‘I Sell From My Heart’
Lace-up, burnt red booties in a New York City store window.
Ask Marty Souliere about his favorite pair of shoes, and the memory comes quickly.
‘I got them six years ago when I turned 50. They look like something a paperboy would have worn in the 40s. They look homemade almost; like a cobbler made them. I came across those shoes and I fell in love.’
Marty, typically Birkenstock-clad, has been at Hu’s Shoes for 11 years, but his retail experience spans more than three decades.
He first came from Montreal to Georgetown in the 80s, where he worked at Cignale—then a ‘step up’ from sister store Merry-Go-Round. In 1985, Marty was the first man ever hired in the cosmetics department at Neiman Marcus in Chevy Chase. He stayed in skin care and make-up for years, but became well-versed in selling throughout the store.
‘In those bigger stores, you have a home base department to sell from, but a customer would ask you to bring them to clothes or shoes. I always had a passion for that, and it came naturally to me. The transition to shoes was easy for me, but I’d already been doing it a little anyway. Once you have a base of how you sell, you can kind of sell anything.’
After a five-year stint working for a trio of luxury retailers in Beverly Hills, Marty returned to Saks Fifth Avenue in Chevy Chase. In 2007, he serendipitously sold to Georgetown boutique owner Marlene Hu. She encouraged Marty to visit Hu’s Shoes, and offered him a job.
‘I didn’t know if I could ever leave a big retailer to come to a small boutique. It was super scary. But I came on board and they put me under their wing.’
Since then, Marty says he’s developed an uncanny intuition for shoes.
‘Even if a customer is just wearing gym clothes, I can read them well. I can look at what they’re wearing and suggest something that I feel they’re going to like, and I swear to God—nine times out of 10—I’m suggesting stuff they love and would never have thought of. I mean, I’ve been doing this since I was 18.’
In addition to neighborhood and regional customers, many are women either traveling for work, tagging along on their husbands’ business trips, or visiting their children at the nearby universities. Their first trip is rarely their last. Hu’s Shoes is an institution—and so is Marty.
‘I live in Logan Circle, and if I’m out in the coffee shop during the weekend, I have people coming up to me, sticking their foot out, saying, ‘Hey, look what I’m wearing today.’’
Expertise aside, much of Marty’s appeal comes from his earnest selling style.
‘I’m an older salesman, and I sell from my heart. I’m not in it for the kill, and I’m not on commission. I want you to walk out of here loving what you bought. I’m price conscious, too. I’m not a snobby shoe guy at all. I’m in sneakers and Birkenstocks, and I try to create an earthy, casual feeling, ‘cause that’s who I am. So if we have a shoe in here, we have it because I want to sell it, and I believe in it.’
Chunky heels, high heels, pointy toes, round toes, 70s-inspired, 40s-inspired—all can currently be found at Hu’s Shoes. It reflects a recent trend—or lack thereof—that Marty’s observed.
‘What I’m seeing in fashion is that just about everything is in. It’s whatever you like, and whatever looks good on you. I think it’s even changed in the past few years. There used to be an ‘it’ bag and an ‘it’ shoe, and now people are getting away from that.’
Washingtonians are also shedding some of their conservatism; more open to high-fashion footwear than ever before. But this is still DC, Marty notes.
‘Our high-fashion shoes really are of function. It’s not a frivolous buy, and it’s not a shoe just for one event.’
Like a server with a curated wine list, Marty readily suggests what clothing to pair with each shoe—painting a world, and a sale, women can easily step into. While most are open to such guidance, he insists it’s a soft sell.
‘I don’t try to shove my ideas on you. I don’t like to push people outside of their box too much, but I do like to open them up to new ideas.’
Marty understands the power of a great pair of shoes, and has joyfully passed that along. It’s not uncommon for customers to stop by nearly a decade after purchasing their first pair of Hu’s, which they say are still their favorite.
‘Shopping online is awesome and convenient, but come walking in the store and you’re gonna leave with some of your favorite pairs of shoes that you never would have thought of for yourself. Open your mind and see where it goes. It’s the experience.’