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We Are Family

Laurel Tate, co-owner of Two Sole Sisters, reflects on the kin, customers, and coworkers who make up one giant happy family.

Sisters act: Laurel (right and top left) and Lindsey Tate, then and now.
Sisters act: Laurel (right and top left) and Lindsey Tate, then and now.

Dear 12-year-old Laurel…Well, I regret to inform you that you did not become a pickup man on the pro rodeo circuit, nor did you become an attorney as your political science degree from Texas Christian University might have led you to believe. However, it’s no surprise, coming from a long line of entrepreneurs, that you’ve followed in their confident and creative footsteps by co-creating another family business—just not in Texas. Are you ready for this? You own a boutique shoe store in Boulder, CO, with your sister, Lindsey. It’s called Two Sole Sisters, and we just celebrated our 16th anniversary!

You love everything about the business—shoes, employees, customers, vendors, you name it. You especially love the growing family that it all entails. You also love the female empowerment Two Sole Sisters fosters and celebrates. It’s the icing on the cake!

Now just how did you get here? Actually, your entrepreneurial lineage starts earlier, when you launch Who’s Got Thyme Catering in 1998. Cooking for people is one of the many ways the women in our family show love. Remember how you loved watching Honey (grandma) and mom make delicious dinners and desserts? Well, that feeds your desire to get into the catering business. Plus, you’re sick of standard party menus—the boring chicken, bland pasta primavera, and tired hors d’oeuvres. Your menus are based on what customers love to eat, and dream of serving their guests. Think lavish charcuterie and cheese boards, grilled portobello mushrooms stuffed with pesto and smoked mozzarella over sauteed spinach, and slow-roasted prime rib. Yum! The business mushrooms from a small cheffing company into a full-service catering operation in just a few years. You grow to seven full-time employees and, one summer, you cater 43 weddings! Phew!

Catering is tough. The hours are unimaginable, the pace frenetic, and the margins thinner than a sheet of phyllo dough. In the mid aughts you start dreaming about launching another business. Then one day you and Lindsey, who works in software sales, attempt to go shoe shopping only to discover that Boulder is barren of boutiques. For the next two years you joke about opening a shoe store together to fill that market void. You envision an inviting place that showcases artisan and up-and-coming brands that aren’t found everywhere else.

Then, in 2007, Lindsey calls and says she’s fed up with software sales! It’s the call you’ve been waiting for. You jump at the chance to create a store offering amazing shoes and where women will feel respected, appreciated, and understood. This thread of female empowerment serves as a guiding light for your new venture.

The demands of running a catering business serve you well for shoe retailing. Plus, you’re a born leader. Of course, launching any business from scratch has it learning curves and challenges. To this day, you and Lindsey laugh about your tiny open-to-buy during those salad days. But you work hard and grow the business organically. And while opening in 2008, smack in the middle of the Financial Crisis, could be seen abysmal timing, you both only see opportunity. Women still need and love shoes! It helps, though, that you two are the sole employees then. It allows you to run a tight ship.

As the years go by, Two Sole Sisters becomes a fixture in the Boulder community. Customers liken the cozy space to the local barber shop. The experience goes way beyond a transaction. Anyone can sell shoes, but we sell a feeling. We fit our customers properly, even though we aren’t a sit-and-fit store. We’re fashion that feels good, and that involves both body and mind. Our merchandise empowers women to look and feel their best. Customers are cared for and valued. Thus, no high-pressure sales tactics. Our approach is soft and sincere. We tell the stories behind the styles we thoughtfully curate.

Some of your dearest friends start as customers. What a bonus gift! Same goes for employees, like Caterina Piffer, who joins the team in 2015. Your dear friend, Candy Herrington, asks a favor to hire the young Italian woman. You accept without hesitation, opening your home to her as well. Her family has been in the shoe business, and that common bond makes for a fast friendship. Caterina becomes your little sister, as well as big sister to your son, Wyatt. In 2023, you travel to Trentino, Italy, to attend her wedding and spend time with her family that you now call your own.

Appreciate and respect all your employees. Never forget the day you decide to change your business philosophy from the customer always comes first to your employees. It might be the smartest business decision you ever make. Treating every employee as an extension of the Two Sole Sisters family empowers them, which enables them to grow and flourish. What’s more, customers reap the benefits through better service. Like Rachel Nowicki, our stellar store manager of 11 years. She’s our third sister. We couldn’t serve our customers without her!

Indeed, family has always been a big part of your life. But it means much more than blood relations. Family is about a sense of belonging and understanding. It includes friends, coworkers, customers, and mentors who all support and uplift you. Two Sole Sisters is an enormous family that keeps expanding. It has enabled you to raise a family, work alongside your sister, play cowgirl on the weekends, and share your passion for unique footwear. Yes, you’re a total shoe geek. Nothing beats talking shop with vendors and sharing that passion with customers. It’s a labor of love. I can’t wait for you to come in and see it!

The June 2024 Issue

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