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Michael Rich, CEO of Psudo

Meet the New Front Man

After decades spent behind the scenes making shoes for other companies, Michael Rich, CEO of Psudo, is at the center of a unique and fast-growing concept.

Michael Rich, CEO of Psudo
Michael Rich, CEO of Psudo

If Michael Rich was going to  fulfill his dream of launching his own casual sneaker brand, he knew he needed think outside the box. Generic styles sourced overseas would never cut it in a hypercompetitive market dominated by behemoths. After nearly three decades of designing, sourcing, and selling shoes for such heavy hitters as Wolverine Worldwide, Rocky Brands, Steve Madden, and Skechers, Rich had become a behind-the-scenes guru and an expert in how it’s all done. He also knew that doing things differently in terms of design, manufacturing, materials, and turnaround times could give a new brand a way to traction in the market. Rich believed his best shot would be to “hack” into the industry with a completely unconventional approach—and that’s exactly what he’s done with Psudo. The brand debuted DTC at the beginning of 2020 and expanded into wholesale early this year.

“We changed the way a casual sneaker could be made: in the United States, using sustainable materials, and featuring a comfortable slip-on construction,” Rich explains. “We also offer fast deliveries, low minimums, and quick fill-ins. That’s our hack. We’ve created something truly different.”

Made in the U.S.A. is a key ingredient of Psudo’s brand recipe. “That was a big hit at the recent Atlanta show,” Rich says. “It’s a big part of our story, and people respond well to it.” Lots of people also respond well to Psudo’s commitment to sustainability, which includes recycled plastic knit uppers and, with its new Blu collection, outsoles and insoles made of repurposed foam scraps that would otherwise go into landfills. That product is manufactured in El Salvador. “The pivot to making shoes there is about the recycled materials, as well as a more affordable price point,” Rich says. “It’s also more of a cupsole construction, which is a nice complement to our U.S.-constructed jogger profile.”

Rich, a self-proclaimed “product guy,” is all about the shoes. He spent three years perfecting his Psudo recipe, incorporating his decades of knowhow into designing the most comfortable and stylish shoes he could. His “kitchen sink” approach includes sweat-wicking linings, colorful printed uppers, longer-lasting PU soles, cushioned insoles with high arch support, laceless construction, and machine washability. “It’s the culmination of everything I wanted to create in one great product,” he says. “We overdeliver on outsole and insole comfort, and the fabric uppers stretch just enough that you almost forget you’re wearing shoes.” Rich’s own 20,000-daily-steps tests have been met with resounding success. “It’s the shoe that you’ve never worn before, but it becomes your new favorite sneaker. They’re just uber-comfortable.”

The Court style gives the look of a lace-up in the convenience of a slip-on construction.
The Court style gives the look of a lace-up in the convenience of a slip-on construction.

Of course, plenty of brands claim similar comfort attributes. But few, if any, offer Psudo’s other brand hooks—like its four-week turnaround times on orders, compared to the standard four-month minimum from Asian factories. Psudo also allows for much smaller minimums, enabling retailers to test and then fill-in quickly. This allows Psudo to stay nimble, rather than having to order thousands of pairs from an overseas factory and hope they sell and, if not, be forced to liquidate. “We might make only a few hundred pairs to test, react, and then make just what we need,” Rich explains. “From a hacking-the-industry standpoint, that’s the holy grail in terms inventory management.” He adds that manufacturing just enough to meet their needs means not overproducing, which works from a sustainability standpoint. “We can make just 72 pairs, and if a customer needs 36 pairs to fill in or wants a new style or size, we can produce just that. There’s no one I see producing shoes this way, which is another way we’re hacking the industry.”

Many industry experts have long said such an approach isn’t possible, let alone sustainable. Psudo is proving otherwise. This year, sales have taken off—double last year’s numbers, and the outlook for growth is extremely strong. Rich reports a solid debut among a Who’s Who of leading comfort specialty independents nationwide. They include Hanig’s in Chicago, Wisconsin’s Chiappetta Shoes, The Shoe Mill in Oregon, North Carolina’s Tops for Shoes, and Karavel Shoes in Texas. Psudo has also opened select larger dealers—such as Dillard’s, Scheels, and Sun & Ski Sports—for next spring.

