Dear Young Marty,
Put down that smartphone and listen up! You don’t know it now, but that job you landed, at age 16, working in a local sports store is the launch pad for a career in the shoe industry that you will love! A heartfelt thank you to Ed Blaesing for bringing you into the industry and showing you the ropes where you learned terms like “deadwood,” “drags,” “ducks on the pond,” “time to clean” and so many more. You will work there through high school and become the assistant manager while attending college. I’m pleased to inform you that your dream to work for Nike comes true—at Niketown Chicago. It’s the city’s No. 1 tourist attraction at the time—we move some serious shoes! After six years there, you are wooed away by Dr. Martens. You tell yourself you’d stay for five years, tops, and 17 years later you start a new chapter, working with Tom Romeo at Bearpaw in charge of sales and marketing.
Now having some 30-plus years of experience in the footwear industry working for some tremendous brands, you have experienced terrific highs as well as a few lows in your career. You have seen brand strategies succeed, and you’ve witnessed failures. But as you’ve been taught by your parents, teachers, coaches, mentors, etc., you learn from your mistakes and press on.
But I’m not writing you to give away any secret sauce for lifelong success, because no one should be given something so easily. Success needs to be earned and, besides, the footwear industry will be completely different when you come of age. Any inside tips will likely be of little use—just like that fax machine will soon be. What I will share with you, however, are four business strategies that will hopefully help make you more successful than I’ve been.
1: It’s ok to ask for help. You are savvy and quick, and overall possess a keen sense of business, but sometimes you’re not right and you could use a little expert advice. I know that is tough to hear. Heck, it’s tough for me to even type, but the more willing you are to reach out for guidance, the better off you will be. And while people in our industry are always busy, don’t always assume they’re too busy or that they don’t want to help. There are, in fact, great Shoe Dogs (that’s the term used for experienced industry professionals, by the way) who really like to help and guide eager pups like yourself. You will be fortunate to have a few such mentors who help shape you to be a better businessman and person. They might not know it, but your appreciation is beyond their comprehension. So remember, just ask!
2: Take more chances. You will come up with some great ideas over the course of your career. Do not let them all go to waste. Don’t make the mistake that I’ve made by being too conservative to take that chance. Believe in yourself and go for it. Or, should I say, Just Do It. Even Michael Jordan missed sometimes when the game was on the line. But that never stopped him from trying. He believed in his abilities. You should too. And it’s ok to fail sometimes, as you’ll learn from those mistakes. Plus, it will only make you want to succeed more the next time.
3. Trust your gut. Your gut knows! While you should always do the necessary pre-game prep, I’m pleased to inform you that your gut instincts often meet up on the same page as your calculated judgements. In fact, I’d say it’s in solid agreement about 95 percent of the time! So give people’s ideas a chance and always do your homework, but remember to trust your gut. Any nagging suspicions are typically founded.
4. Have patience. You recognize early in your career that you need more patience and you work hard on trying to improve on that. But it’s not easy to do as you like to move fast when an opportunity presents itself. So I’m advising you to try even harder in this regard. Patience, as they say, is a virtue. If you think you’re not moving up in the world fast enough, it’s a needless distraction that only slows you down. Put in the necessary time and effort, and good things will eventually come your way. Remember that other old saying, “Good things come to those who wait.” Well, I’m here to tell you that is true.
Remember how I said I wouldn’t give you any secret sauce for career success because it must be earned through experience and hard work? Well, that rule still stands, but here’s a little side sauce that might help you survive a very tough year (2020). When you get to December 2019 stock up on toilet paper and buy stock in Zoom! You’ll thank me later.
Good luck, stay safe and remember to enjoy life’s ride!