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Standing Firm

Mark Jubelirer, president of Reyers Shoe Store in Sharon, PA, reflects on his decision to remodel and remain in his beloved steel town.

Mark Jubelirer, president of Reyers Shoe Store

Mark Jubelirer, president of Reyers Shoe Store

Dear Mark,

I am considerably older now and (maybe) wiser, for I have seen the future.

There will come a time at the beginning of the new century when you’ll stand at a crossroads. A decision will be in the offing, and the choice—as well as the responsibility—will be yours alone.

The situation will seem straightforward enough: You and your brother (Stephen) will be considering a makeover for the business. A facelift. A remodel. Simple. Okay.

You’ll call the guy who remodeled your store the last time—for a reasonable price and a job well done. He’s widely respected and recommended in the industry, and still open for business. You’ll decide to have him come up, hoping he will again be able to give you guidance regarding updated display methods, colorations, traffic flow, signage and the like—everything the business needs.

The company representative will fly in from North Carolina and check into a local motel the night before the appointment. He’ll rent a car and take a ride around the area to see whether anything has changed since the last time he visited. At the appointed time he’ll show up, you’ll greet him at your front door and he’ll say, “Get the hell out.”

“Whaddya mean?” you’ll ask.

“Get out. Move,” he’ll snap.

“Don’t you want to even come in and look around?” you’ll offer politely.

“Not necessary,” he’ll reply. “I’ve seen enough already. If you’re serious about improving your business, then shut it down. Get out of Sharon, Pennsylvania. Open up somewhere else.”

Wait, what? You’ll feel like a bucket of icy water has been thrown in your face. This guy was supposed to come here, look around the store and make appropriate recommendations. The expectation was that you’d agree on a plan, work would get done and you’d pay the invoice. Done deal.

Instead, he’s proposed that you move to Raleigh/Durham, North Carolina. Naturally, you think. He’s familiar with the area; he lives there. Sure, it’s nice. Growing population. Upscale demographic. Golf almost year-round. God’s country. All good. Except you’d be starting over! After a century doing business in your precious little steel town, to abandon all of your customers and employees, and to dissolve a multimillion-dollar shoe business seems at least counterintuitive to you. It might just be crazy. Besides, might the ghosts of your forebears roll in their graves?

So instead of taking this man’s advice, you’ll decide to remodel your store in Sharon and get what you get. Oh, sure, your store will be more gorgeous than ever. But will you be doing more business or less because of the decision? You’ll never be sure whether that’s the only metric to go by or even the most important one. You’ll try to convince yourself it’s not. And it will haunt you even as your business continues to garner the occasional award for good service and to enjoy accolades from those who know you well. Your customers will remain ever loyal and tell you how much they need you all of the time.

Still, the question will nag at you relentlessly until, finally, it’ll be springtime and nice enough outside to tee it up once again.

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