What do these discerning retailers see in Psudo? Rich cites a combination of factors, but it starts and ends with product. In fact, he believes none of the brand’s other attributes would matter if Psudo fell short there. “At the end of the day the shoes must be comfortable, and they are,” he says. Rich also calls out Psudo’s colorful uppers with printed laces as a unique look that gets the conversation started. “Our most colorful styles have sold best,” he reports. “People are responding to our bright colors amid a sea of black, brown, gray, tan, and white sneakers on the market.”

Psudo’s success has resulted in a series of “pinch-me” moments for Rich. They include seeing the very first styles produced in partnership with a Wisconsin company that makes tool belts and backpacks. Another was shifting production, about a year later, to “amazing” SAS factories in Texas to meet Psudo’s growing monthly demand that was at 3,000 to 4,000 pairs. Then there was the opening of Psudo’s own factory in Vernon, CA, in early 2022, which now makes upwards of 10,000 pairs a month.

What began as a pet product project in 2016 is quickly evolving into a brand with extension potential into new categories, kids’, and licensing opportunities, Rich says. There’s also plenty of collab potential—like the green/yellow themed Packers styles Psudo has done with The Heel Shoe Fitters in Green Bay. (The store has already reordered.) There’s plenty of runway ahead, and Rich is excited like never before. “It’s been terrific so far,” he says. “I’m flexing my brain muscles to turn a product into a brand, which I’ve wanted to do for the end consumer in terms of comfort, fashion, sustainability, and American made. I also wanted Psudo to have a fun vibrancy with a modern/retro feel. I think we’ve pulled it off.”

Psudo has come a long way in a short time. Based in Hermosa Beach, CA, the company now employs 30 people. Rich’s years of hard work, travel to remote factories around the world, and working for others have culminated in running his own brand, his own unique way, on his own terms.

The new Psudo Blu collection features 85 percent recycled foam insoles and outsoles.
The new Psudo Blu collection features 85 percent recycled foam insoles and outsoles.

He says he’s glad that he and his cofounder/wife (Kortney), who oversees marketing and operations, finally decided to turn his longtime dream into a reality. “Ultimately, it’s about creating a great product,” he says. “People always respond to new and fresh product, and Psudo is light, fun, unique, colorful, and comfortable.”

What do you say to those who say sneakers can’t be manufactured in the U.S.?

You can. But I didn’t just take a shoe that I used to make in Asia and try to do that here. Technical athletic footwear is different. We simplified everything to recreate a new type of product, because trying to get multiple parts and components…that supply chain really doesn’t exist here. Instead, we take as much out of the shoe as possible to eliminate those manufacturing steps. But we put back in an overbuilt outsole and insole that offers support, high arch support, and extreme comfort. Plus, our PU soles doesn’t break down as quickly as other foams do.

Did people tell you were crazy to even try making shoes in the U.S.?

Of course. I respect all the companies that I’ve worked with, but I believe there is always room for a new idea. I just felt like we could wiggle in between those guys with something unique. Of course, it’s never that easy. People don’t just walk into your booth and say, ‘Wow, I’m going to buy 10,000 pairs.’ That doesn’t happen. You have to consistently be proving and improving yourself. Hopefully, they try it and, if it works, they order more. That’s why we want to be nimble, which is a key part of our DNA. We want to move fast and react.

Why did you decide to expand into wholesale this year?

My thought all along was that we’d eventually get into wholesale. While I respect Allbirds and Warby Parker, I believe that the pendulum never swings 100 percent one way or the other. So when everyone jumped on the DTC bandwagon and then, during Covid, people thought no one would ever shop in stores again…it’s human nature that it’d swing back more to the center. Now that we can travel again, we want to shop in stores and experience new things. We just needed to get our new manufacturing facility up and running to meet our growing demand. But we can also say that we’ve been selling shoes for three years DTC and know what consumers respond well to. It’s a good combination.

Who have been some of your early retail adopters?

