' "
So when he got home one day and his boat shoes were worn out, Shuman thought, "Why don't I get a pair of boat shoes with my letters on it?"
Nice idea, except the product didn't exist. Even the top retailer of boat shoes did not make what Shuman sought.
Luckily, the entrepreneurship major had connections. He was able to get a custom-made pair from a manufacturer in China. The shoes passed the "cool factor," grabbing the attention of practically everyone at "The U" who saw Shuman sporting them.
Two years later, after testing nearly a dozen prototypes and spending hundreds of hours planning, Shuman and four friends have launched Category 5 Boat Shoes.
The company specializes in boat shoes embossed with letters or a logo on the back or side, sold by campus reps mainly to fraternities and sororities. However, the company is not limiting itself to a single market.
"We can also do country clubs, private schools, or sailing teams," said Shuman, CEO of the company.
"We're licensed for 18 different fraternities at the moment," said Gregory Karelitz of Wayland, a senior at Boston College, who handles the technology for the company. "More are in the pipeline."
The other partners are Shuman's older brother Jeff, a Bentley College graduate who works in high-end real estate in Boston, and two other childhood friends, Nate Shron of Sudbury, a senior at Syracuse University, and Julien Rousson of Sudbury, a senior at Hofstra University.
The first shoe, the Yachtsman, is available in oak, mahogany and walnut and sells for $69.99, or $59.99 when purchased through a college rep.
The three main qualities of the Cat5 shoe are affordability, customization and quality, said Shuman, noting that for a reasonable price, customers receive a great product.
"The shoes are hand-sewn, and the one thing that sets our shoe apart is that the insole is both foam and leather," said Shron, who ran a DJ business in middle school and a photography business in high school. "From the second you start wearing it, it feels like it's broken in from day one. It's truly a comfortable shoe."
Over the summer, the partners set up shop in an office on Speen Street in Framingham, planning the final details of the launch. The team received over 200 applications for campus reps, and planned to hire enough to cover 80 campuses this fall, and to double the number by the spring of 2013.
The reps will be in charge of marketing and selling the shoes directly to fraternities and friends. The reps will also set up meetings with different groups and let customers try on the shoes.
"We believe if someone can put their foot in the shoe, they're going to want to buy it," said Shuman.
The company has received a lot of buzz through outreach on Facebook, LinkedIn, and other social media, in addition to word of mouth spread through Shuman and Shron's fraternities, and connections each has made in the past.
"We've already had orders, and nobody has touched the product," Karelitz said.
"A lot of our friends are willing to help," said Jeff Shuman. "They just believe in the idea. I think it says a lot about all of us. They like us and they like what we're doing."
The five, who have known each other for nearly two decades, say they enjoy working together. One of the friendships goes back to when two of them were 4 years old and attended Camp Sewataro in Sudbury. Another was formed in preschool at Temple Beth Shalom in Framingham.
"We're doing something that we like," said Karelitz, who, like his partners, believes Cat5 can fill a niche and turn into a longstanding business. "Besides I get to come to work with four of my best friends every day. I don't know what could be better than that."