Tina Aldatz Norris

President, Foot Petals

Tina Aldatz Norris was more “Sex and the City” than Fortune 500 when she created her first Foot Petals product, an insole for women who were over the pain of wearing high heels but would never (gasp) go the sneaker route. She had built a successful fashion merchandising career, but her love of shoes had taken its toll.

While working as the Special Events and Merchandising Director for BCBG Max Azria in New York City, she had tried (but failed) to remedy her sore feet by cramming orthopedic insoles into her heels. And she knew she wasn’t alone.

Having moved back to her native Orange County, CA, in 2000 for a job at a Web site that fizzled, Norris gave herself a six-month deadline and got serious. She found the perfect insole material. And, after reaching out to family and friends, found the perfect business partners.

Seven years later, Foot Petals includes a whole line of foot-related goodies and is sold by more than 5,000 retailers nationwide. Best of all, Norris may have pounded the pavement to get here, but her feet haven’t felt a thing.

What we learned from Tina: Let the experts do their jobs. “I think entrepreneurs, at times, try to do everything themselves. You just can’t be successful unless you know what your strengths are and you get the right people in the right places.”

How to Spot a Good Idea

“Looking for the product so frequently for myself, and knowing there was a void in the market, was the driving force for me. I had had ideas along the way for many years, like for a special type of a headband. Well, there’s a million companies out there that do headbands. It wasn’t something revolutionary that was really going to change the world.”

It Can Be Fun, Too

“I also thought that I could have a lot of fun marketing it … I’ve thought about the red carpet and celebrities. And magazines would have fun with it. I mean, how many stories do you see, in almost every issue of a magazine, about shoes? I just thought, gosh, this is such a great opportunity. Every girl will totally get this.”

So Long, Shame

“I was really tired, as a consumer, of buying products that were embarrassing. And I think that, when you look at foot products, it’s not something that you could ask your boyfriend to pick up for you at the store. It’s all like fungus or odor eaters. Everything was ugly and embarrassing.”

It Takes Two to Merchandise

“In January of 2001, I got my first partner, and that was Armando Dupont. And he’s still my partner. And Margie, who is my vice president and business partner, came on board in February of 2001. Margie had worked in the fashion industry for many years and before we launched I said, ‘If I can make this thing, do you think that you could sell it?’ She shopped it around to buyers, and she called me back and said, ‘Absolutely, let’s go for it.’ We took the product to our first trade show in June of 2001, and we shipped our first order in August.”

Teaching Shoe Dogs New Tricks

“We had fashion experience, but the shoe world is run by these old men, and they’re referred to as ‘shoe dogs.’ So when we walked into these meetings, they were like, ‘Why in the heck would we sell something that we give away every day?’ And our response was, ‘Why would you give something away that you could sell?'”

Behind Every Man Is a Woman

“Almost every meeting that we went to, we said, ‘Okay, why don’t you take these samples home and give them to your wife?’ We were also always very sure to leave a sample with their assistant. Once their wife or assistant got a hold of it, we always got a call back. Because that was the biggest challenge—the men just didn’t get it. You’ve just got to look for loopholes and think outside the box. When somebody says no, find another way.”

If Looks Could Sell

“It was a little bit intimidating, and we could have walked in in hardcore business suits, with our hair slicked back, and been really prepared for business. But we just thought, you know what? That is not us. We are walking billboards for our products.”

Family Fired

“We laugh about it now, but I even had to fire my own mom. Think about it before you do it, because once you get yourself roped in with friends and family, it’s a hard thing to back out off.”

Growing Pains

“I made a mistake about three years ago. I thought because things were going so well with Foot Petals, the natural transition would be to go into a men’s product. Without really having orders, and being a little too aggressive, I went out and bought thousands and thousands of units, like 100,000 units of this men’s product that I created. And I basically just ended up donating it.”

Know When to Fold ‘Em

“There weren’t sales coming in for [the men’s product], and I just realized, you’ve got to look at the bottom line. Men don’t buy nearly as much as women, which we all know. When I was paying more money to have it stored in a warehouse than I was actually bringing in, I needed to call it a day and finally give it up, because I held onto that thing for a long time.”

Be Your Own Best Investor

“There comes a time when you’ve got to look at things from the perspective of an investor. If you were not you, but you were looking at the stock market, is this a company you would buy into because you think it’s really going to go somewhere? If you wouldn’t buy into it yourself, then you need to just let it go.”

Wise About Size

“This beauty product collection I’ve just launched—a foot spray, a gel, and a shoe polish touch-up pen—is something that’s very near and dear to my heart. But I’m also very conservative. I could have gone crazy and done a lotion, a foot scrub, a pumice stone, nail polishes, and tried to launch a whole bunch of products at once. Instead, our philosophy now is to do fewer products but go deep into those products—higher quality and bigger volumes.”

Grow Your Reputation, Too

“Extreme growth can be crippling for a company. As a vendor, you’re considered a business partner with your customers, and the last thing you want to do is defile your good name and your reputation by being a poor supplier. So, if somebody gives you an order, and they’re planning those dollars locked in with those goods, and you miss delivery dates because you can’t afford to pay your suppliers due to too-fast growth, those buyers are going to think twice about ordering from you ever again. My reputation is something that I take very seriously. At the end of the day, that’s all you’ve got.”

Parting Thoughts …

-“My scariest business moment … was being invited to be on ‘The Big Idea’ with Donny Deutsch. It went great. He was fabulous. And I was so nervous.”
-“Every entrepreneur should … concentrate on the three Ms: money, marketing, and management.”
-“Success to me means … seeing a plus at the end of my income statement at the end of each month.”

“I will always think of myself as … poor. I grew up poor, and I never forget where I came from.”

This Featured Lady was profiled by Sarah Tomlinson, a freelance writer in Los Angeles.