The Shoe Game: Inside a UW Student’s Thriving Side Hustle
Since the 1980s, the sneaker-head culture sparked a long-lasting wave of shoe collecting. The shoe game today is more prominent than ever, with collectibles going for thousands of dollars to custom shoe art. UW sophomore Andrew Urrutia has grown up loving the game of baseball and the art of color. The now-retired high school baseball star has still managed to slide his way into the MLB. Urrutia now spends his afternoons and weekends creating customized cleats for players across the United States. Below is the origin and expansion of his company, TrainKicks.
Q: What is the origin story of @trainkicks?
One day late into my sophomore year of high school, I learned that custom cleats were on the market. I saw an ad on TV and decided to make custom cleats for myself. I played baseball throughout my life and thought having a pair of unique cleats would be cool. My friends on the team saw what I had done, and they started to ask me to create custom cleats for them. At first, creating these cleats was a form of passive income, a small side hustle even. I started to create custom stickers and clothes for people to expand my business, but I realized I couldn't be as successful creating so many different products.
I found my niche in cleats and prioritized it. I never really "blew up" in the two years from the start, and I honestly would’ve quit before entering college. There was, however, this one specific moment I decided to continue my shoe journey. In 2019, I DM'd the entire Seattle Mariners team on Instagram, and to my surprise, eight players responded. I ended up closing a deal with three of the players, and it was at that moment that I realized I could continue this business in college. I knew I could continue working with the pro-athletes.
Q: Did you expect your business to be as successful as it is?
In some ways, I knew that my business would be successful. I knew that when I wanted to work hard on something and was passionate about it, I would have a good focus on it. I trusted myself to know that if an opportunity arose, I would take it to create more options in the future. I did not, however, expect to be this successful – I would have never imagined working with professional athletes, let alone have them respond or reach out to me. Their want to go out of the way to contact me has been one of my greatest achievements when it comes to marketing the company.
Q: Which person were you most excited to work with?
I have been honored to work with plenty of people, but I was most excited to work with Felix Hernandez. My admiration for him sparked at the age of four, and I have continued to admire him. Hernandez has always been my favorite player; it was a lifelong dream to meet him. When I came across the opportunity to work with him, I did not hesitate. My lifelong goal of meeting him was achieved, but I was also able to offer him a service.
Q: How did you initially market your business? How does networking work?
When I started TrainKicks, I made an Instagram and a website. In terms of marketing, the majority of it was by word-of-mouth. There were also a few articles written about my business here and there, and I also partook in business competitions in high school. Most of my clients connected with me through social media. I think the reason for this is that when they looked at my Instagram account, they had access to view my previous work with other clients. Knowing a few agents or players takes you a long way in terms of networking. There are a lot of different people that can help you in this industry. Usually, I would find a new client through an agent or client referral. However, most of the time, my business is run through "middle-men" who do a lot of the networking for me. I currently don't reach out to players anymore since I feel I have made quite a few connections.
Q: What have you learned about marketing in the shoe business?
I learned that social media plays a crucial role in marketing within the shoe game. After years of practice and dedication, I also realized that taking high-quality photographs of the finished products will handle your account a long way. These photos show your client your professionalism, making your website or social media more established-looking. I also learned that posting my finished products on the players does a great job at self-marketing my products. I actively look for my cleats being used in games. You can often find me Googling players and specific games that I know my cleats will be in. I post these photos I see on my Instagram account, which helps with new clientele. I also learned that posting these photos from games can make my product look more desirable and wearable, which helped me achieve many of my business goals. With marketing, I let the shoe speak for itself.
Q: What is your 5-year game plan? What are you excited about?
To be completely honest, I have taken my business down a notch for the time being. I have other more important responsibilities like school. However, if I have the opportunity to travel to deliver cleats, I will happily take the opportunity. Next week, I am traveling to LMU to provide a pair of cleats. TrainKicks is more of a side hustle now, and I do it mainly for fun. My game plan is to continue brainstorming ideas for marketing and creating new content that is easy to consume. I hope to add a new element to creating videos to market my work in the future. I am genuinely excited to keep expanding my clientele throughout the Seattle region as well as meeting new people. I also hope to improve my art and how I work with my medium; I hope to learn new techniques I can implement into my shoe-creating process.
Q: What advice would you give to a new business owner or entrepreneur?
Set yourself and your business up for success by having thorough preparation even when you are not sure of your next opportunity. By preparation, I mean by having the tools to produce the service you wish to pursue — knowing how you're going to deliver your product differently and in a unique way that will make your customers and clients happy and lead to new opportunities. If you are properly prepared to run a successful business, when the opportunity does arise, you will have the ability to achieve it.
I would also advise the idea that refining a product to be its best version can also open new opportunities. Not being afraid of rejection is also an integral aspect of succeeding through being a new business owner or entrepreneur. Rejection is just part of the process, and you will never know if something is possible unless you try it out yourself.
If you’re interested in learning more on Uritta’s shoe journey or purchasing cleats…