Great­est Hits

As Mis­souri re­tailer Amer­i­can Shoe Inc. eyes its cen­ten­nial, its young lead­ers are em­brac­ing the old­est sell­ing tech­niques.

Footwear News - - CONTENTS - By Jen­nie Bell

How a 100-yearold footwear re­tailer re­mains rel­e­vant.

Amer­i­can Shoe Inc. in Mis­souri has with­stood fire, a World War, the Great De­pres­sion — and the Great Re­ces­sion. So what’s a lit­tle thing like the In­ter­net, say the fourth­gen­er­a­tion fam­ily mem­bers who are tak­ing over the nearly 100-year-old re­tail busi­ness.

Cousins Sarah Slay-Norden and Luke and Mike Quinn grew up in the store founded in 1919 by their great-grand­fa­ther Elias Thomas. “He came through El­lis Is­land and ended up in mid-Mis­souri, and he was so proud of the op­por­tu­ni­ties avail­able to him here that he named the store Amer­i­can Shoe,” ex­plained Slay-Norden. The in­de­pen­dent re­tailer’s first lo­ca­tion was in the cen­tral busi­ness dis­trict in Mis­souri’s state cap­i­tal, Jef­fer­son City. But af­ter suf­fer­ing smoke dam­age from a fire, the store re­lo­cated about a block away in 1962. It still re­mains in that space, oc­cu­py­ing three floors filled with of­fices, stor­age and a 2,000-square-foot show­room. A sec­ond lo­ca­tion de­buted in 1976 in Columbia, Mo., a

col­lege town that’s home to the Univer­sity of Mis­souri and other schools. That shop is in a mul­tiuse build­ing pur­chased by Elias Thomas’ son, James Thomas. “Grandpa was very for­ward think­ing,” said Slay-Norden.

In June 2017, the cousins cre­ated a stir in the com­mu­nity — and fam­ily — when they ren­o­vated the Columbia bou­tique. “We changed the

floors, the fix­tures, every­thing,” said Luke Quinn, “and we did it in only one week­end.” Added brother Mike, “You put a lit­tle pa­per in the win­dow and peo­ple scratch their heads, won­der­ing what’s go­ing on. But a lit­tle bit of buzz is never a bad thing.”

Through­out the years, the re­tailer has stocked a range of men’s and women’s shoes and ac­ces­sories. Its cur­rent prod­uct lineup in­cludes ath­letic and out­door la­bels such as Mer­rell, Keen and Sau­cony, clas­sic com­fort by Earth, Ecco and Bos & Co., and more trendy items from Gola, A.S. 98 and Miz Mooz. Prices av­er­age around $100.

Mike Quinn said the firm aims to bal­ance trend and sub­stance. “We want to find that pop item that will draw a new cus­tomer, but then con­tinue on with func­tional yet fash­ion­able things to keep them in­ter­ested for decades, rather than to come in once and then move on,” he said.

Bran­don Davis, re­gional sales rep for Fly Lon­don and Bos & Co., said of Amer­i­can Shoe: “They are very tal­ented with cur­rent fash­ion and how they re­late the prod­uct to their cus­tomer.”

The store’s great­est as­set, though, is its em­pha­sis on ser­vice, said Steven Wein­reb, pres­i­dent of Gola USA. “[Mike, Luke and Sarah] re­tain the prin­ci­ples that have be­come the DNA of the busi­ness. They’re one of the few old-time shoe com­pa­nies that’s left, where it’s all about cus­tomer ser­vice.”

In­deed, the re­tailer was founded as a sit-and-fit store and con­tin­ues to em­pha­size a hands-on ap­proach. “We care that the cus­tomer leaves our store with a shoe that fits them,” said Slay-Norden. “Our goal isn’t just to sell a pair of shoes; it’s that they’re go­ing to come back to see us again and will trust us.”

As the younger gen­er­a­tion takes over, they will im­ple­ment some tech­ni­cal im­prove­ments to the busi­ness. They al­ready uti­lize email and so­cial me­dia plat­forms for mar­ket­ing and stay cur­rent with the lat­est POS soft­ware sys­tems, and they re­cently in­tro­duced Abeo’s dig­i­tal foot-scan­ning de­vice. “There will be lit­tle bits that we’ll change to make things flow bet­ter, but the heart of what was built, we can’t change that,” said Luke Quinn.

Most no­tably, the cousins have no plans to en­ter e-tail. “In a world of ma­jor e-com­merce com­pa­nies, do you want to be the peb­ble?” asked Mike Quinn. “We have a rap­port with cus­tomers and are able to hang our hats on that. E-com­merce is a thing that could be an added bonus, but why mess with a good thing?”

“Our goal isn’t just to sell a pair of shoes; it’s that [the cus­tomer] is go­ing to come back and see us again and will trust us.” SARAH SLAY-NORDEN

The store’s third and fourth gen­er­a­tions (L-R): Sarah Slay-Norden, Dan Quinn, Ann Slay, Luke Quinn, Sara Quinn, Mike Quinn

James Thomas and son-in-law Dan Quinn In­side the ren­o­vated Columbia store

Cap­tion tk­tk­tk­tkt The orig­i­nal Jef­fer­son City lo­ca­tion, opened in 1919

Founder Elias Thomas

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