How An Ex-Drug Dealer Overcame His Mother’s Suicide & Credits Jail With Inspiring His Multimillion Dollar Shoe Care Business

How An Ex-Drug Dealer Overcame His Mother’s Suicide & Credits Jail With Inspiring His Multimillion Dollar Shoe Care Business

He’d eventually come to understand why she had decided to end it all…

Steve Grear was just sixteen when his mother killed herself in the backyard of Grear’s grandfather’s house.

“I was her entire life,” Grear, now forty recalls. “But I had become distant because she was depressed and  I couldn’t handle hearing her cry.”

Why the tears?

Grear’s mother was extremely overprotective of her only son. After all, she had raised him by herself since he was three years old. When Grear’s father returned and began raising Grear as a teen, Grear’s mother, who suffered from depression, became increasingly concerned about her son’s well being after leaving him with his father who struggled with a drug addiction.

“I had dropped out of school and was staying out all night,” Grear says.

That distance Grear kept ultimately proved too great for Grear’s mother.

“I knew immediately that she did it,” he says.

Years later as an adult, his mother’s concerns would prove prescient…

Grear had become an entrepreneur of sorts; a popular Arizona drug dealer headed for big trouble.

“I was selling weed,” Grear admits. “I was bringing in $25,000 a month cash.”

He wound up in jail for thirty days…

It was the best thing, according to Grear, that ever happened to him.

The Sneakerheads’ Savior?

With a felony under his belt and time on his hands…

Grear quickly decided jail was not a place he ever wanted to call home again.

“When I went to jail I swore I was never going back,” he says.

When he got out he he knew he needed to change direction and careers...

Instead of returning to his old ways, Grear channeled his entrepreneurial spirit and began cleaning a pair of sneakers he hoped to sell on eBay.

“We didn’t have a lot of money when I was growing up and mom always made sure I cared well for my shoes and kept them clean,” Grear says. “Even if my clothes were older she instilled in me that keeping my shoes clean would positively impact the perception other people had of me.”

His mother’s wisdom combined with a pressing need to for a legal way to earn money inspired Grear to imagine a sneaker laundry system that would eventually be awarded a patent and become Reshoevn8r, a one stop shop for some of the world’s best shoe care and shoe cleaning products.

“I remember throwing my sneakers in a pillow case, knotting it, and tossing it all into the washing machine,” Grear says. “But afterward the pillowcase knot was too tight to easily undo and I figured there had to be an easier way to do this.”

Keeping shoes in pristine condition appears to run in the family…

Besides his mother’s sage advice, Grear’s grandfather maintained the shape of his shoes with shoe trees and frequently urged his grandson to do the same.

“I got it from my mom and grandpa,” Grear says of his desire to help the world care for and clean its shoes. “The patent we have is for our sneaker laundry system.”

But the first two years were a struggle…

Grear’s goal of creating a shoe care empire was in jeopardy.

The problem?

Grear didn’t fluently speak the language the new generation of sneakerheads spoke.

Shoes As An Investment: The $5,000 Pair

The secondary sneaker market isn’t a place for the faint of heart…

In fact, even though Grear considers himself a sneakerhead he admits that after investigating the industry he had much to learn.

“I realized I didn’t know shit,” Grear says with a smile. “These guys are extremely knowledgeable and speak their own language. I didn’t want to jeopardize the brand by jumping in and advertising to an audience I didn’t fully understand.

It’s why Grear tapped a friend and fellow sneakerhead to implement Reshoevn8r’s social media and messaging strategy. Soon thereafter, the sneakerheads that Grear was targeting began to fall in love with Reshoevn8r.

It was a relatively niche group intent on accomplishing two key objectives:

  • Ensuring that the often costly sneakers they purchase maintain their crisp new look and value
  • The brand quickly differentiated itself with video tutorials in which Grear himself demonstrates different cleaning techniques and explains which products to use on different types of sneakers:

    The video tutorials have more than twenty million views and Grear counts more than 200,000 YouTube subscribers. Reshoevn8r also promotes heavily on Facebook and Instagram, and have over 320,000 followers on each platform.

  • Maintaining or increasing the value of their sneakers for resale purposes
  • This is one reason the company introduced Sole Shields, which adhere to the bottom of high end shoes costing as much as $5,000 and protect soles from stains and wear so the shoes may be resold at cost or even a profit.

    But is it a financial success?

    Five years after launching, Reshoevn8r is experiencing 200-percent year over year growth and has generated millions of dollars in sales. That’s why it recently upgraded to Shopify Plus, an enterprise ecommerce solution for high volume merchants.

    “Shopify is really easy to use, [it] offers apps that can help you become more efficient, and has allowed us to grow quickly,” Grear says. “We’re able to execute faster with Shopify. If you want to sell something online Shopify is the way to go.”

    For instance, Grear credits Signifyd, an application that instantly flags high risk credit card orders that may be fraudulent, automatically cancels such orders, and prevents costly merchant chargebacks. In the past, Grear would manually check to see if a customer’s billing address matched his shipping address.

    “It’s all automated now which has made us much more efficient,” Grear says. “It’s our favorite app because it saves us so much money and time.”

    The extra time allows Grear to create additional educational shoe care videos and be the popular face of the company…

    It’s a face Grear’s mother never got to see succeed.

    A Piece Of Her In Every Kit

    Reshoevn8r is a success by any measure…

    But Grear isn’t satisfied with turning an idea he had after getting out of jail into a multimillion dollar business. He has even bigger plans for the future. “We’ve come a long way but my ultimate vision is so big I know we’ve barely scratched the surface,” he says.

    So what’s included in this grand vision?

    Expect Reshoevn8r to expand both globally and in terms of the types of shoes the company helps people care for:

    • Innovative new products will be introduced as well as products to care for dress shoes
    • Expanding overseas fulfillment operations to drive down international customer shipping expenses
    • Increased distribution capabilities in Asia where Grear believes he can double the size of Reshoevn8r

    But with the death of his father years after his mother’s suicide, Grear concedes it’s difficult to think about the fact that his parents never get to see him succeed in business.

    “My mother was miserable but she’s in a better place now,” Grear says softly.

    While he suggests being locked up inspired him to change his life and surround himself with the right people, Grear is adamant that the real inspiration for the business came from his mother who he says is undoubtedly looking down at him- and all of the kicks he has helped restore - with a loving smile.

    "She’d be really proud of me and I know she is at peace- she endured a difficult life. I am proud that her presence is felt in every one of our kit's...that provides me with a sense of peace, which I have been searching for since her death,” Grear says.

    About the Author

    Nick Winkler is a contributor to the Shopify Plus blog & founder of The Winkler Group, a strategic communications firm that provides content marketing services to the world's best know brands, businesses, and marketers. Get more from Nick here.

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