It all began with a driveway, a hoop and a basketball in Santa Ana, California.
Alfonso Corona would spend hours shooting hoops with his middle and high school teams. But what basketball icons wore on the court spurred another interest: performance sneakers.
“There’s definitely a really big tie between basketball and shoes,” said Corona, a junior marketing major. “I wouldn’t be one to buy a lot of shoes, but when I did, I would want them to be unique.”
Years later, Corona created Plug, an e-commerce app and website that provides “sneaker heads,” or sneaker enthusiasts, with an online marketplace for vendors to resell designer sneakers originally purchased from large retailers like Foot Locker or Champs Sports. Buyers bid on shoes until they settle on a price with the seller, and Plug verifies the shoes’ authenticity.
Plug provides a greater sense of security between the seller, marketplace and buyer than other e-commerce sites where it’s the seller’s responsibility to verify shoes’ authenticity, Corona said. The Plug website is active, and its app will launch in December.
Plug has seven processing centers across the country, including in New Jersey, Georgia, Michigan, Nevada and Southern California. When a buyer purchases shoes from Plug, they are sent to a processing center for verification before being shipped to the customer.
The centers employ sneaker experts with at least two years of experience to inspect the shoes, Corona said. They constantly update a database with information on how to differentiate between fake and real shoes based on color, material texture and logo placement.
Having several verification centers allows Plug to make deliveries in two to six days, while competitors typically offer five to 10-day shipping, Corona said. He has also partnered with UPS Inc. to ship shoes at half the price of other marketplaces.
Millennials fuel the designer sneaker market, which was valued at $55 million in 2016, Forbes reported. Market research organization Transparency Market Research predicts the global footwear market will be worth $220.2 billion by 2020.
Many counterfeit shoes come from countries like China, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 2016, United States Customs and Border Protection agents seized about $1.38 billion worth of counterfeit sneakers.
Junior management information systems major Steven Natto liked the idea of Plug from its start. Natto resold designer shoes himself before Plug.
The two lived on the same floor of Morgan Hall South during their freshman years and bonded over designer sneakers. Corona said Natto taught him everything he knows.
“He was just like, ‘All right, man, I’ve got to learn how to do this, teach me what you know,’” Natto said.
Natto was originally part of the Plug team, and now he helps advise Corona on how to operate Plug.
“[Corona] constantly shows me what he’s working on,” Natto said. “He’s always doing anything and everything. A different day he’s working on social media stuff, another day it’s design stuff.”
Corona also credits his digital marketing class this fall, taught by marketing and supply chain management professor Susan Mudambi, with making Plug a reality.
Students in the class represent fake companies that come up with marketing and communications strategies for real businesses. Mudambi assigned four students to help Corona actualize Plug.
Senior accounting major Jennifer Serafino represents the fictional company, which helps Corona better connect with his target demographic of “sneaker heads” ages 18 to 30. FFA is devising short-and-long term plans to help Corona brand Plug.
“He has a really solid base right now,” Serafino said. “He just needs to build brand awareness, and he’ll be in a really solid position.”
The Plug app has a waitlist of about 150 people, while its website receives about 100 visitors every month, Corona said.
Plug users can also donate old shoes to Shoes that Fit, a nonprofit that provides athletic shoes to children in the United States, with the purchase of a pair of shoes on the app or website.
Plug incentivizes donations with free merchandise, like T-shirts, to those who donate. Toms Shoes, which runs a similar campaign, inspired Corona to give back in this way.
“Plug is a marketplace that allows people to purchase their shoes with a better experience than ever before, so it really made sense to partner with a nonprofit that helps those in need to feel the same joy and comfort that shoes can provide,” Corona said.
Corona hopes to expand Plug overseas by 2020 and provide his customers with accurate verification and quick-shipping.
“You’re going to get your shoes fast, and you’ll be taken care of,” he said.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the professor who teaches Corona’s digital marketing class. Marketing and supply chain management professor Susan Mudambi teaches the class.
CORRECTION: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated the number of students Mudambi assigned to help Corona actualize Plug. Four students were assigned to help Corona.