Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY, reflects on a career chock-full of industry firsts and colorful tales, spanning more than 50 years in retail, wholesale
and tradeshow management.
Picture this: On a moment’s notice, you’ve flown halfway around the world to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, to meet with a member of the royal family (Prince Al-Waleed) who wants to discuss a major business deal. It’s your first time visiting the kingdom and your first time meeting a prince.
After landing, you are whisked to his grandiose offices. Prince Al-Waleed is seated at a huge, high desk. Hanging on the wall behind him are more than a dozen large screens keeping tabs on the financial markets and news from around the world. There’s also a massive world map filled with flag pins, too numerous to count, marking the locations of the prince’s many companies. Seated to his left and right—a little lower—is a small army of assistants, toiling away to keep him up to speed on his vast array of business dealings. You are sitting in what feels like a pit, about to present an offer to one of the world’s wealthiest and most powerful businessmen. Are you nervous?
Joe Moore, who found himself in this very setting while representing Saks Fifth Avenue’s international development division, is not afraid to admit that he was. “I was in Japan negotiating a deal for a full-line store when I got the call from corporate saying the prince wanted to open a store,” Moore recalls. Before hopping on a plane, Moore bought a book on Saudi etiquette and did as much research as he could to learn about Prince Al-Waleed. (He is renowned for bailing out Citicorp in 1991 when the bank was in dire straits with an initial investment of $550 million. He has also made large investments in Apple, News Corp., Motorola and AOL, and his real estate holdings include major hotels around the world.) “At the time, he owned a bunch of big companies, but I learned that he’d had his share of failures,” Moore says, adding that the prince had bought Planet Hollywood shortly before their meeting. “I thought if he can pay what he paid for that, then he can pay at least that much to open a Saks Fifth Avenue store.” Moore went to the meeting with a substantial figure in mind for the right to negotiate further. “So there I am, down in the hole looking up at the prince, and I tell him the amount,” Moore says. “His response: ‘You must know I’m a very wealthy man. But you also must know I’m not a stupid man. I’m not going to pay that.’”
Rather than leave empty-handed, Moore thought on his feet and presented an alternative. For the same figure, the prince could receive the rights to open five stores in the Middle East. “I thought it could work out very well for both sides,” Moore says. After more negotiating, he and the prince had a deal in principle. He made a few more flights to Riyadh to iron out the details, but then Saks was sold and the new owners froze all international development deals. In a testament to Moore’s business acumen and people skills, he traveled to Japan, South Korea and Saudi Arabia to personally pull out of the deals he had initiated. “I wasn’t going to just send them each a telegram,” Moore says. “I had to tell them in person.”
This is just one of countless true tales Moore has of working on the grand stage of retail fashion in a long and fascinating career. His bio includes stints at an A-list of fashion industry legends, including Bullock’s, Neiman Marcus, Charles Jourdan, Saks Fifth Avenue and, while there, helping launch Giorgio Armani’s Armani Exchange stores. As a lead buyer at Neiman Marcus early in his career, Moore helped introduce such iconic designers as Salvatore Ferragamo and Charles Jourdan to American consumers as well as countless other salon labels. Moore was at the forefront of salon retailing and a tastemaker for millions of women who grew to love the designers and the shoes he selected each season. The designers became beloved household names, and Moore was the one responsible for creating the love affairs.
Moore began perfecting his salon buying craft at Bullock’s department store in Los Angeles before jumping to Neiman Marcus. From there, he crossed into wholesale as president and CEO of Charles Jourdan’s U.S. operations, growing the business over 19 years to $100 million annually. After returning to retail at Saks, his claim to fame was taking its Off 5th concept from an embryo to a $300 million powerhouse. Last, as a founding member and head of the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY) for the past 15 years, Moore not only united the industry from a tradeshow perspective, he brought another nascent idea—FFANY Shoes On Sale, the charitable initiative devoted to the fight against breast cancer—to fruition. Moore has overseen the expansion of QVC Presents FFANY Shoes On Sale into an industry-wide effort that, to date, has raised $45 million.
