Published On: Wed, Feb 22nd, 2012

Internet helped Eickhoff expand

HARTINGTON — Dist. 40 Sen.Tyson Larson had a first-hand look at what can happen when broadband high speed internet is available to a rural Nebraska entrepreneur.
When Sen. Larson visited Hartington last Friday he learned just how important technology has been for Comfy Feet, which is owned and operated by Hartington native Keith Eickhoff and sons, Ryan and Brandon Eickhoff.
Eickhoff has turned the Northeast Nebraska business into a world-wide enterprise by having high speed internet access.
“Our business is dependant on the broadband. Sixty percent or more of our business in done through internet,” Keith Eickhoff said. “Hartelco’s broadband has made a huge difference for us.”

“And it is hardly ever down. That’s important to us,” Ryan Eickhoff was quick to add.

Larson was in town to meet with Mike Becker, Hartelco, and Hartington Economic Development Coordinator Carla Becker for a tour of Comfy Feet.

The group first met in the portion of the business that is located on Broadway Street in the old Orwig Ford building.
Boxes of Comfy Feet slippers of every color and size were stacked to the ceiling in the former garage and car dealership.
The group then toured the warehouse, located just west of Hartington adjacent to the old cheese plant. That facility is also overflowing with more slippers and a bedding line that has become part of Eickhoff’s business.
Keith estimated the inventory at the two locations would be close to 200,000 slippers.
Larsen was impressed with the success of the business that reaches overseas.
“It is amazing to see how a business of this stature in rural America – in District 40 – uses the internet so successfully. It is astounding,” Larsen said. “This is a good example for others to follow.”
Eickhoff’s business started 13 years ago when he met a guy who was making “fun” slippers.
Comfy Feet has the slippers made by a company that manufactures them in China. They are shipped over on a boat and then come by truck into Hartington.
“It is expensive to have them flown in. Sometimes they come by rail but we use trucks most of the time,” Keith Eickhoff said.

The slippers are then sold on-line at various sites and to retailers. The orders are taken on-line and interfaced into Quick Books Keith said. The orders are then filled and shipped out of Hartington by UPS or the Postal Service.

The merchandise also appears in catalogues and is sold in specialty shops, sports apparel stores and other stores.

Customers have said the slippers are like “walking on pillows,” he said.

Comfy Feet handles a variety of slippers: fleece, boots, slip-ons, and some are designed to look like an over-sized pair of sneakers.  Some of the slippers have rubber soles.

The slippers come with a choice of college and professionial sports team logos. Eickhoff purchases licenses in order to use the logos.

“We now sell more of the Nebraska Husker slippers outside of the state than we do inside of the state,” Eickhoff said. “If a team is winning – it sells that year. Initially we did 20 schools – now we are doing 65 colleges, 30 NBA and 32 NFL teams.”

Comfy Feet also has a line of Happy Feet and Animal Feet slippers and one of their big sellers has been the line of “Snooki” slippers.

It all started when reality TV star Snooki wore a pair of Eickhoff’s slippers on one of the “Jersey Shore” TV shows.

“I’m not sure where she bought the slippers, but she wore an oversized pink and white pair of slippers the first time. People began searching online for the slippers as they wanted to buy some,” Keith said. “We sold our whole supply of pink and white slippers out in 30 days. It has been an international hit. We have been shipping them to Europe and Australia.”

Comfy Feet has shipped out orders as high as 4,000 a day during the Holiday season. Over 50,000 orders were shipped out during the month of December which is a busy time for the business.

“We put in some 16-18 hour days between Thanksgiving and Christmas,” Keith said.

Comfy Feet has nine full-time employees on a regular basis and has up to 25 employees during their busy season.

The business has expanded to include a line of bedding with sports logos: comforters, shams, sheets, and pillow cases.

The business recently started selling a 63” by 86” blanket with the sports logos.

“We have 15 schools and are hoping to get more. The Nebraska-Husker blanket is already available,” Keith said.

Sen. Larson was impressed with the business that takes up almost half of a downtown block, but is hardly even noticed as you drive down Broadway Street in Hartington.

He appreciates the fact a rural Nebraska business can expand into an international market with the use of the internet.

As Larson visited with the group and enjoyed lunch, he remembered the success of two other Hartington area family-owned and family-operated businesses — Burbach Countryside Dairy and Nissen Wines.

It’s this type of entreprenural thinking that makes Hartington such a great place, he said.