Longaker brothers: Bigger shoes to fill
Oddball enjoys success in footwear, and now apparel
Retired Chinese basketball star Yao Ming, 7 feet 6, and scores of other NBA players have bought shoes from them.
So has Pakistan's Aurangzeb Khan, promoted as 8 feet tall, the "Mighty Khan" of Ringling Brothers and Barnun and Bailey Circus fame.
So have thousands of other men -- and some women -- who have sought out Oddball Shoe Company because they have really big feet.
Oddball, owned by brothers Seth and Zac Longaker, has been servicing the big feet community with casual, everyday shoes since 1997. It all started because Seth and Zac, former Portland prep basketball players and tall themselves, needed to find their own extra-large kicks.
"We both wore size 16, and we figured there was a need in the marketplace to fulfill our needs," Zac says.
"When we were kids, there was no such thing as the Internet," Seth adds. "So, our parents would go on business trips and take a couple hours out of each day to see if stores had other sizes. Our only choices (in Portland) were basketball shoes. They didn't want us to wear basketball shoes. ... (Big) shoes were being made, but stores didn't have a reason to stock them. Most people didn't want to take room in their stock rooms for 15s and 16s on the outside chance somebody would stop in. Bigger cities always had options."
So, they started their own shoe company, relying on the burgeoning marketing power of the 'Net in the late 1990s. Sixteen years later, Oddball is going strong -- "we're profitable," Seth says -- and the brothers are branching out with custom-fit apparel, which has helped Oddball increase sales by about 20 percent in the past year. Oddball surpassed sales of $1.5 million in 2011.
"We're still growing. Our trajectory is up," Seth says.
The company has about 55,000 people on its mailing list, and much of the business comes from around the world -- such as Canada, New Zealand, Australia and Great Britain. About 95 percent of Oddball's business is done online (oddball.com).
"We have a loyal customer base here, but it still shocks me -- maybe because I think we're more well-known than we are -- people come in and say, 'I had no idea this place was here,' " Seth says.
Oddball previously did business in small shops in the North Park Blocks and at Northwest 17th Avenue and Marshall Street. But growth -- pardon the pun -- led the brothers to opening their 12,000-square foot store at 1801 N.W. Thurman St.
"I think we started with a dozen brands," says Seth, 39. "We now have about 30.
"Early on, it was strictly guerrilla marketing, word of mouth. The Internet was coming around then, and we immediately went online.
"We'd take out business cards wherever we went, and we'd see somebody in the mall or elevator or walking down the street. 'You look like you have big feet.' They'd say, 'Hey, isn't that a personal question?' You'd have to get in their face a little bit. That's how we started building clients locally, and then people started searching on the Internet for stuff. Our name kind of stuck."
The brothers envisioned the success, if only because the needs of big people with big feet were not being met.
"We're always buying. If somebody has something we haven't heard about it, we'll look at it," says Zac, 37.
And, it's a tricky proposition, knowing what to stock in the size 14 to 20 range. You have too much inventory, you're swimming in it, Seth says.
Come the NBA season, the Longakers can always count on business. A team visits Portland to play the Trail Blazers, and invariably two or three players stop at the shop. Former Blazer Channing Frye, now with Phoenix, has been a longtime customer.
But 7-1 Shaquille O'Neal, the retired star of the purported size 22, hasn't been in. And neither the late 7-7 Manute Bol nor the 7-7 Gheorghe Muresan, two of the brothers' favorite players, visited Oddball.
"It's fun when guys come in. Fun to talk basketball," Seth says. "We used to dwell too much on it. Now, if they come, great ...
"But there are more guys out there like my brother and I who we have to focus on."
The brothers say they sell about a dozen size-20 shoes each month; there aren't many true 20s in the world, Zac says.
But, for big people with big feet, Oddball wants to keep tip-toeing toward bigger market share.
"We want to grow our business all over the world," Zac says.
Seth says business will only continue to get better.
"People are getting bigger all the time, all over the world," he says.