Teacher Art Apodaca Rodriguez launched his Shoe Daca boutique with the idea that profits from the store would help buy shoes for needy kids at California Middle School in Sacramento, but the business now has become his full-time job.
Last April, Apodaca left his post after 17 years teaching seventh-graders at Cal Middle. He told me recently that his shoe and clothing boutique did so well in 2014 that he is considering opening a second store. He has been scouting potential locations in Folsom, Roseville and downtown Sacramento.
Apodaca opened his original store five years ago in Land Park, but he relocated to Elk Grove in November 2012 to get more space and expanded parking. Two big-name shoe brands – Toms and UGG – agreed to sign contracts with Shoe Daca a year after the move. His sales per square foot have roughly doubled since the relocation, he said.
“We just had our first $10,000 day recently,” Apodaca said. “I think we made something like $40,000 our first year in business.”
Shoe Daca’s founder said he expects gross sales to exceed $1 million for the first time in 2015. That kind of success amazes the man who didn’t buy his first pair of name-brand shoes until he was 30.
“I could have bought my first pair of Nikes when I was in college because I got a full scholarship and I had money, but I had a block in my head,” Apodaca said. “I was always the kid who didn’t have name brands. I got whatever came from Kmart or whatever hand-me-downs I could get.”
His goal now, he said, is to pay wages that allow his long-term employees to afford to splurge on a nice pair of shoes if they want. He recently raised wages, he said, and employees who have worked at his shop for more than three months now earn $12 to $22 an hour. He also is implementing a bonus system that will pay longtime or full-time workers an extra $2, $4 or $6 an hour in months where certain goals are met.
“One of the reasons I think our economy has struggled so much is that we’ve had absolute decimation of the middle class,” Apodaca said. “I’m about 40 years old, and I remember a time when a family could have just one person working, even if it was at the grocery store or gas station, and a couple could buy a home or send their kids to college. People earn less money and can’t spend as much money.”
Apodaca’s employees, however, don’t mention pay when talking about why they enjoy their work. Shift manager Jessica Mendoza and assistant manager Kassandra Tizoc both said Apodaca offers challenges that stretch them, and he doesn’t get upset when they make mistakes or have trouble learning something.
“If you make a mistake, they say, ‘OK, you’ll get better,’” said Tizoc, a 19-year-old criminal justice major at Sacramento State. “At some businesses, you make a mistake, and you’re done. Here, if we don’t get something, we help each other out.”
Twenty-year-old Mendoza, a senior speech pathology major at California State University, Sacramento, added: “Apo really works around our school schedules, and that’s really important to me. It feels like a family.”
Apodaca said the business has allowed him to continue doing the mentoring that he so enjoyed as a teacher, and he is able to to donate clothing and shoes through the Courageous Connection and Chicks in Crisis. He also is thrilled, he said, to have more time for his wife and their two young children.
“I’ve basically been doing two full-time jobs, and my kids and family have been suffering,” Apodaca said. “Since I cut down to one, I’ve been able to be an art docent at my daughter’s school. I help out with the garden, and I coach my son’s (basketball) team. I’ve been able to be a better father.”
Apodaca never thought he’d be a retailer or a teacher back when he started college at the University of California, Santa Barbara, or even when he was finishing up his pre-law studies at UC Davis. But his mother told him she didn’t think he was meant to be an attorney.
“She became a paralegal at a good law firm,” Apodaca said. “She had been around the field, and she said, ‘Art, it’s not like being Johnnie Cochran. You don’t go in there and start arguing cases.… You’re going to be doing research, you’re going to be sitting in a library, and then on top of that, you’re going to have to wear a suit, son.”
His mother suggested he try teaching. After substituting for a year, he landed a job with Sacramento City Unified School District. He ended up getting a California Middle School classroom across the hall from veteran teacher Mark Craviotto. By watching him, Apodaca said, he learned that if you love teaching, then you learn to adapt your teaching techniques to each new class of students.
“No matter what the kids say or do, they’re innocent, they’re malleable and they’re not doing it as a personal thing against you,” Apodaca said. “They’re kids. If you let things blow past you and don’t take it personally, then I think you can fall in love with what you’re doing.”
Call The Bee’s Cathie Anderson, (916) 321-1193. Follow her on Twitter @CathieA_SacBee.