We first sold into a few accounts in the Southeast, one of which was Tops in Asheville, NC. My wife and I did a trunk show, and their customers just loved Psudo from the get-go. We did a couple of giveaways and a contest. It was a huge success. Plus, being on the salesfloor reminded me of my younger retail days. I was getting shoes out of the back room and helping customers with try-ons. Being in that environment, with so many other great brands on display, was a memorable experience. It was definitely a pinch-me moment

Are your retail partners looking to buy more immediately?

At the Atlanta show, several retailers asked if we could produce styles that we were showing for Spring ’24 right away. We were able to ship those in September. As we pivot into wholesale, we’re learning what’s the best way to go about this. From my perspective, retailers want to work close to the vest, even though they need to place orders four to six months in advance for many of the brands they carry. So we’re figuring out how our nimble business model fits into that. That said, we’re working now on Fall ’24, which is the furthest in advance we’ve been on design to date. But we also launch new styles every month online, which is part of our secret sauce. We can react very quickly if any get a strong response.

What is your turnaround time?

We’re now quoting about four weeks for 72 pairs.

Is Psudo ahead of schedule?

We’re way ahead. We’ve more than doubled sales over last year, and with the knowledge and skillset of the team we’re building, we believe we’re in a really good position to grow a lot more. We have the capability and understanding. So long as we do our job on design and maintain our ethos as far as quality, fit, comfort, and sustainability, we’ll have our place.

Would you say Psudo’s initial success runs contrary to the perception that people aren’t receptive to new brand concepts?

A lot of people laughed initially at Ugg and Crocs. Now those brands are part of our nomenclature. I just think people always respond to new and fresh product. On that note, some of our retailers are telling us it’s been an extra sale. They may have come in for Ecco or Birkenstock, and after a try-on, they leave with a pair of Psudos, as well. Retailers love that.

What are your key goals for next year?

We have a lot of goals, and much of it is related to setting up the base of our infrastructure pyramid. We want to make sure that as we grow, we can properly execute orders seamlessly. That’s been the downfall of a lot of startups. We’ll do our best to be perfect, even if there is never perfection.

So plenty more pinch me moments await?

It’s a pinch-me moment whenever we get a reorder. But I try not to get too overwhelmed, and having a CFO on board now has been a huge lift. I want to spend as much time possible on product. There’s so much more we want to do, like more artist collaborations. We have to crawl, walk, run. Right now, we’re running a bit.

What do you love most about this industry?

That it’s always changing. I also love the camaraderie, which I saw so clearly at the Atlanta show this past August. For example, I didn’t know Peter Hanig until three months ago. Doing business with people like him is just really rewarding. I love working with full-service retailers. They remind me of my retail days, where I’d learn everything there was to know about how the shoes were made and what customers would be the best fit for them. I loved learning all about that stuff, whereas the help at chain stores today possess none of that knowledge. That’s why I think many of these specialty retailers are thriving. I believe consumers still want and need to know about product. My wife, for example, loves going to our local specialty running shop, where she’ll try on five pairs and get the full-service experience that she can’t get anywhere else. She loves that. You just can’t get that level of service online or at a chain.

It’s safe then to assume then that these retail partners will not be receiving a Dear John letter from Psudo?

They will not. I really believe independent retailers are the fabric of their communities, and we’re very proud that they’ve embraced us. I couldn’t dream of a better place to have Psudo launch than with these types of stores, because they want full price and their salespeople are looking to engage with their customers and show them latest  products. They want to have meaningful conversations about the brands they carry. It’s not just a transaction. That’s what Psudo needed for it to catch on. I’m also just inspired by how extremely nimble they’ve become—all the pivoting they’ve done during Covid just to survive. I’m proud to be working with Luckys, Shoefly, Little’s, Hanig’s, etc., and learning from them about what they need and how we can help.

What do you love about your job?

I’ve really grown into this role of CEO and managing and mentoring people, which I love. We have a dynamic team that understands what we’re doing and where we’re headed. They all want to be part of it. We have a great collective energy. I also love creating product. I have a bit of ADHD, and Psudo is a good fit for addressing that. I can switch from product to design to marketing to budgeting all in a day. I love that. 

A Life’s Work

Michael Rich on working in the industry he knows and loves.

What did Michael Rich want to do when he grew up? Work in the shoe business, in some form or another.

