Marking 20 years writing for Footwear Plus with this very issue, I’ve enjoyed getting to know you all and spreading the good word.
In case anyone has been counting, I’ve been writing for Footwear Plus for 20 years. That amounts to thousands of articles, totaling millions of words about what seems like countless shoe trends and innovations, brand strategies, consumer shopping habits and new retail formats. It has involved interviewing hundreds of industry personalities about one subject: the business of selling shoes. But that’s where the similarities end. Each person I have had the pleasure of writing about is truly one of a kind.
They include a growing cast of characters—visionaries, number-crunchers, divas, artists, hustlers, leaders, gamblers, young and old, men and women, winners and… Well, let’s just say not everyone winds up victorious in this business. I’ve interviewed people on their way up, others making a comeback (some repeatedly) and many whose love for the industry—its ever-changing nature, speed and creativity—keeps them in the game long after they could have cashed their chips in for a life of leisure.
Take, for example, Kevin Mancuso, CEO of White Mountain Footwear and our first-ever Plus Award recipient for Lifetime Achievement (profiled on p. 26). Mancuso is now in his fourth decade working in footwear and his entrepreneurial spirit burns as bright as ever. It has taken him from entry-level salesperson all the way up the executive ranks to leading a company that manufactures millions of pairs annually under White Mountain, Rialto and Cliffs brands as well as a private label division. During the past 24 years at White Mountain, the company has made shoes first in New Hampshire and then in Italy, Brazil, Mexico, China and India. While that aspect of his career bio may sound familiar, the way it all began for Mancuso is unique. For starters, how many of you never intended to enter the shoe business? Maybe, in need of any job after bumming around Europe for a year post-college, you responded to a classified ad seeking a salesman to sell shoe lasts. Perhaps you didn’t have a clue what they were. Possibly the only reason you got the job was because the person who made the hire was a piano bar buff and you happened to teach the instrument during college. That’s how Mancuso’s footwear career started, an opening chapter I couldn’t make up even if I tried. It’s another great “behind the shoes” story for me to share with you.
Every one of our Q&As, retail profiles and “Designer Chats” spotlight people with their own fascinating, sometimes funny, and often inspiring stories of how they’ve come into this business, their dreams and their plans to bring them to life. David Sharp, CEO of Rocky Brands and the subject of this month’s Q&A (p. 14), presents another great tale about the company’s recent period of introspection and the resulting birth of two innovative brand concepts as well as the exciting transformation of another that has put Rocky Brands on the road to meaningful organic growth once again. The same holds true for the winners of the 2012 Plus Awards: Each brand and retailer featured in our Profiles in Excellence section (beginning on p. 24) has a one-of-a-kind story worth sharing.
To those of you who take the time to read this column in each issue, thank you. I hope you enjoy it. As you can probably tell by now, I don’t always take my self too seriously. But I do take the responsibility of saying something relevant and meaningful on this page very seriously. My goal is to keep you, my readers, informed, enlightened and entertained.
Looking back on the past 20 years, I feel fortunate to have had a seat at the table, entrusted with communicating your personal stories and company strategies to the industry and beyond. I never profess to know how to make a shoe or to predict which style will blow out at retail. (My crystal ball broke a long time ago.) My mission at Footwear Plus is to provide you with unbiased, honest reporting and insight gained from two decades covering the business of selling shoes—never overlooking the colorful human quotient. That adds up to millions of words… and counting.