3D-Printed Shoe Makes a Lasting Impression

Steinbeis graduate makes successful entry into the world of self-employment with mass-customized shoes

A shining example of knowledge transfer: In 2010 Timo Marks graduated from the School of International Business and Entrepreneurship (SIBE) at Steinbeis University Berlin (SHB) with a Master of Science in International Management; five years later, he has just set up his own company: Schuhleister GmbH & Co. KG.

The original idea came to Timo Marks a number of times while studying at SHB. It wasn’t just because his degree project for arvato was about entering foreign markets with a focus on China. He also ended up in the “Middle Kingdom” for his foreign studies trip. And while he was there, the idea took root of setting up his own company. He and his co-students were discussing the advantages of lower wages as part of a company tour. Producing and personalizing made-to-measure clothing even occupied his thoughts during his time off in the country. Looking back now, it’s clear that this was the moment the idea behind Schuhleister was born. His thinking was that customized shoes are either simply too expensive in Europe – or they’re expensive and not quite what the customer was looking for in visual terms. As he thought more about the problem, Marks struck upon the idea of individually adapting footwear to offer the quality of bespoke shoes by standardizing certain processes – all at an affordable price. Schuhleisters are a marriage between good old handiwork, customized shoe production, modern foot measurement techniques, and 3D printing. The result is a made-to-measure shoe that looks modern and offers premium quality at the same time. It only takes a single session to take all the measurements and new shoes can be re-ordered anytime as required. Schuhleister is operating as a B2B service to support commercial customers in making their own customers satisfied.

The approach allows Schuhleister to revolutionize a market that has until now focused on mass production and produced goods for the warehouse. It is doing this by thinking about the exact fit of the shoe before it’s tried on for the first time. So even before the first materials are cut in production, the data on the customer’s foot is already in the system (a move based on Toyota principles: away from push to pull production). The corresponding shoe lasts (Schuhleisten, or molds) are then made available in the right design.

As well as offering on-site solutions, Schuhleister also provides online options for ordering other products that match foot measurements and it’s currently developing an app for this. The process and the services offered by Schuhleister have received an extremely warm reception among business clients and end customers. A variety of stores and companies have already used the service and were extremely satisfied with the results. Made-to-measure shoe production has allowed Schuhleister to teach customers that batches of individual items are now possible. The company is now able to provide stores, designers, and other companies with their own white label collections in minimum volumes.

Schuhleister is currently automating more and more stages of the shoe making process. This process optimization work is being galvanized by the experience already gathered by the team and its advisors, as well as the prospect of revolutionizing a niche within a highly competitive market – in ways that provide services to B2B clients and end customers and offer tangible benefit. With the help of 21st century technology, Schuhleister will be able to offer people working at companies added value and offer a new service to the end-customers of trade clients.

For Marks, the project competence degree (PCD) at Steinbeis University Berlin laid important foundations for his role as a business founder and the manager of a growing company. A variety of topics and tasks covered during his degree played a decisive role in helping him position Schuhleister as an innovative company – from drafting financial plans, to implementing a live business project at arvato, and even the repeatedly underscored innovation philosophy of Schumpeter. It also required drawing a deep breath and focusing strictly on solutions – also aspects that are a central feature of the executive Steinbeis master’s program, indeed factors that were important for Marks while setting up Schuhleister.

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