The American Bronzing Co.-the oldest baby shoe bronzing company in the U.S.-expands its web presence to connect with today's tech-savvy parents.
Memories are at the heart of the American Bronzing Co.'s business.
When Violet Shinbach went door to door pitching the concept of baby shoe bronzing back in 1934, her vision above all else was simply to make people happy. Eighty years later, Shinbach's grandson, Robert Kaynes Jr., strives to continue that legacy.
"I think sentiment is timeless," says Kaynes, president and CEO of American Bronzing Co., the oldest and largest provider of baby shoe bronzing in the U.S.
The Columbus-based company, which operates a 44,000-square-foot manufacturing facility on the East Side, specializes in baby shoes but also offers bronzing services for other keepsakes, including military items, sports memorabilia, ballet slippers and pet collars. Since its founding, the company has bronzed more than 14 million baby shoes.
To keep pace in today's digitally-centered world, Kaynes has shifted the historic company's marketing and advertising efforts online. "The Internet has saved our business," Kaynes says. "It gave us a way to make ordering much faster and easier for our customers, and allowed us to reach more sentimental parents than traditional marketing channels."
Kaynes says sales have grown since he hired The Media Captain, a digital marketing agency in the Short North, earlier this year to help boost the company's web presence.
Jason Parks, owner of The Media Captain, welcomed the challenge of growing Kaynes' company in the digital realm.
Parks and his team have placed ads for the American Bronzing Co. on Google Display Network and Facebook and implemented a new email marketing strategy to encourage prospective and past customers to return to the company's website. The agency also manages the company's Facebook page with the broader goal of generating sales, not just page likes, Parks says.
A giveaway contest has helped draw an audience: Every month, parents can enter to win a free pair of bronzed baby shoes by uploading a photo of their child to American Bronzing Co.'s Facebook page. The Media Captain built an application that allows parents to upload photos directly to the page, and collects their name and email address in the process. Winners are randomly drawn from the submitted photos.
That experiment and others have generated a buzz, Parks says.
"We see so many shares on so many of these advertisements," Parks says. "It's unlike anything we've ever seen on any other campaign."
Parks says he enjoys collaborating with Kaynes, who "has a great marketing mind. He knew that there was the potential, so it's been fun getting to implement it and see the results."
Kaynes, 58, has devoted more than 30 years to the family business and started out selling baby shoes door to door, but he always aspired to do more. "I did (sales) because I didn't have a lot of options, and then I ended up starting to train people to do it. That's how I moved into the business."
Though shoe styles have changed (the company today bronzes everything from Stride Rites to Crocs) the preservation technique has not. The company uses a process called electroplating to encase each pair of shoes in metal-copper, specifically-and offers several finishes, from antique bronze to porcelain-like detailing.
"It's exactly the same as it was years ago," Kaynes says. "Nothing's automated. It's done by hand."
Kaynes oversees about 30 employees divided between bronzing and the company's silver refinishing division, which operates under the brand name ProShine.
The cost of bronzing a pair of baby shoes starts at $79.95. Online customers print off a shipping label and mail the shoes directly to the company; the newly-bronzed shoes are then returned via UPS roughly six to eight weeks later.
On average, the company ships about 100 shoes a day, Kaynes says.
American Bronzing Co.'s services are also offered through jewelry and trophy stores. That's how Lois Evezich, 75, of Fountain Valley, Calif. discovered the company. She took several pieces of silver to a local jewelry store to be refinished and ended up sending off a long-cherished pair of white leather baby shoes to be bronzed.
The shoes belonged to her son, Peter, who passed away at age 28 after suffering a neurological disease.
Evezich says she was thrilled to find a company that still offers bronzing services. When the finished shoes arrived home, "They were just beautiful."
Dana Wilson is a freelance writer.