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Reading the Greens of Life

Bill Golden, co-owner of Golden Shoes, reflects on a career come satisfyingly full circle.

Links to the recent past: Bill Golden on the Old Course at St. Andrews in Scotland.

Dear Bill, You’re only 14 years old, cocky, a bit rebellious, and you think you know everything about life, but you actually have so much more to learn. Spoiler alert: You are going to achieve great things, but your path won’t be smooth; instead, it will take a few twists and turns, and may even seem a bit rocky at times. There will be no gimme putts, and sometimes you’ll land in the rough. So, get a good grip and get ready for the course of your life!

At 14, you’re fortunate to begin working in the family business, started by your Grandpa and Dad, as a salesperson at Golden Shoes in Traverse City, MI. Even better, you get to work alongside two of your older brothers, Craig and Jocko, who yearn to teach you everything they know about the shoe business. Pay attention! They are many years older than you and their experience is invaluable. Your dad may not be involved in the day-to-day operations in the same way as your brothers, but his insight and experience will also help guide all of you in ways you won’t realize until later in life.

After two years, you feel like you’ve learned all you need to know about this business, and you’re not sure it’s the career for you. You’re only 16, still cocky and more rebellious, and ready to make a change. Maybe you’re bored. Maybe you think you’re better than your brothers. Or maybe you want to prove to yourself that you can find success in something else. Maybe it’s a combination of all of the above. Whatever the reason, you decide to move on, and you find a new job as a “bag boy” at the local Kroger store. This new job gives you the chance to split your time between school and work—bagging groceries in the mornings and attending high school in the afternoons. It’s the best of both worlds—earning a paycheck and hanging out with your friends at school.

Another two years go by in a flash, and you graduate from high school in 1981. Your graduation is on Friday, and on Monday, you start work again at Golden Shoes! Your “bag boy” job is behind you, and you decide maybe the family business isn’t such a bad gig after all. This time around, you get to be a part of something different—working at the new Golden Shoes location in Petoskey for the summer. You soon realize, however, the slower pace of life in this Northern Michigan resort town is a bit too slow for an 18-year-old, so you land back in Traverse City, selling shoes alongside your brothers again!

You’re content being home…for a while. By the following year, 1982, your love for golf (inspired by your dad) overpowers your desire to sell shoes, so you move to Florida to become a golf pro. What could be better than living in sunny Florida with your best childhood friend and playing golf every day? At first, it seems like the best decision you’ve ever made. You’re once again making your way in the world, on your own, and outside of the comfort of the family business. Eventually, though, the newness wears off, and even the beautiful weather can’t make up for the reality of what a golf pro’s life is really like: You have 350 bosses and each one wants to tell you how to do your job. Within a year, you end up hating your job and realize you’ve come full circle. You head back to Traverse City and get serious about your career at Golden Shoes.

You settle back in like you never left. You don’t regret your adventure in Florida; in fact, you realize it helped you find your true passion and lead you back home. You’ve been humbled a bit and you’re ready to learn from your brothers and Dad. You dig in and become part of the fabric of not only the business, but also the downtown vibe. Over the years, you discover you’re great at meeting people and making connections. You take your job seriously and become an excellent salesperson. You and Craig work your way up to comanager along the way. Jocko also forges a new path and moves to California for many years where he sells shoes at a Nordstrom location. It’s no surprise, though, that he eventually finds his way back to Traverse City and Golden Shoes. Northern Michigan and the family business run through our veins.

You and Craig take over as owners at the time of Dad’s death in 2012. You make Dad proud by growing the one-stop family destination, which is now in its 140th year of operation! In fact, the overall growth hits more than 40 percent! The success rubs off on the downtown district. You become involved in several organizations, including USRA, Traverse City DDA, and Michigan Retailers Association. Your list of accomplishments continues to grow, and you make a name for yourself in the business world. Just keep in mind a few Golden Rules for a successful retail business as you continue to grow: 1. Your employees are your most valuable assets and the backbone of your operation. Treat them right. 2. Work hard every day but also remember to take time for yourself and your family. 3. Always give back to your community because they are a major part of your success.

Your path may not be conventional, but you find great business and personal success, and you grow a family shoe business larger than anyone ever imagined. Keep on the path you started, and everything will fall into place!

See you down the fairway,

Bill

The March 2024 Issue

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