It was time for a change at the Cape May Running Company.

In March, the five-year-old store located in Cape May, NJ, proudly introduced its new shoe wall. Ditching the generic shoe holders that tucked into slat wall, the store used wooden shelves placed on iron piping against a wood background matching the shop’s custom dressing room doors.

“It’s now a much cleaner, more cohesive look that better maximizes the space we have and improves visual interest,” boasts Cape May Running Co. co-owner Harry Back.

The importance of the shoe wall cannot be underestimated in run specialty shops. Displaying a running store’s core product, the shoe wall is most often the main focal point in a run shop, the frequent destination of guests and a sales and marketing tool capable of helping run shops showcase variety and drive interest.

“Quite simply, a shoe wall helps to get people excited about what they are investing in,” says Lance Muzslay, who owns a trio of Sole Sports Running Zone shops in Arizona.

While there are points and counterpoints to shoe wall mechanics and no hard-and-fast rules that apply to every situation, here are 11 ways that run shops are attempting to maximize the shoe wall and generate interest.

1. Favor the back.

When designing run shops, Holly Wiese and her team at 3 Dots Design put a lot of thought into the placement of the shoe wall on the showroom floor. As much as possible, the preference is to place footwear in the rear of the store. Much as grocery stores station staple items in the rear, the idea is that run shop customers will peruse other items while venturing back to see the store’s primary attraction.

“This way, the customer is drawn through as much of the store as possible,” Wiese says.

When Confluence Running put the shoe wall at the back of its new store in Goshen, NY, in fact, apparel sales tripled.

“It wasn’t solely because people had to walk through everything else to get to the shoe wall, but it certainly didn’t hurt,” Confluence Running director of operations Jenna Jenks says.

2. Separate the genders.

Whenever possible, Wiese likes to separate men’s and women’s shoe walls rather than having all the footwear in one display Ñ and for a sound, strategic reason.

“This allows you to create traffic flow in two different areas of the store rather than jamming traffic into one central area,” Wiese says.

Another savvy tip: Place any gender-specific products next to the corresponding shoe wall. Confluence Running, for example, has found success positioning run bras adjacent to its women’s shoes.

3. Use lighting.

Ask Wiese about the most frequently overlooked part of the shoe wall and she does not hesitate to name lighting. Rather than relying on general lighting that often casts a shadow, she suggests run shops use commercial-grade track lighting and shine it directly.

“Shoes are such a key product for run shops that they need to be prominently featured,” Wiese says. “Track lighting helps footwear come to life.”

4. Logical grouping.

Many run shops have adopted a grid-like system for displaying shoes. For instance, rows are lined with similar categories of shoes, such as lightweight neutral or high stability, while columns are sorted by brand. This more calculated, cohesive arrangement, various operators report, makes it easier to explain shoes to customers and helps them conveniently scan their recommended options. 

Meanwhile, many stores devote a separate area of the store to trail footwear since that is its own differentiated product and most often has its own demographic as well.

5. Add some artistry.

For simplicity and practicality, slat wall has been the prevailing shoe display method for decades. More and more, however, stores are ditching slat wall for a footwear presentation with more visual punch.

At Sole Sports, vertical cables run from floor to ceiling with thin metal shelves holding shoes Ñ a little “eye candy to drive interest,” Muzslay says.

In Confluence Running’s store, tall pipes run from floor to ceiling in front of an exposed brick wall. The footwear rests on small iron elbows connected to the vertical pipes.

“This adds a little more flair to the presentation, so it feels less utilitarian and more like an art piece,” Jenks says.

6. Give breathing room.

At Sole Sports, Muzslay has his shoes spaced out approximately 10 inches, an effort to give each model space of its own.

That’s a smart move, Wiese says, adding that shoes piled on top of one another creates a cluttered look that causes confusion for the customer and makes it difficult to discern one product from the next. Give footwear room to breathe.

7. Inject some drama.

To create different points of interest on the wall, Wiese suggests changing the orientation of shoes. For instance, show shoes in pairs, use shadowboxes to mark new arrivals as something especially unique or set trail shoes on an angle.

8. Love the lateral side.

While there is certainly an argument for displaying the medial side of footwear, largely to quickly point out the posting on stability shoes, that argument is becoming less relevant as many brands forgo traditional posting.

More than anything, though, the lateral side of footwear holds the branding and is “often the prettier side of the shoe, too,” Jenks says.

9. Think small.

The crew at Sole Sports tries to keep all men’s shoes within one size of one another and does the same for its women’s shoes. Notably, the stores also prioritize smaller sizes, which are lighter in weight, help create a sleeker look on the wall and better enable breathing room.

10. Remember accessibility.

With the previous shoe wall at Cape May Running Co., some shelving sat as high as eight feet off the ground, so high that some employees and customers could not grab a shoe. With its new look, however, no shoe is more than six feet off the floor. “This has created something much more accessible,” Back says.

11. Keep it clean and orderly.

Before closing each day, staff at both Heartland Soles in Iowa are tasked to tidy the shoe wall for the next day’s opening. That checklist includes tucking in all shoelaces, filling in any gaps on the wall and pointing shoes in the same direction.