If You Build It

Will they come?

Shopping for books is FUNdamental at Shaker Mill Books and Shaker Gristmill.

That’s a pretty wide-open question, and not only when hauntingly whispered by a baseball-loving deity from the shadows of an Iowa cornfield. It applies to anything that’s created, be it a brand, a store, a shoe, a baseball field, etc., etc. The answer is relatively easy: Only if what you build is worthy. Achieving that lofty standard, of course, is the hard part.

But it can be done. Take, for example, the photos featured here. They are of Shaker Mill Books and adjacent Shaker Gristmill in West Stockbridge, MA. (My wife came across this gem of a store during a reunion weekend with old workmates and gets the photo credit.) As its website states, the two spaces house an eclectic collection of more than 30,000 used, rare, antiquarian, out-of-print and new books. There are subjects for all ages, and the shop’s photography and art book sections, as well as local history titles, are particularly noteworthy. The Shaker Gristmill, housed in a landmarked building, serves as an art gallery of oversized books and whimsical literary-themed displays, including owner Eric Wilska’s typewriter collection (which children are encouraged to experiment with) and museum-worthy book art displays, like local artist Deb Carter’s Read Dress gown created with thousands of pages from the Oxford Dictionary. Even the sales counter is a work of art, built entirely of books. The big picture point: What Wilska built is definitely worth visiting.

Books provide an ideal tactile shopping experience—just like shoes. You can feel and smell the leather. You can skim a book jacket and try on shoes before purchasing. You can hear from sales experts about why it’s a good read, or a good fit. And while you may not want to taste a book or a shoe, offering customers a seasonally themed, complimentary beverage can round out an entertaining shopping experience. Best of all, if you find what you’re looking for, you can avoid the hassle of having to ship back returns.

This issue is filled with exciting “if you build it…” efforts. They include Birkenstock’s announcement of its plans to invest approximately $100 million to expand one factory and build a new one to meet its rapidly growing demand. CEO Oliver Reichert discusses (P. 10) why the substantial commitment is worth making. Specifically, the exec explains why outsourcing production from Germany is simply not an option.

Another noteworthy new building project (p. 8) is Pensole Design Academy’s plans to become the Pensole Lewis College of Business and Design in partnership with the College for Creative Studies in Detroit. This is a big deal. When approved by state officials, Pensole founder Dr. D’Wayne Edwards, in partnership with cofounders Target and the Gilbert Family Foundation, will be reopening the state’s sole Historically Black College and University and what, he says, will be a destination for sneaker design and many related studies. Even better, tuition for the majority of students will be free! Edwards, who has a growing track record of making the unheard of a reality, is to be commended for his tremendous building efforts.

Last but surely not least on this issue’s building theme is our Q&A (p. 12) with Mark Parsley, CEO of Earth Shoes. The veteran exec is heading up a comprehensive renovations and new building plan—one that’s highlighted by the repositioning of Earth into a lifestyle brand. Parsley believes the sky’s the limit for the entire company and goes into convincing detail on why. For starters, he too has a career track record proving it can be done. Beyond that, his can-do-now attitude is refreshing at a time of epic industry disruption and paralysis brought on primarily by the pandemic. Parsley admits there’s never been a more challenging time in his 30-plus years in the biz. Not. Even. Close. The supply chain woes are truly a nightmare, one that looks to last at least until next spring. It’s easy to want to stick your head in the sand and wait for this pandemic to hopefully completely blow over. But Parsley is a born builder and doer, and knows well that a building never builds itself. So kudos to him for keeping at it at a time of unprecedented obstacles, one brick at a time.

Along those lines, I’m confident the world will build a better supply chain…soon. And when it does, from a shoe industry perspective, it could very well unleash a pent-up demand that dwarfs the one generated by a few months of store closures last spring—at a time when there was plenty of inventory available. So, if we build the shoes (and deliver them), will consumers come? Definitely!

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