Best of the Best
The Gold Medal Service Awards 2023
Best of the Best
The Gold Medal Service Awards 2023
Honoring the best of the best independent retailers with the Gold Medal Service Award for Outstanding Customer Service is something we’ve been doing annually since 2015 at Footwear Insight. This year, for the first time, we had four stores tied at the top of the list as the highest scoring stores of the year — Alan’s Shoes of Tucson, Arizona; Ted’s Shoe & Sport of Keene, New Hampshire; Treads ‘N’ Threads of Gunnison, Colorado; and Walking Comfort of Centerville, Utah.
These four stores each had better than perfect scores (102 out of 100, with bonus points.) They all have great stories to tell. We spoke to all four of the retailers about their strategies for success. You can read their stories below.
This year, 80 stores in total have earned a spot on our Gold Medal list. Twelve scored 100 or above!
Each store that earns a spot on Footwear Insight’s Gold Medal Service Award list is screened and then “mystery shopped,” with only those earning a score of 70 or above making the Gold Medal list. See the criteria for our mystery shoppers online at goldmedalserviceawards.com
Dozens of this year’s Gold Medal-winning retailers shared their insight, tips and anecdotes about finding success in today’s retail climate. (Read that story here.) Congratulations to all of the honorees. See the full list of 2023 Gold Medal Service Award winning retailers at goldmedalserviceawards.com.
Simply a Winning Formula
Top Scoring Store: Alan’s Shoes, Tucson, AZ
The more things change, the more they stay the same. The top-scoring store in Footwear Insight’s annual Gold Medal Awards listing in 2019, Alan’s Shoes, which has two locations in Tucson, Arizona, is once again at the top of the list this year. Founded by Alan and Annette Miklofsky in 1982, Alan’s Shoes is thriving under new ownership, having joined the Sole Provisions Family of stores in January 2021. The Sole Provisions family includes a 24-store nationwide network and an online presence.
Tyler Lebourveau, store manager of the Oracle Road location of Alan’s Shoes in Tucson, tells us that when it comes to customer service, the formula for success is not that complicated. “One of our favorite things to say in training is: It’s just shoes, keep it simple!” he says, adding, “Fun fact is most of our staff, including myself, started out as customers for Alan’s Shoes.”
When it comes to hiring and retaining team members, two keys he likes to focus on are empathy and passion.
“Empathy: Our customers are primarily coming to us because their feet hurt and we are here to help as much as we possibly can,” Lebourveau explains. “We shoot for a strong understanding of why our customers are in pain accompanied by our staff’s knowledge of common foot ailments to recommend the right footwear for the job. We believe in three crucial components when finding the right shoe for every single customer: Shock absorption, natural alignment, and weight distribution.”
He continues, “Passion is something that is hard to teach, either you’ve got it, or you don’t. Being passionate about what you do in life makes everything so much more enjoyable. I know we all clock out and head home with a feeling of satisfaction and pride because we helped change someone’s life with the right pair of shoes.”
As part of a larger network of parent company Sole Provision’s stores, Alan’s benefits from having access to a wider variety of products, brands, styles and sizes. The shop’s products range from outdoor and athletic to more casual/business casual, and includes a large sandal selection for most of the year. “When a customer has their heart set on a specific color of a shoe and we just sold our last pair in that particular size, it’s a quick phone call and we can have exactly what they were looking for in-store roughly three days later, rather than a two-week turn around for placing an order directly with the brand,” says Lebourveau.
Looking ahead, Lebourveau says, “I’m optimistic for another great year. We have a very strong staff, a phenomenal support team from those above the store level, and as always a fantastic customer base that we are always happy to serve!”
Main Street Success Story
Top Scoring Store: Ted’s Shoe & Sport, Keene, NH
When Ted McGreer and his wife Heather founded Ted’s Shoe & Sport back in 1999, it was a sit-and-fit athletic shoe store, with some snowsports and sporting goods gear mixed in. Over time, the business model for the shop, located on a vibrant Main Street in a small city of 23,000 people, evolved to what it is today — a specialty shop offering elevated service selling footwear and apparel for running, walking, hiking, and orthopedic consumers.
“We needed to focus on what we did best, and we’re glad we did,” says McGreer. “While we’re considered a running specialty store by many of our customers and vendors, our customer base and demographic is extremely broad. We have about eight Podiatrists who prescribe our services to their patients, and many other medical professionals in the region who refer people to us.”
The store has 11 employees (three full time), including two managers. McGreer has high praise for his staff: “I can’t begin to say how fortunate we are to have a team of empathetic, conscientious, caring staff who truly understand we’re making our communities healthier, one pair of shoes at a time.”
McGreer adds, “We find it imperative to take the best care of our people, as they’re the secret to our success. That might mean offering a livable wage, bonuses, excellent benefits, and a work life balance, which is hard to do while working in retail.”
At Ted’s, customer service is a priority, with McGreer spending 300 hours training new employees before they go “live” on the floor. He has his employees read the book “Raving Fans” by Ken Blanchard, and he trains new staff with things such as mock fittings, mock returns, mock phone calls, and problem-solving scenarios. “However, the majority of our training is solely focused on making sure our team understands that customers are people first,” says McGreer.