Moore has left an indelible mark on every one of his career stops. Yet despite tremendous professional success, he has remained humble. He is quick to credit his co-workers for their role in each of his successes. And he never forgot his roots (small-town Indiana), his upbringing (it’s where he developed his strong work ethic) or his first part-time job (at a small clothing store called Squire Shop). Little did he know that it would set the wheels in motion on a long career in the fashion world.
You might say Moore, a four-sport letterman during high school and a self-described “lousy” student, was destined for a career in fashion retail. His high school yearbook prophetically noted that he was most likely to become president of L.S. Ayres, the big department store in Indianapolis (circa 1950). By his senior year, Moore had moved on from Squire Shop to work part-time at Grahams department store in Pendleton, IN. “I wore a little better clothes than most of the other kids. I learned all about the business,” Moore says, explaining the basis for the yearbook recognition. “We sold men’s, women’s and children’s—Buster Brown shoes to Lee jeans to Van Heusen shirts.”
In addition to learning fashion and retail basics, Moore got a valuable life lesson as a teen: how to deal with losing. The lesson came when he was captain of his high school basketball team—a team that, during Moore’s senior year, failed to win a single game. The starting players had been suspended for bad behavior, leaving Moore and a ragtag bunch of fill-ins to compete in the fiercely competitive world of Indiana high school basketball. “We became the joke of the county and, eventually, the entire state,” he says. “They wanted to chase us out of town. So I experienced what failure was very early in life.”
It’s a lesson that has served Moore well throughout his career in a business where failure can be a regular occurrence. Learning how to adjust, adapt and not let it get to you have proven the keys to his long-term success.
At about the same time, Moore experienced his first major retail success. The night before the first big snow of the season, Moore and his coworkers at Grahams lined up all the work boots they had in inventory in a row so farmers could do quick try-ons. The idea behind the strategy was that most farmers hadn’t worn their old boots since the previous winter and, after sitting all summer at the back door, the soles had rotted out. Like clockwork, Moore says, the farmers poured into the store that first snowy morning. “We sold 90 percent of our boots for the season that day,” he says.
The strategy taught Moore one of the secrets to successful retailing: studying consumer behavior patterns and reacting in advance to capitalize on them. Whether it was a farmer in need of a new pair of boots or, later, knowing that transplanted New Yorkers shopping his Neiman Marcus salon in Miami would buy suede, Moore made a career of keeping close tabs on the wants and needs of his target audience. The best way to do that, he discovered early, was to be on the selling floor as much as possible. “I tell any buyer today that they have to work on the fitting stool to truly learn this business,” he says. “You find where shoes gap, which heels are too wide, why not everybody can wear a high heel, etc. There’s no other way to learn that.”
Moore has stayed close to the selling floor ever since, no matter how far up the corporate ladder he climbed. “I’ve always just thought it was part of the job,” he says. “Because, boy, do you learn what to buy after selling shoes to customers day after day.”
If it hadn’t been for Squire Shop owner Byron Franklin (who later moved to Tulsa, OK, to open a children’s shoe store called Trippets Shoes), Moore’s career might never have unfolded the way it did. The story goes: Franklin sent Moore a high school graduation gift (a string bow tie) along with an offer to work at Trippets. In exchange, he would pay Moore’s tuition at Tulsa University. While attending business school, Moore began the most difficult job in shoe retailing: fitting children’s feet—and trying to please mothers in the process. “You can never really win there,” he says.
During this period, Moore learned another valuable life lesson from his boss: Good grades mean little compared to learning how to navigate student politics and working with the public in a retail setting. Moore joined a fraternity and student government, and his people skills improved daily. His big break came unexpectedly during a summer vacation. Moore took time off from Trippets to visit his girlfriend in California. Needing a summer job, he walked into the children’s shoe department of a nearby Bullock’s department store. As fate would have it, the children’s buyer was on vacation. So Moore went to the women’s department. While waiting to meet the buyer, he noticed a young girl holding a shoe in her hand, waiting for a salesperson. Moore decided to pitch in. He took the shoe to the backroom and “found the oldest Shoe Dog” and asked for it in a 6.5 B. It fit beautifully. Sold. The floor manager saw the entire transaction and hired the 19-year-old Moore on the spot. It was Moore’s first step into women’s fashion footwear, where a combination of innate talent and love of the product began to blossom.
