Shoe Sensation is a “a family shoe store,” Kat Bielefeld says, “known for providing everything from tennis shoes and women’s boots to kids’ shoes.” But to Bielefeld, the company’s family atmosphere extends far beyond the footwear on its shelves. First as an intern and now as director of new store construction, Bielefeld has found in the Shoe Sensation teams a family dedicated to helping her fulfill her goals—no matter what challenges she faces along the way.
“I’m actually an interior designer by trade,” explains Bielefeld, who graduated from the Sullivan College of Technology and Design in 2011. After completing a Shoe Sensation internship towards the end of her time at Sullivan College, Bielefeld stayed on at the company as an assistant store planner and regularly coordinated with construction crews and general contractors.
In August 2011, Bielefeld decided to join Kentucky-based telecommunications company Rainbow Design Services to broaden her engineering knowledge and skill set. But in the five years she was there, Bielefeld continued to keep in touch with her former supervisor at Shoe Sensation.
“I’d always kept in touch with her—I just really enjoyed working there as an intern,” Bielefeld remarks. “And one day when I reached out to her to share some of the work I had been doing with AutoCAD, it turned out that they were actually looking to hire a designer. So after some discussion, I decided to come back.”
Returning as a lead designer and project manager, Bielefeld found the work “really different” from anything she had done before. “There’s no handbook for project management,” she notes, “so it was really a trial by fire. But I love a good challenge.”
In fact, the challenging nature of the work was one of the things Bielefeld enjoyed most about her internship at Shoe Sensation, and one of the reasons she decided to come back. “I also just love shoes,” Bielefeld says with a chuckle. “And after a while, I developed a love for construction too.”
And in February 2019, that newfound love for construction won Bielefeld a position as the director of new store construction in Jeffersonville, Indiana.
As director, Bielefeld is responsible for “everything that goes on from lease execution to the moment when we hand the keys over to the store manager,” she says. “We manage all the design drawings, construction, the ordering of the fixtures, laying out the store, and then setting out all the shoes to match up with where the merchandising department wants them to be.”
All of that is obviously a huge responsibility, Bielefeld says. She strives to streamline as much of the process as possible, constantly questioning how she and her teams can be more efficient or achieve more cost savings.
But efficiency, Bielefeld notes, is just one of the myriad challenges that she and other project managers constantly face.
“In construction, you just plan for things to go wrong,” she says with a laugh. “I’ve seen pretty much everything happen—from our glue freezing in a store in Wisconsin to not being able to put up a store sign because of the regulations in South Dakota.
“But no matter what,” Bielefeld continues, “the store has to open. It’s how you handle things when they do inevitably go wrong that really determines the outcome of the project.”
While frozen glue and strict regulations would mean a headache for almost anyone, some of the challenges she sees are actually kind of enjoyable, Bielefeld admits. When constructing any new Shoe Sensation store, she and her team have to find ways to integrate a number of psychological principles and strategies into the design and flow of the store.
“When people walk into a store, all they really see is the face value of what it is—a store with shoes. But what a lot of people don’t realize is that this is kind of a Miranda Priestly moment,” Bielefeld says, referring to an iconic scene in The Devil Wears Prada where Priestly describes the nuances of choices that are made by designers in the fashion industry.
“Like a cerulean sweater,” the director says, “everything that we do behind the scenes at Shoe Sensation helps people to find and wear the shoes they love.”
Some of that behind-the-scenes action is a matter of simple product placement, Bielefeld explains. “If we placed the shoes high enough that you couldn’t really see them, you would definitely notice it,” she points out.
But other things are a little more subtle, Bielefeld says, like the neutral colors that are used in the design of all Shoe Sensation stores. “We want the focus to be the product, so the shoes and the marketing are the draw.”
Accomplishing all of that while managing frozen glue incidents might feel like a heavy burden to some, but not to Bielefeld. “Without my team, I can’t do my job,” she emphasizes. “Our goal is always to open stores on time, and their hard work is really what allows us to make that happen.”