Cleveland local turns sneaker side hustle into $1 million business

Richard Brown is working to turn his love of sneakers into a legacy with his eye on opening a retail storefront in downtown Cleveland.

3 min
April 4, 2024

Richard Brown is a self-professed ‘sneaker head’ and ‘tech geek’ who found his niche with Amazon when he combined the two to create Proof Culture, a one-stop shop for shoe care. He is now employing three generations of his family and friends to help fulfill orders from his Cleveland warehouse, as he looks to generate a million dollars in revenue this year by leveraging Amazon’s data to build his business.

Proof Culture started as a custom sneaker business selling shoes for weddings and special events, but the business evolved into sneaker restorations as customers brought their favorite shoes for Brown to bring back to life. “As we did the restoration projects, I realized that the shoes look great, but the laces were shot. And that’s when the light bulb went off, because I couldn’t find any replacement laces,” explained Brown.

It took Brown a year to create the first shoelace for his restoration needs. Getting the correct width, shade, material, feel and durability took longer than expected, but once perfected, he said it didn’t take long to begin manufacturing at scale. Proof Culture is now up to 70 different laces in different lengths, colors, styles and textures with a following across the US.

“Shoelaces are the line-up to your haircut. You can have a great pair of kicks, but if your shoelaces are dirty, if they’re worn, it just really takes away from the look and feel of your shoes,” said Brown.

As the company grew, they expanded their product line. Now, customers can get everything they need to take care of their treasured kicks, from storage boxes to shoe cleaning kits, shoelaces and crease protectors. “All of the essentials that you need to really keep your shoes looking great, that’s what we cover,” said Brown.


Brown grew his sneaker restoration business into a one-stop-shop for sneaker care.

Brown was selling directly to customers on his website, the same website he would use to advertise his sneaker restorations. But, knowing he could do more, he used his background in ecommerce to launch his brand in the Amazon store, and that’s when he said, “everything changed.”

Brown credits being a ‘tech head’ with his success on Amazon. Brown has been able to use the data to build out his Amazon Ads campaigns, finding customers for his laces when replacement purchases may be top of mind, like Prime Day and around the holidays.

“It’s hard to capture the growth that we’ve experienced with Amazon. We’ve been doubling every year, every month, every quarter,” said Brown.

Amazon’s data has helped Proof Culture determine when and how to ship their products to meet their needs. Brown uses both Fulfillment by Amazon (FBA), where fulfillment specialists pick, pack, and ship the order on behalf of Brown and Fulfillment by Merchant, “which I like to call Fulfilled by Me, where we get the orders and we ship them off to customers.”

“I enjoy being able to ship to our customers. I enjoy being able to see our inventory, as well, so that we know when we’re running low on things. Having that flexibility to ship things ourselves and keep our own stock of inventory, as well as maintain stock with Amazon, really helps us play in both worlds,” he said.


“It’s hard to capture the growth that we’ve experienced with Amazon. We’ve been doubling every year, every month, every quarter,” said Brown.

Brown now works out of a 2,500 square foot warehouse in Cleveland with his best friends, his son and his father. They’ve tailored the building to meet their needs, creating spaces for receiving inventory and fulfilling orders, coming up with new ideas and making recorded content like podcasts, tutorial videos and Amazon Live features.

“We have a lot of videos on Amazon. I love that we can display multiple videos and photos, and we absolutely take advantage of that,” said Brown. “When you’re running an ecommerce business, the thing that you don’t have is people that are in front of you, that are touching your products and can ask you questions face-to-face. And so, whether it’s doing podcasting, or whether it’s going live, or whether it’s just recording content that you can put on your listing, those things help people connect with who you are and the passion and the care that you put into your products.”

As he continues to grow Proof Culture in Amazon’s store, Brown is looking at using the revenue to fund a storefront in downtown Cleveland.

“Finding success with Amazon also comes growth for me as a person, as a father, as a husband, as a brother, as an entrepreneur, as a leader in the business,” said Brown. “Prior to Amazon, it fit me having a traditional career. That’s flipped, and I absolutely attribute that to Amazon being an incredible partner for us.”

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