“Many of the salesman had been there for years and I received a lot of TLC from them,” he says. “I learned a ton, like going to lunch at 10:30 a.m., when the floor was quiet before the noon rush.”
One of the perks of working at Bullock’s was getting to wait on movie stars. Some of the shoes he sold appeared in their movies. He became actress Kim Novak’s favorite shoe salesman. “I waited on her during four of her movies [including Picnic and Vertigo],” he says, crediting their relationship to a little reverse psychology. “The first time I waited on her, I asked her what her name was and how to spell it. We bonded because I was pretending not to fall all over her.” It was an example of Moore’s people skills that would serve especially well as he climbed the fashion world ranks, where egos can rival any Hollywood starlet’s.
Moore had every intention of returning to Trippets to finish school, but he wound up staying at Bullock’s for the well-paying job and the woman who became his first wife. He worked at Bullock’s for five years, eventually becoming a buyer at a new store in Santa Ana, CA. In 1958, Moore made another career mark when he created a separate area for casuals. “I believed the category would have more importance separate from dress,” he explains. “I bought some fun slippers that the store had never carried before. They did well.” So well, in fact, that Bullock’s Chairman Walter Candy came into the store one day to acknowledge his work.
Moore moved on to run a Bullock’s shoe salon in Pasadena, where he also divided the casual and dress selections. He soon began to build a reputation as a noteworthy salon buyer, introducing customers to such labels as Amalfi, Erica Shoes and Customcraft by Schwartz & Benjamin. He became the first Bullock’s buyer to travel to Europe to put together a private label collection for all stores. It was a big responsibility for a man in his early 20s, and not one he really wanted. “It seemed like a curse because buyers bought individually for their stores,” he says. Nonetheless, he put together a woven shoe program, which performed well.
Not long after, Neiman Marcus recruited Moore. After a marathon eight-hour interview one Sunday with co-founder Stanley Marcus, Moore came aboard as a salon buyer for a group of its stores. “I had a ball,” he says. “That’s when I first put in Ferragamo shoes.” When the retailer opened its first out-of-state location (in Belle Harbor, FL), Moore made waves one season with his everything-in-suede merchandising decision. “Everybody thought I was out of my mind, but I knew these customers were mostly transplanted northerners and the plush material would sell.” The Belle Harbor store was so busy that it actually closed briefly during business hours so armored cars could cart the cash out. “The shoe department was a big hit,” Moore adds.
Moore’s salons were so successful that big job offers started coming his way. He finally accepted an offer from Charles Jourdan to manage the label’s retail and wholesale business in the U.S. It turned into a wonderful 19-year relationship. “We built a beautiful business together. The product was fantastic,” Moore says. “I could spend a week talking about all the great things we did while at Charles Jourdan.” His memories of those years include a cast of colorful characters and globetrotting with the fashion elite. So long as Charles Jourdan’s son Roland was involved, the business—topping out at 50 branded stores—flourished, Moore says. He also credits French photographer Guy Bourdin with enhancing the label’s appeal. “He was a key player,” Moore says. “We were working on the crest of fashion, and his work was fantastic.”
“I loved every minute of it,” Moore says of the Jourdan chapter of his career. He enjoyed building a business from scratch and being involved in all facets. While he didn’t actually design shoes, Moore says his team was allowed to interpret for the specific tastes and needs of the American market. “Our lines were simple, but the materials were to die for,” he says. A key part of their success, Moore believes, was to abandon the company’s “gorgeous” Empire State building offices to move into the basement of the Charles Jourdan store in Midtown to be closer to the sales floor. “I always go back to the product: How can I help if I’m not with the customer?” Moore says.
But when Roland Jourdan left the company, the product began to suffer. Subsequent owners treated the shoes like a commodity, and Moore knew the end was near. “We lived off of our laurels for a few years,” he says. “But without product in the fashion business, you might as well shoot yourself.” He resigned after receiving an offer from Saks Fifth Avenue.
