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Some Things are Better in Person

L to R: Joel Habre, Shoe Mill; Justin Kehrwald, Tradehome; Josh Habre, Shoe Mill; Kim McKeown, Tradehome.

Thank you to the entire Beck’s team for welcoming me back to the Beck’s Shoes Leadership Summit, held a few weeks ago, in Santa Cruz, California. This annual event represents the independent footwear channel at its best. Beck’s consistently exceeds expectations, creating an atmosphere which allows for open discussion and providing presentations which encourage people to reflect upon how they run their business and to consider new possibilities.

What makes this event exceptional are all of the independent retailers, along with the brands that support the Beck’s team, who have taken the time to venture out to Santa Cruz — and Julia and Adam’s willingness to share their ideas and goals with them.

At the two-day Summit, we heard about trust and recognition. I commend the awards showered upon many of Beck’s employees, recognizing and appreciating their contributions.

Road trip. L to R: John Luck, Lucky Shoes; Garrett Breton, Comfort One Shoes; Gavin Martin, ELM Shoes; Joel Habre, Shoe Mill; Joe Wright, Vernon Powell Shoes; Adam Beck, Beck’s Shoes.

Bob Infantino and Steve Mahoney led things off with a conversation on Fusing Power and People to Drive Your Ecosystem. According to Infantino, from a company leadership perspective on culture and relationships, it’s about “understanding people that we work with and getting people to care about our business as much as we do. Common sense isn’t all that common. People are watching everything you do, all of the time. In today’s WFH environment, those water cooler conversations aren’t happening anymore. So how do you build culture?  Culture saves you a lot of money. Yes, pay people fairly, that’s a given. But what do people want (that culture thing)? Involvement, being heard, participation, contribution and, certainly recognition. And, recognition is not only top down, it could be bottom up or from a colleague.” Infantino went on to say, “leaders also need to sit down and listen to their team (avoid having that smartest guy in the room mentality). Flip the organizational chart, with ’consumers‘ at the top with the idea that those closest to the consumers know what’s going on. A good question can serve as a great tool. As an example, if you have plans to change things at the warehouse, then go to the source—the people in the warehouse—and ask good questions.”  

Steve Mahoney’s experience, before joining Samuel Hubbard, includes executive positions at Clark’s and Earth. Mahoney stated, “brands are built at independent retailers.” Reflecting on Beck’s theme “control your controllables,” Mahoney went on to state “consumers may shop D-T-C, but independent retailers have the sit and fit service experience that can’t be duplicated on the screen. Tell your story.”

Moving on to the Power of People, we heard from Jeff Bloomfield, author and founder of Braintrust, who said, “Treat people better than they expect. Ask the right questions to help them discover themselves and self-invest.”  Bloomfield encouraged everyone to think about how their words and actions can impact others.

We learned the foundation of effective communication is trust. When it comes to managing, or better yet, coaching people, it’s about influencing the process and procedure. Looking at it from the employee’s point-of-view, do you understand what I care about and are your intentions to help me be successful here? Do I believe you have the knowledge and experience to help me improve my skills and remove the barriers preventing my success? Will following your coaching advice bring quantifiable value to me and the business? When coaching, listen with the intent to understand and not to respond. Trust is not a thought. You feel it and you know when it’s not there.

L to R: Justin Kehrwald, Tradehome; Adam Beck, Beck’s Shoes; Julia Beck-Gomez, Beck’s Shoes; Kim McKeown, Tradehome.

For those who enjoyed chemistry class, Bloomfield also shared his “Periodic Table of Trust.”

Elements for Respect and Professional Credibility: Knowledge, Skill, Capability, Insight.

Elements for Likeable, Personal Connection: Vulnerability, Honesty, Authenticity, Humility.

Retail staffing challenges are also on everyone’s mind. Justin Kehrwald, CEO of Tradehome, Kim McKeown, Director of Merchandise, Tradehome, Josh Habre, President of Shoe Mill, and Joel Habre, VP Finance of Shoe Mill, presented their thoughts on managing your most strategic asset, people.

Josh Habre: Hire based on your core values, and then review their performance based on that. What happens in your store when you are not there is more important than when you are there. Remember, transparency builds trust. Give them the plan—the entire plan—and don’t let them fill in the gaps..

Joel Habre: Control the opportunities for your business’ growth and manage your own expectations. Quickly identify what’s working and what’s not. When we have openings within our company, while we post internally, we don’t always get the applications. When we find an employee who would be a great fit for that open position, we invite them out to lunch and end the conversation with “we have this opportunity.”

Justin Kehrwald: Hire part-time and promote to full time based on tangible proof. People have different goals for themselves than you may have for them. How do their goals fit into your business? When it comes to recognition, catch people doing things right. You will always be one hire away from a perfect work-life balance. Ask yourself, does this person make my life easier? It’s that simple.

Kim McKeown: Working with good people is fun. Talk as a person. When you see that lightbulb go off, you know they are listening, and it’s so effective.

My key takeaway from this Summit? It’s about people, trust and recognition. It is what we too believe in at Footwear Insight. As I sat at the Summit I reveled in the fact that our team at Formula4Media has worked with independent retailers and brands since the inception of Footwear Insight 18 years ago, through good and challenging times. It was those challenging times that first prompted our now annual feature “Brands Supporting Independent Retailers” when the pandemic hit in 2020. We continue to recognize the brands and to address new and different challenges. The brand’s support for the independent retail channel remains unwavering. Repeating what Mahoney said, brands are built at independent retailers (see page 26).

And with Footwear Insight’s Gold Medal Customer Service Awards program, which will be featured in our November/December issue, we will again take the time to recognize the best sit and fit retailers in the country through our annual secret shop. One customer. One transaction. One great in person experience. People at their best.

Taking a page from Beck’s, it is my hope that we continue to exceed your expectations.

Jeff Nott, Publisher