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Never Surrender

"Let everything happen to you; beauty and terror/Just keep going/No feeling is final." - Rainer Maria Rilke

Everyone faces adversity in life, from overcoming expected hurdles like passing your driver’s test to being dealt unforeseen and devastating blows that can threaten to knock you down for the count. It’s how you respond to the inevitable blows that determines whether you’ll survive over the long haul. Can you pick yourself up off the mat, get your legs back under you, and keep pressing forward in the pursuit of your dreams? Austrian writer Rainer Maria Rilke captured the idea perfectly in the quote above, from his classic poem “Go to the Limits of Your Longing.”

Samuel Hubbard got hit with just such a blow when the premium comfort company unexpectedly lost its founder—shoe industry legend, Bruce Katz—in June 2022. As CEO Noah Wheeler discusses in our Q&A (p. 10), the initial shock of Katz’s passing knocked the company off its collective feet. Katz was the soul of the brand, and while he had already passed the reins to newly appointed CEO Wheeler six months prior in order to focus on his passion for product development, no one was fully prepared for such a loss. It’s as if the E Street Band suddenly had to continue a tour without Bruce Springsteen. Samuel Hubbard’s brand leader—its spark and guiding light—suddenly went dark. The way the company has responded since is an inspiring example of resilience and determination to press forward and honor Katz’s vision. Wheeler, a former professional musician who joined Samuel Hubbard as controller during its start-up phase in 2015, has kept the band together, and added a few industry rock stars. It’s exactly what the maverick entrepreneur would have wanted.

Next up in this issue’s never surrender theme is our profile (p. 26) of Stanley Eisenman, owner of the eponymous Fort Worth, TX-based boutique chain. Over the course of Eisenman’s 50-plus years in shoe retailing, he has overcome all kinds of adversity. But he admits to being knocked off his feet by a first-of-its-kind blow a few months ago. It came in the form of a Dear John letter: Eisenman’s top-selling account of the past five years told him the partnership was over. They cited no specific reasons, such as late payments. (There were none, Eisenman assures.) When he reached out directly, the rep gave him a vague statement about the company going in a different direction. The brand even offered to buy back Eisenman’s remaining inventory—and to cover the freight costs.

Initially, Eisenman was overcome with fear that Stanley Eisenman Shoes would not survive the divorce, which he expects will be completed by early fall, once he clears out remaining inventory. Finding a replacement is one thing; having to fill the sales vacuum left by a runaway (hint, hint) top-selling brand is next level adversity. But Eisenman hasn’t survived this long by picking losers. His track record for getting behind the industry’s up-and-coming winners is impressive. And there’s more to his retail longevity than that. It’s Eisenman’s genuine love of all things shoe retailing—specifically his passion for delivering top-notch, old-school customer service—that fuels his long-term success. At age 72, he can still be found in his two stores six days a week, spending the majority of his time on the floor doing what he loves most: presenting his unique assortment of brands and styles (“my babies,” as he calls them) to a loyal clientele that spans generations. Eisenman has no intention of quitting any time soon. He still has “some fight in him” and “some good ideas.” It’s an inspiring story.

Brad Gebhard, CEO of Propét Footwear and the latest participant in our A Note to My Younger Self series (p. 32), and Lori Andre, who is celebrating her 40th anniversary as owner of the boutique chain Lori’s Shoes, based in the Chicago area (p. 9), are two more examples of refusing to surrender in the face of adversity. Gebhard, a former member of the U.S. National Cycling Team, recalls the moment when Olympic hopefuls among his teammates were dealt a soul-crushing blow by President Carter’s decision to boycott the 1980 Summer Games in Moscow. It taught Gebhard a key life lesson in survival. (Read the letter to find out more.) Meanwhile, Andre reflects on myriad factors that have contributed to her stores’ longevity. Essentially, she says it boils down to stubbornness: “I hate losing.”

The fact is, everyone featured in our pages, in every issue, has overcome adversity. As we all know, the shoe business is tough. It’s not for the meek of heart. The pace is relentless and the competition fierce. I admire the tremendous resilience that resides deep within all of you and drives you to persevere in the face of formidable odds. To quote the modern-day poet Bono: And you can dream/So dream out loud/And don’t let the bastards grind you down. —Acrobat

The March 2024 Issue

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