“I’ve wanted to be in the shoe business since I was a little kid,” Rich says. “I’ve just always loved shoes. When I was five, I’d sleep with my new sneakers. And my first paying job was at an Athlete’s Foot. I’d bugged the crap out of the manager to hire me for a year. When I turned 16, he finally relented.”

During college, Rich worked at a Downtown Locker Room store and, upon graduation, thought about becoming a tech rep for one of the athletic brands he so adored. That is until his uncle, Charlie Cristol, founder of Footaction (a love of shoes runs in the family), steered him to Paul Cahn, his good friend/business partner and founder of Elan-Polo, Intl.

“My uncle thought I’d learn a lot more about the shoe business working there, and he was right,” Rich says. “I moved to St. Louis and started at the bottom, and then moved into product design and development.”

Rich says Elan-Polo threw him to the wolves—in a good way. “My first trip to Asia was by myself. I was given a business card contact, flew to Taiwan, was told to take a bus to a hotel, and don’t fall asleep, because I’d miss my stop. It was learning by fire.”

Rich learned all about how to make shoes, primarily for Elan-Polo’s regional discount customers like Caldor’s, Payless, Target, and Walmart. “I learned how product was made, how duties changed depending on outsole constructions and the amount of materials on the uppers, etc.,” he says, adding that he traveled to factories throughout Asia. Rich then moved onto Brown Shoe, working in various sales positions. He describes learning how to work with retailers as the next phase of his shoe education. “I called on DSW, Meyer, and Walmart in Canada, among many others,” he says. After Brown he worked for LJO, Jimlar, Mercury, and then direct with factories as an agent designing, developing, and producing shoes for retailers and brands. “I primarily made sneakers and work/safety footwear. Basically, my 10,000 hours have been spent working behind the scenes making shoes for other people.”

Now, with the launch of Psudo, Rich has stepped into the spotlight. It’s the culmination of a desire to launch his own brand, which began about 10 years ago. Although, one could argue that the fuse was lit when Rich was a kid. He didn’t know then exactly what a shoe career might entail; he just knew he desperately wanted one. His tenacity and talent have won out. It’s a happy and rewarding career story with more chapters to be written. “I always dreamed of working in this business, and I’m fortunate my dreams have come true,” Rich says. —G.D.

Off the Cuff

What are you reading? Let My People Go Surfing: The Education of a Reluctant Buisnessman, the biography of Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard. I read a lot of biographies, and I love reading about entrepreneurs because many companies, even huge ones like Tesla and Apple, started out humble and small. I always learn from that.

What was the last series you watched? Succession. It’s the type of show you watch with your phone turned off.

What might people be surprised to know about you? I’ve spent most of my career making shoes for other people, so people are surprised to see me now as the front man.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever received? My uncle, Charlie Cristol, who was a mentor of mine and founded Footaction, once told me there’s always room for a new idea. That has always stuck with me. If, for example, you have a passion for coffee, there’s room for another coffee shop concept. Just because Starbucks exists doesn’t mean you shouldn’t start your own shop. There’s always room for something new and different, and consumers usually respond to that.

Who is your most coveted dinner guest? Bono. I saw him and The Edge in a hotel lobby once in London. That’s as close as I’ve ever gotten.

What is your least favorite word? No. I hate hearing that word.

What is inspiring you right now? Psudo is coming to fruition. I’m inspired by the team that we’re putting together. I’m just so proud of what we’re building.

What was your first concert and best concert? U2 was my first during The Unforgettable Fire tour and probably my best. I’ve seen them a bunch of times and they just have a way of making any arena seem intimate. Prince had that same ability. He was always someone I thought I’d be able to see again.

Where is your moment of Zen?  Sundays walking the beach with my wife in California. There’s something just so peaceful and restorative about walking in the sand and listening to the waves.

What is your motto? I don’t live through mottos, other than there’s always room for a new idea.

What is your favorite hometown memory? I’m from Gaithersburg, MD, and it’s of being young teenagers riding our bikes 20 miles to Washington, D.C., to visit the Smithsonian as well as the cool shoes stores on 14th St. There was one in the Georgetown neighborhood that had a lot of the Hoyas basketball players, like Alonzo Mourning, working there. We loved shopping those stores.

The June 2024 Issue

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