ShoeDazzle… no longer dazzling

Denise Lee Yohn in a blog post earlier this year asked the question Has Shoedazzle lost its dazzle? She argued that the company, which had pioneered the shoes-as-a-subscription service, was making the fatal mistake of changing its business model and becoming a plain vanilla e-commerce player that sold shoes. Yohn didn’t say this, so I will: If my previous magazine Business 2.0 were still around, this move would most definitely qualify for “the dumbest list” we used to put out every year.

Ladies loved LA-based ShoeDazzle’s subscription service, which was cofounded by Kim Kardashian. Joy and love were the two emotions ShoeDazzle’s customers associated with the company. It was such a brilliant idea that it has inspired copycat after copycat. Startups are aping the model. I thought it was a brilliant model, aptly reflecting the times we lived in, though I wasn’t sure about their ability to make money. Maybe that is why the company thought it should switch its business approach!

Today fingers are being pointed at Bill Strauss, a ProFlowers executive who was brought in as the CEO to whip the company into shape. Sarah Lacy, a customer, using an acid-dipped pen writes:

I was happy with the way things were. But since my subscription was suddenly cut off? I haven’t bought a single pair of shoes. It may sound silly, but to buy shoes from ShoeDazzle now would feel like I’m spending $39 on each pair of shoes, rather than spending a free credit.

Effectively, I was saying: Please! Keep taking my money every month forever! And Strauss was saying, “No thanks, I’m going to stop auto-charging you and focus on these people who might want to give us money once or twice.”

While it is easy to blame Strauss, let’s not forget that these replace-the-founder-with-the-professional-CEO decisions happen because investors want those changes, and the board had to approve the business model shift.

What are the odds that ShoeDazzle will make a comeback? Like Lacy, I am betting that it is mission impossible for founder Brian Lee, who has been brought back as CEO to fix what is clearly a messy situation. The senior employee exodus, while not as acute as Zynga’s, is still a pretty big problem. And while Lee can attract new talent, getting customers like Lacy back won’t be that easy!