The last time Shorebeat caught up with Jim Silvester, the Seaside Park resident of 70 years was starting a fledgling business selling a special sandal that would allow senior citizens and those with stability issues better handle a walk on the especially-soft sand we’ve all come to love on the island.
Since then, “The Shore Shoe” has evolved, maintaining its core market of beach towns and sunbathers, but finding a multitude of other uses that have helped thousands of customers across the country participate in activities they may not have thought were accessible to them anymore.
Silvester has been combing the beaches in Seaside Park since he was old enough to remember. It was a simpler time, and things were definitely more affordable for families looking to catch a cool breeze on a hot summer night, but the attraction of the Jersey Shore – the beach – hasn’t changed a bit. Silvester said he grew up in a blue collar family, and his vacations as a child were always spent at his grandfather’s house in Seaside Park. All these decades later, that house has been passed down to him, but the beloved trips to the beach were beginning to become a challenge.
As he told us back in our first conversation more than three years ago, worries about walking on the sand with fishing equipment stopped Silvester from having what might have been a great day at the beach.
“One day after I was retired, I got my fishing gear together and walked up the street, over the dunes, and I looked out and saw nobody fishing even though it was a beautiful day,” he said. “I couldn’t see whether or not there were any birds working. But carrying my cart and my chair, I turned around and went back to my house because I didn’t know if I could make it to the water’s edge.”
Silvester felt a moment of sadness thinking of his father, who also had trouble making his way over the dunes and out to the water’s edge as he got older. And that night, he got to work.
“I looked on the internet, in stores, and there was nothing, so I decided I’d put some vinyl wallboard plates on the bottom of my sandals and took them to the beach to try it,” he recalled.
The prototype shoe consisted of a three-strap sandal with a specially widened sole for added stability. He named it “The Shore Shoe” and shared some with friends, eventually finding out they were a hit. With his inner entrepreneurial spirit having been piqued, the business was born, and Silvester and his wife set out to sell their unique sandals at festivals, events and in beach towns up and down the east coast. They also created a strong online presence and have been selling the sandals through their website ever since.
That’s about where we left off with Silvester in our interview all those years ago, but the business has not only kept on humming, it has evolved into new use cases, been modified for new applications and tweaked to serve niche markets.
Beyond the Beach
Silvester developed a slogan for his shoe: “Walk on Top of Sand, Not In It,” and expanded from there.
“That was the beginning of actually getting the product out to people,” Silvester said this summer. “But what has happened is that we’re getting more and more requests and questions regarding its stability and balance features – more so than its ability to allow you to walk up on top of sand instead of in it.”
The Shore Shoe now features 10 sizes and more color combinations, but more importantly, two new product lines are on the way. He’s poised to introduce The Stability Sandal and The Surf Shoe, each using the original sandal as a base, with optimizations for different uses.
The Stability Sandal is one of the most exciting, he said. This shoe takes the concept of walking on top of sand and expands it to help wearers walk on various uneven surfaces, from cobblestone streets to uneven portions of a backyard or home.
“It’s a new product, and we’re still having to get over the hump of vanity, just like lacrosse shoes in their day,” Silvester said, adding that it is often the children of elderly parents who see the product demonstrated online and place an order. “People need to feel it in their hands and see it, put it on, and they can tell amazingly within the first five steps the difference it makes.”
The Stability Sandal modified the upper portion of the sandal and introduced new colors that were requested by customers who were women. It has proven to be a hit with young customers hoping to improve their parents’ day out.
“They want to help their fathers and their mothers – people between 60 and 90 years old who might not be internet-savvy,” said Silvester. “They’ve had decades of dealing with bad feet and stability, maybe gotten their pain level down from a 10 to a four, but when they put these sandals on after being gifted them by their daughter or son, they’re ecstatic.”
Fishing for Comfort
Silvester has also ordered the first batch of what will be known as “The Surf Shoe.” Again, based on the original Shore Shoe, The Surf Shoe is designed to appeal specifically to anglers of all ages, especially surf fishermen.
“We went ahead and put four holes on each side of the shoe in the wings so you can walk into turbulent water, whether it be the ocean if you’re a swimmer or a stream if you’re a fisherman,” Silvester explained. “You can walk right into the water and it won’t pull the sandal off your foot because there is space for water to pass through.”
Essentially, the concept is similar to that of ocean-going kayaks, which are self-bailing and able to slip through the water without taking on extra weight and friction.
“It’s made perfectly for flounder fishing,” Silvester said. “The water’s still warm, people get out into the water with their feet, and they’re there for quite a bit of time looking for that catch.”
There is also, of course, the friendly crab that makes an appearance with each footstep in the sand – a bit of a reminder of the product’s roots.
Finding a Niche
Silvester invented The Shore Shoe, at least in part, to make his own retirement after a long career in telecommunications and government more enjoyable. He researched the process for getting The Shore Shoe or one of its derivatives certified by the FDA for its cost could be covered under Medicare. But the red tape proved too arduous.
It was $10,000 just to apply, he said, “then there are years of studies, cost analysis, how much they’d pay.”
“All the hoops to jump through was just too much,” he said. “So we adjusted our price and tried to make them as attractive as popular with some new ideas.”
Silvester and his wife found plenty of customers this summer in Wildwood, where they set up a pop-up shop. Wildwood’s gigantic beaches can be a challenge for even those with plenty of endurance, so it was a natural location to find those seeking an easier walk to the water’s edge.
“We had a lot of success with people who wanted to do something about that 10 minute walk from the entrance to the water,” he said.
In many ways, The Shore Shoe is a perfect product for today’s digital marketing space, where video demonstrations can catch the attention of customers who may not otherwise understand how a product works. Indeed, Silvester has produced a couple of YouTube videos and published testimonials from happy customers, including chiropractors and others in the medical field.
Sometimes, however, it’s the feeling one gets after a long day at the beach or the fishing hole that means more than anything else.
“What we’ve found in these sandals is that there’s no wobble,” he said. “It keeps things flat, so your ankles are not wobbling back and forth, and your calf and thigh muscles are not overcompensating. It keeps you steady whether you’re on sand at the beach, or walking around Boston on old cobblestone streets. And at the end of the day, you’ll be amazed at how much less fatigue you’ll feel in your legs.”
The Shore Shoe sells for $129, however Silvester has generously offered to provide Shorebeat readers with a $50 discount if they enter “Shorebeat” as a coupon code at the checkout section when ordering online. Readers can follow this link to The Shore Shoe’s online store, customize an order, and enter the discount code.