Phil Miller, then chairman of Saks, hired Moore in 1989 as a consultant to work on special projects. His first task: create a business plan to open freestanding Saks Fifth Avenue shoe stores. After ample research, Moore’s team made their presentation to the board. But when asked if he would green light this project, Moore’s response was blunt: No. “The timing was bad, the shoe business was a disaster, Saks’ business overall was lousy and the economy stunk,” Moore says. They deferred to his opinion, then hired him to oversee the launch of Armani Exchange within Saks and Bloomingdale’s stores. “They were fantastic,” he says. “And then we opened free-standing stores across the country, and they were great.” When Armani bought out Saks, the endeavor ended.
Moore’s next special project turned out to be his biggest success story: turning Saks’ two outlet stores into a $300 million chain. At the time, there was no real vision of what the concept could become. Moore and his team worked their retail magic and, within 12 months, sales of Off 5th zoomed to $100 million. “We started buying our own merchandise in addition to the clearance goods from Saks stores,” Moore says. Three years in and a dozen or more new stores later, Off 5th sales skyrocketed to $300 million.
A short time later, Saks asked Moore to head international development—the job that led to his memorable meeting with Prince Al-Waleed. Soon after, Saks was sold. Knowing his days there were numbered, Moore took an exit package. That’s when FFANY called looking for a new chairman to replace founding Chairman Dick Jacobson.
Moore saw an opportunity to take FFANY to the next level, by having the organization work for its members instead of the reverse. “I worked hard to give back to the industry, through education programs and Shoes on Sale,” he says. “We’ve done a pretty good job in those areas.” That might be an understatement, given that Shoes on Sale, now in its 20th year, has contributed $45 million to breast cancer research. Moore notes that those funds, which act as seed money for researchers, has led to government funding that brings the total to more than $200 million. “Our board members have been blown away by the research being done thanks to our donations,” he says.
Once again, Moore is quick to credit others. Shoes on Sale was the brainchild of Jacobson and Nine West co-founder Jerome Fisher and his daughter Jodi, who later succumbed to the disease. Moore has built upon their original concept, starting by selling tickets to the annual event to cover costs so that all money raised from the sale itself could go to fight breast cancer. Later he introduced the Pink Benefactor level, where sponsorships start at $500,000. Nine West jumped on board and Brown Shoe and Vince Camuto followed. Moore believes there’s still plenty of room for others. “I’m proud of how far we’ve taken Shoes on Sale,” he says. “But we’ve only scratched the surface. We have a very small percentage of the shoe industry that donates shoes.”
Other recent initiatives Moore is proud to have launched at FFANY include a partnership with the Ars Sutoria footwear design school in Italy, which has expanded into a workshop with courses stateside four times a year. Those in New York and Boston have repeatedly sold out, he reports. An online course was introduced in January and more courses will be added in the future. “I believe this effort will have long-term benefits for the industry—showing young people what it’s like to make shoes,” he says. Moore envisions more samples being made in America and people who learn these skills possibly moving to other countries to work in shoemaking. In addition, he says the courses are a great training tool for retailers. He envisions every major retailer having their sales staff take these courses in the years to come.
Moore is also proud of the launch this January of FFANY 365, a 24-7 virtual online tradeshow. It’s by no means a replacement for FFANY’s four annual shows, but it’s a way to continue the conversation, Moore says. “This will strengthen the industry, bringing buyers and sellers all over the world together online,” he says.
Moore’s last two career moves give back to the industry and will continue to do so in the decades to come. That’s what he has been doing ever since he entered this business. Giving his customers what they wanted and needed. For Moore, it was a labor of love and he has enjoyed the ride. “The shoe business has been good to me and I’m grateful to it,” he says.
Moore has come a long way from that first part-time gig at the Squire Shop. Few, if any, have his breadth of industry experience and perspective. He was at the flashpoint for much of what gets taken for granted today, blazing his own trail. As Moore prepares to retire later this year and pass the FFANY reins to former Brown Shoe Chairman and CEO Ron Fromm, he is looking forward to the change of scenery, but he confesses he’ll miss “everything” about this business. “The shoe industry has been my life, second only to my wife, Georgia, and my five children,” Moore says. “But I’m looking forward to getting to know my family better and giving back to them for supporting me through this very fun and wonderful career.”