Wichita sneaker craze: ‘People make shoe contact before they make eye contact’
Cade McGaugh and Michael Reyes not only took a leap to open a store during the pandemic, but they’ve succeeded so much that they’ve now expanded for a second time and are sharing some business with a new competitor.
The two were working for Champs Sports, a national chain that sells apparel and footwear, when in 2021 they decided to start their own store.
McGaugh said their attitude was, “Let’s just do something we absolutely love.”
They started Knockout Sneaker Boutique in about 700 square feet at Towne West Square for high-end sneakers, new and used. They buy from other stores and from customers.
“It just completely blew up out of nowhere,” McGaugh said.
Last February, they quadrupled their space at the mall.
“It’s honestly been really amazing,” McGaugh said. “We’ve built, like, a really big social media platform that’s kind of . . . taken over.”
That’s what gave them the confidence to expand to Manhattan, where a second Knockout opened at Manhattan Town Center two weeks ago.
“The market was there,” McGaugh said.
Ernesto Hernandez, who joined as a Knockout partner about seven months after the first store opened, is running the Manhattan store.
Though the trio don’t have immediate plans for more stores, expansion is on their minds.
“Hopefully in the near future, yes,” McGaugh said.
Lawrence is a possibility as are other places around the Midwest, including larger cities.
Another Wichita competitor opened in September, and now Knockout is doing business with it.
Uthant Shawn McGregor and his nephew, Chris Kuntz, opened CU Sneakers at 933 N. West St. The CU stands for their names.
“We started collecting shoes a couple of years ago,” McGregor said.
In addition to selling shoes, CU also specializes in cleaning them, and now Knockout sends cleaning business there.
“Those dudes over there . . . they just do, like, miraculous work on shoes,” McGaugh said. “They help us by cleaning our used shoes a lot.”
McGaugh said he hasn’t considered adding cleaning to Knockout’s offerings.
“I’d rather support another person.”
McGregor said shoe cleaning costs $20 to $25.
“Also, we do icing.”
That’s when he cleans the bottoms of clear shoes such as Air Jordans, which can tend to turn yellow.
The icing “can turn them back clear,” McGregor said.
That’s $50, though, he said, “We usually do deals for people who are repeat customers.”
In addition to the cleaning, CU has an average of 115 pairs of shoes for sale and also offers custom T-shirts.
Knockout regularly has about 800 pairs for sale, 700 of which are new and 100 of which are used. That’s up from the 250 pairs the store opened with.
The shoes cost anywhere from $180 to thousands of dollars.
“We get all types of customers,” McGaugh said.
That could be kids going back to school or Shocker athletes buying higher-end shoes.
McGaugh said the high-end shoes are even more popular in Manhattan with some of the college athletes there.
“It’s more of a fashion statement at this point.”
With younger generations, he said, “A lot of people make shoe contact before they make eye contact nowadays.”
Knockout also sells local clothing brands and streetwear brands, but shoes are what have always driven McGaugh.
“I’ve been selling shoes since, honestly, like I was 10 years old.”
He started with his own old basketball shoes but then would buy other shoes on eBay and resell them.
Though he wants to continue to expand, McGaugh said he doesn’t have a dream of a particular number of stores.
“I feel like I’m already living my dream.”