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It Takes Two

Joe Pickett, co-owner Casitas Footwear, distributors of Wonders, Toni Pons and Onfoot, reflects on a life of great partnerships.

What a terrific pair: Joe Picket and his “partner in everything,” Anne-Marie Longpre.

Hi Joe, Don’t freak out, but it’s you, writing from 2022! You’re 73 and mostly go by Jajoe now—the name your oldest granddaughter gave you. Yes, you are a grandfather. You have four amazing granddaughters and Anne-Marie, your wife and partner in everything, has two granddaughters. These amazing kids are a big part of your lives, as are your three children and Anne-Marie’s son.

You are sitting in a room full of shoes as you write this. It’s a showroom. You’re in the footwear business and surrounded by samples. You and Anne-Marie own Casitas, which imports branded shoes from Spain that you distribute to shoe stores and online companies. What’s an online company, you ask? It’s 1970 for you and the world has yet to be turned upside down by the Digital Age. Trust me, it’s life-altering. Quick tip: Lead with it, don’t follow.

On that note, here’s a few more heads up on key moments in your life ahead. Spoiler alert: it’s a wonderful life.

The Salad Days: You just made a life-altering decision to leave UCLA film school. It’s not for you, although one of your classmates goes on to become a famous director and producer. (Look out for ET soon.) You move to Santa Barbara, where you meet a crazy hippie guy selling handmade sandals at a beach show. He wants to go commercial, so on a whim you become his sales rep, lugging the multi-colored flip flops to surf shops, leather boutiques and bohemian outlets along the California coast. Turns out you’re really good at sales. You’re also now hooked on the shoe biz.

The Euro Era: Your boss sends you to a shoe show in Dallas. You enter sporting flip flops and jeans, standing out amid a sea of cowboy boots and business suits. You’re a Southern California kid out of water. Fortunately, you meet a few other fish-out-of-water types swimming among the aisles—like a Swedish guy selling wooden clogs. You strike up a quick friendship and soon you’re repping Sven’s Clogs. It’s when you learn one brand leads to another brand opportunity.

Selling wooden clogs leads to Romika, a German company making lightweight, flexible clogs. They’re really house shoes, but you pull it off. It’s the first Euro comfort line for many of your customers. You sell them in Euro sizing, which is groundbreaking at the time. Your Romika run lasts 15 years until the competition catches up and a new owner has other ideas. But the door has opened to sell other German brands. You travel to Germany frequently during this period, attending the GDS show regularly. Around this time, one of your reps also sells Santana. That’s when you meet Anne-Marie. She works in Santana’s customer service and is helping out at a New York show. You love the sound of her voice drifting over from the adjacent showroom. It progresses to a friendship of many years, where you enjoy catching up at shows. When she becomes Santana’s sales manager, she hires you as West Coast rep. Well, one thing leads to another and now you’re a (happy) couple.

The Entrepreneur Era: It’s 2004. You both want your own company. So off to GDS to discover a new brand, which you find in Hispanitas. You love these shoes. They fit the bill for a big trend you see coming: fashion/comfort. Casitas Footwear is born in 2005! You think you’ll retire on the strength of this brand, but the owner has different ideas on how to approach the U.S. market. (Many Euro comfort executives feel the same way, even if it’s proven time again to be a fool’s errand.) Fortunately, Hispanitas opens the door to other Spanish brands, namely Wonders, Toni Pons and Onfoot. They represent the best of Spanish footwear: comfort, from casual to dressy.

Alicante, Spain, the center of the country’s shoemaking industry, is now a regular destination. It’s where Wonders, a major brand in Europe, is manufactured under the tagline, “Made with Love in Spain.” It’s a dig at Spanish companies that design at home but produce in Asia. Casitas is all about beautiful shoes designed and produced in Spain. Like in Girona, where Toni Pons makes amazing espadrilles. And in Arnedo, a little town in the Rioja region, where Onfoot is crafted. Casitas’ portfolio is a labor of love, where you work directly with the owners, designers, expert factory hands—all amazing shoepeople—to build collections each season. A bonus: the food in Spain is as fabulous as its shoes.

A Wonderful Life: While you may not have sold billions of shoes in your career—like those Santa Barbara hippies your first company played softball against went on to do—you and Anne-Marie have met amazing people and enjoyed incredible experiences. And you’ve sure grown professionally from those early days at that Dallas show. Casitas’ sales and distribution are extensive. The next challenge: launching an Onfoot men’s line. The beat goes on.

On the note, success in this business is all about relationships. Great shoes are a must, but getting those shoes in front of the right buyers requires great relationships. Those relationships are what support your family, which is everything to you. You live in the desert now, near Tucson. Surprising for the ultimate beach guy, I know. But you’ve always been good at adapting.

To that end, here are two parting tips: Travel less and spend more time with your kids. They grow up fast. As I write this, you’re planning another weekend with your granddaughters. They grow up fast, too! One more thing: Listen to your father more. He’s a great guy. His grandkids called him Cappa. He’ll live to be 102 and was right about a lot of things.

The June 2024 Issue

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