Jawns on Fire caters to central Pa. sneakerheads with a Philly vibe

Jawns on Fire caters to central Pa. sneakerheads with a Philly vibe - Jawns on Fire

Story by Penn Live Sue Gleiter | sgleiter@pennlive.com

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Jawns on Fire caters to central Pa. sneakerheads with a Philly vibe and catchy billboards

Jawns on Fire is lighting up the central Pa. sneaker scene.

The Susquehanna Township boutique with the Philly-inspired name and catchy billboards opened last year at the Blue Mountain Commons off Linglestown Road, with an eye-popping selection of colorful inventory such as Nike Air Jordans and Nike SB Dunk Lows.

It advertises the “newest, hottest and authentic sneakers” and streetwear in an atmosphere with NBA-style floors, high ceilings, and a large-screen television with an Xbox.

Clientele is a mix of families on the hunt for matching sneakers, teenage boys, soccer moms, collectors, and Penn State Nittany Lion football players. In a day and age when online sales rule, Jawns on Fire is proving brick and mortar is still relevant.

“People have told us I don’t come to you guys to buy sneakers, I come to buy sneakers from you guys. It’s the personal touch that we like to think is our real differentiator,” said Brian Dein, owner.

The former Rite Aid executive and sneakerhead dreamed up the idea for Jawns on Fire, naming it after the popular Philadelphia slang word. The all-purpose noun is a stand-in for objects, people, or events.

“It’s doing what it is intended to do, which is to create an engagement or conversation,” Dein said. “It means everything is amazing.”

If you hadn’t guessed, Dein is a Philadelphia native. At the age of 10 in the mid-1980s, he wanted nothing more than to own a pair of Air Jordans, first produced for professional basketball player Michael Jordan.

“They were $65, and our mortgage was $110, so to put it in perspective it was out of the cards,” Dein said.

His parents proposed if the young Dein, who was not a good student, made the honor roll they’d buy him a pair of the sneakers. Dein hit the books and succeeded. One of his vintage red, black, and white sneakers is displayed at the boutique. (People have offered to buy them but Dein refuses.)

“I do know and remember when I wore those things I was on top of the world,” he said.

Dein’s sneaker enthusiasm is evident by the shop’s inventory. He caters to sneakerheads, defined in the industry as those who are willing to pay $100 or more for a pair of sneakers. According to marketing firm YouGov, 39% of sneakerheads are millennials and 23% have a monthly income over $5,000. They are described as affluent and fashion-forward.

Globally, sneaker and athletic food sales have topped $79 billion in 2020 and are estimated to reach $120 billion by 2027, according to Statista

Jawns on Fire customers aren’t coming to buy a pair of football cleats or high-tops for basketball games, but rather one-of-a-kind sneakers.

The store carries sizes from toddler all the way up to men’s 18s and it also deals in trade-ins and gently-worn sneakers. They also custom-design sneakers as part of Blingy Jawns.

Chuck Marsar, of Lower Paxton Township, recently stopped at the boutique with his son, Mikey, 13, who was in search of a fresh pair of sneakers.

“They’re personable,” Chuck said. “They’re all cool guys who can relate to you and chat with you.”

The majority of what Jawns on Fire sells can’t be found in an average sneaker store, Dein said, adding he brings in shoes customers want. It’s a significant investment upfront, Dein admits, adding that sometimes what he thinks will do well won’t while other sneakers fly off the shelves.

“People always buy sneakers. There’s always going to be a market for people that want the exclusive sneakers, and that we can do it the best and that we’ll build this not into a sneaker store, but a place where people want to come to,” he said.

Jawns on Fire takes a creative approach to advertising on social media and a billboard campaign. The roadside signs, mostly along I-83 in the Harrisburg area, read “What the Jawn is a Jawn?” with a pair of sneakers dangling over an electric line.

Dein suspects the billboards click among sneaker enthusiasts and create curiosity among non-sneakerheads. Working at Rite Aid, he said he often thought about the marketing aspects but didn’t have the professional training. Dein and his team designed the ad campaign in-house, not using an ad firm.

“The billboard has done wonders for us for customers from the West Shore. We would get some before. We’d ask people how did you hear about us and we would get a lot of ‘billboard,’” said Miles Campbell, operations director.

On the flip side, Dein said they have received some flak for using the word Jawns outside of Philadelphia. But the way Dein sees it he’s spreading the Brotherly Love outside of the Philly market.

Jawns on Fire also sponsors local sports teams and sporting events such as benefit golf tournaments. The goal this fall is to visit Friday night high school football games.

Dein also uses the brand to shine a light on a cause near and dear to him - Live Like Bree, a nonprofit organization created in memory of his late daughter, Bree, who died of an aggressive form of brain cancer at age 9 in 2020.

The foundation raises awareness about how the healthcare system treats kids with terminal illnesses and provides information from the Deins’ own experience to help empower parents in a similar situation.

Dein said the shop gives him a chance to talk about his daughter and share her story. Jawns on Fire has also been able to hold special fundraisers to promote the foundation.

Recently, Jawns on Fire also introduced a mobile “fire” truck, a sort of billboard on wheels, to sell sneakers off-site at local events such as Senator’s baseball games and Jubilee Day in Mechanicsburg, with plans to take it to Penn State football games. The truck is emblazoned with a mural designed by artist and Harrisburg native John Born.

Looking to the future, Dein is eyeing at least a fleet of fire trucks if not more stores.

“The big goal is we are the trusted source for original sneakerheads to meet their needs today and in the future. Not only do they buy sneakers from us, they have a good time with us,” he said.

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