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If the shoe fits, buy it

Home footwear parties put emphasis on fun and fashion
Replicas of the latest styles are for sale at bargain prices, $44 to $130.

The fever in Vicki Clark's dining room was palpable. The party had been going for only a half hour and already dozens of shoes were strewn everywhere, pawed at by 20 or so excited women. White wine and bubbly flowing, the appetizers had barely been grazed.

"No spiel or gimmicks. I figure women know what they want when it comes to shoes," said Wendy Kelleher, founder and owner of Victoria-based Party Shoes Canada.

"We're done with the Tupperware and candle parties -- I have drawers of the stuff. This is more fun, straightforward."

She brings 30 to 60 pairs of sample shoes to a party for women to try on and order on the spot through a laptop and credit card machine.

Behind Kelleher, Clark's dining table and a tall metal rack were lined with rhinestone-laden pumps, red-satin ruffled stilettos, and orange and black faux-snakeskin platforms, among other fancy footwear.

Party Shoes is an appropriate name for this venture. Kelleher sells fun, fashion shoes. They are replicas of the latest styles at bargain prices, $44 to $130.

"These aren't Italian leather. They're from China and most are available online," she said. "But at something like this, women can try them on, walk in them. It takes the scary out of online shopping."

Once the ordered shoes are delivered, the buyer has three days to return them for a refund.

While shoe parties are popular in the U.K. and United States, only one other shoe party company operates in this country -- is in Atlantic Canada.

Kelleher, a semi-retired salon owner, started her new business six months ago.

"I was looking for something fun to make a passive income with," she said. American companies were not interested in a Canadian franchise when she inquired.

"Having already opened my own business once, I wasn't afraid to look into it again."

She connected with a customs officer, shipping agent and others who might give her sage advice.

Then after doing research on styles and distributors online she bought a whack of shoes -- 500 pairs.

"Since then I've developed a relationship with a supplier and can choose single styles in an order of 50 pairs," Kelleher said.

The parties started through word of mouth and news spread fast. Kelleher now has four representatives working for her, attending two or three parties a week. They make 25 per cent of the sales. An average party brings in $500 to $800, but they've made as much as $2,000.

Among her staff are a 29-year-old singer and a North Cowichan equestrian.

"I approached people with different, active networks," she said.

The representatives find the hostesses, who invite their friends to the party.

The party hostess receives a $100 shoe credit and 10 per cent of the night's sales for tapping her social network and throwing the soirée.

Clark, a sales representative for Western Living magazine, has a lot of friends in the Party Shoes prime demographic -- 30- to 50-something professional women.

"I thought it was a nice way to bring different groups of women together. Something like this makes it more fun and interactive," Clark said.

Denise Hamalainen had three pairs of pumps cradled in her arms.

"Would you say you're a shoe collector?" I asked.

Before she could answer, an eavesdropping friend cackled at the question.

"I live for shoes. I wear high shoes. So I think this is amazing," she said.

Janet Gairdner insisted she was five-foot-eight, but she looked absolutely Amazonian in a pair of taupe patent-leather heels -- her own.

"I have a lot of shoes. Not Imelda Marcos a lot, but more than most women," she said. "My husband picked these out for me. He likes shoes, too."

Gairdner, who works in newspaper advertising, settled on one fun and one practical purchase for the night: a buckled-snakeskin platform and grey flannel stilettos.

As shoes flew on and off different feet, parading to oohs and ahs of new friends, credit cards heated up and a new buzz filled the room: "Can I have a shoe party, too?"

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