With so much competition online and elsewhere, McGreer says, “We know people don’t have to come into our store to buy their shoes, so the key to keeping them coming back is simply making it easy to do business.”
As Ted’s approaches its 25th anniversary, McGreer says, “We’re really excited about the partnerships we’ve created with reps and brands who still believe brick-and-mortar, sit-and-fit stores are relevant.”
“While the vendor DTC channel is something we’ve grown to deal with, we’re still seeing [many] brands who want to be in our stores, want to support us, and give us incredibly innovative products. Everyone is making really nice shoes now, and it makes it so much easier to deliver great service when the product backs up what we’re trying to do.”
An Elevated Experience
Top Scoring Store: Treads ‘N’ Threads, Gunnison, Colorado
Husband and wife team Chris and Kelly Osness, owners of Treads ‘N’ Threads, celebrated 25 years in business this year. What started out as a 1,300 square-foot shop selling shoes and purses in 1998 has evolved over time to the current 6,000 square-foot store selling footwear and apparel for everything from hiking to running to working or traveling.
“It’s a constantly evolving landscape and you have to always figure out your place in it and how to have your store be relevant,” Kelly Osness tells us. “You have to keep your finger on the pulse of what’s happening and what consumers want.”
She adds, “It is a whole different landscape from when we started 25 years ago, on every level. How we buy, how we sell, how we market, what we sell, who we sell to — everything has changed. And it’s changing at a more rapid rate all the time, so we’ve got to just constantly up our game.”
Located in the Rocky Mountains in Gunnison, CO, at 7,700-foot elevation, the store and its customer base have a decidedly outdoor vibe. Quality product, thoughtful merchandising, as well as product curation, and of course, excellent customer service, are all focuses at Treads ‘N’ Threads.
New hires at the store learn quickly that Treads ‘N’ Threads is focused on delivering “positive, outrageous service” and treating every customer as “an invited guest.” Osness says this includes “being friendly, helpful, attentive, and having really great product knowledge.”
She adds, “Anybody that comes in the door needs to get the absolute best experience so that next time they want to shop they’ll say, ‘I had a great time there. I felt really good. I felt seen. I felt heard. I’m going back there.’”
Treads ‘N’ Threads tries to carry brands consumers can’t get at most big-box stores. On, Hoka, Vuori, Birkenstock and Blundstone are all standouts. And the store also recently did a reset of its layout, creating a cozy shoe lounge in its footwear area, where the store offers a sit-and-fit experience for consumers.
For next year, the staff is focused on trying to “Take it to the next level,” says Osness. “On every level, from customer service to training to buying to everything— and each of us have taken ownership.”
While owning a store can be “both intimidating and challenging, in a good way,” Osness says, “We’re up for the challenge. We’ve surrounded ourselves with some really good people. We always say, ‘you’ve got to get the right people on the bus, and then you’ve got to get them on the right seats on the bus, and you’ve got to make sure the bus is heading in the right direction.’ We work really hard on that.”
Getting Better All the Time
Top Scoring Store: Walking Comfort, Centerville, UT
Striving to be better every day is a philosophy that has worked well for Walking Comfort and owner Bryce Anderson since the retail business was founded 13 years ago.
“There has always been and will always be competition,” notes Anderson. “Our goal is to continue to improve the experiences that we can offer customers. Better service, better products, better solutions.”
Walking Comfort, a three-door business based in Utah, was initially founded by Anderson and his brother, who is a podiatrist. “He needed a place to send patients that needed good footwear and I had just left a 15-year career in technology marketing, so I agreed to help him out but I ended up buying him out and staying in the footwear industry,” Anderson tells us. “The Utah independent footwear landscape was pretty bleak when we were opening, so we had to kind of start from scratch on what our stores should look like. We wanted to create stores with the best products and best experience where costumers would love to shop.”
Anderson says that while Walking Comfort attracts the “standard demographic of a sit-and-fit,” the stores also have a “clean, more modern feel,” along with brands and styles that are trending with a younger demographic. “We have always said that a 35-year-old woman should be able to bring her mom in for her ‘comfort’ shoes and be surprised at the number of shoes that she wants to leave with for herself and her husband.”
Walking Comfort, which has about 40 employees across all parts of its business, has been “fortunate to attract and retain great team members,” says Anderson, including family or friends of other people that have been employees. “I think this shows that people have been treated fairly and recommend the job to others as they have had a great experience working at Walking Comfort,” he says.
To instill a customer service ethos into new hires, Walking Comfort has a detailed process that every new team member goes through, including training, shadowing top salespeople, testing, and… continued training.
Not surprisingly, Anderson says a big part of the business’ success revolves around the brands that the store partners with. “We are constantly looking at the brands we carry,” he notes. “If there is a brand that is not supporting us in our business as much as they are supporting their own DTC business, we trim them down or completely remove them from our stores. If there are brands that are bending over backwards to support our business, we do likewise. We have some amazing brands that really are constantly supporting our business and customers and we will continue to do everything we can to grow their brands with our customers.”