Tuesday, November 12, 2013

Memorial for Mo-vember

No matter how lucky you’ve been in your family and friendship circles, you can’t avoid having lost loved ones to the evil of cancer.  It strikes me as so very fitting that the same month in which we celebrate Thanksgiving is the month that we now draw attention to battling that pernicious disease in men.  I say this contradiction because I’m incredibly grateful for so many close friends who have fought off their cancers and are again healthy today; and also for the men who made an indelible impact on my life, fought the great fight and ultimately left us, including my dad who died in 1999.

Kent Dorrell
This month, I’m thinking especially of Kent Dorrell, our LA-based wholesale rep and one of our most popular colleagues.  Kent and I started at Allen Edmonds within a few months of each other.  He had an incredible eye for style, quality and new product direction, and I learned a great deal from him.  Kent passed away on September 30th, having miraculously survived a brutal bout with leukemia several years ago but then battling liver cancer since 2011.  He definitely fought a strong and courageous fight all the way to the end, as valiant as anyone can.  He even did a trunk show at a customer’s store just a few days before his passing.

Kent’s perspective from his previous victory over leukemia, and his naturally gregarious and positive personality, gave him a lovably upbeat approach to life and to all who knew him.  It was infectious -- a gift he gave freely and unsparingly.  Whenever I traveled with him to visit customers, the affection between them was inspiring.  Kent taught all of us how to live, how to treat friends and strangers alike, and how to see the best in everything and everyone around him.  We will truly miss Kent Dorrell.

Here’s to Kent Dorrell and to all the Kent Dorrells in your lives.

Be healthy, wear sunscreen and have a good Mo-vember.

Best wishes,


Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Our next step

Greetings again!

I’m often asked why I fall behind on my blog.  This time I have a decent excuse, beyond the normal one … my day job. 

Our majority shareholders since 2006 – Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison, a private equity firm in Minneapolis -- have been nearing the end of their investment time horizon.  Sometime this year or next was going to be a good time for transition, which can always be a bit nerve-wracking for employees as well as concerned customers.  Thus, for the past several months, our CFO and I have been traveling coast to coast, telling the Allen Edmonds story to potential new investors and searching for the right new partners.  We’ve had some great views from conference rooms overlooking Rockefeller Plaza in NYC, the beachfront park in Milwaukee plus a huge expanse of Lake Michigan on a gorgeous August day, and a glorious panorama of San Francisco Bay from the Bay Bridge to the Golden Gate. Still, my favorite view remains the AE factory floor in Port Washington, Wisconsin, where our people are handcrafting STRANDS and all the other great shoes we’re doing these days.  Staying “full speed ahead” as an independent company is just one reason why I’m so thrilled with the outcome of this “strategic alternatives” process.

The link below is to a press release that describes the transition in ownership of Allen Edmonds Corporation to Brentwood Associates, an investment firm from Los Angeles that is an expert in consumer products and retailing.  Brentwood is a really excellent partner for us.  They’ve helped a number of impressive companies reach greater levels of achievement, and they will be excellent sounding boards and stewards of Allen Edmonds.  The partners of Brentwood also are our kind of people – there’s a strong cultural fit between our two organizations.   

Allen Edmonds’ commitment to Made in USA manufacturing, our leadership team, our product development people, our customer service team and philosophy --- none of that changes now with new ownership.  We will, however, benefit significantly from Brentwood’s experience and insights as we continue to build this 91 year old American success story.   It’s an exciting time at Allen Edmonds.

Thank you for all of your support.  Without our incredibly impressive customers, we wouldn’t be here.  Know that we appreciate your business and interest a great deal.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

"I Like Sole -- With a Capital S" (Apologies to the soul band, Tower of Power)

With men upgrading their footwear more and more, new aspects of shoes have become grist for the design statement mill.  Generations ago, the different shapes of shoemaking lasts were sculpted mostly to fit differently shaped feet -- i.e. high or low arches, long insteps or high insteps, long toes or short toes...  Somewhere along the way, differently shaped lasts -- offering choices of rounded toes, flat toes, square toes, extended toes, flat vamps, sloping vamps --  became a key design variable for the sake of a "look".

These days, it's the sole, the leather textures and colors, and the sidewall finishing that allow for new design statements.  Over the past three years, we've introduced several new styles with new combinations of “rough” or colored leathers, "toasted" sidewalls that show the lamination layers in the heels, colored welts and stitching, natural sidewalls that highlight the sole and heel as never before, and new variations of rubberized soles for winter wear that still look sleek and elegant.

Mojave Group

New this fall are a few sturdier soles that fit the shoes they're attached to incredibly well.  One of my favorites is the sole on the MOJAVE desert boot style.  This is an update on the shoe that many of us wore in the 1970s, only this version is made of very high quality leathers (buttery unlined suede or glove-like calfskin) and a crepe rubber sole that's like walking on an air cushion.  Accented by a natural double reverse welt all around the shoe, each of the leather choices is a unique look.  It's a perfect "kick around" jeans shoe.

Dainite Sole
Another great jeans, wool flannel and corduroy shoe for the fall and winter is our PINE RIVER.  This rugged double monk strap shoe is built on the same pattern as our very popular "MORA", only the leather used is saddle cowhide, not fine calfskin.  The Dainite sole is a new sole for us, one that I know men are going to gravitate to.  It's already very popular in B. Nelson Shoes – our favorite New York City shoe repair shop, run by our friend Nick Valenti -- as a replacement on still-new shoes.  It's a very sturdy rubber sole with a great traction design, but it's surprisingly lightweight.  The Dainite heel "top lift" allows us to put a distinctive-looking leather layer in between.  Check this one out.  It's one of our most subtly creative new shoes ever.  We're using the Dainite sole on the PROMONTORY POINT boot as well -- the perfect boot for a hike in the fallen leaves, for a day in the stands at a football game or just for raking the yard.

There are some other cool new soles on shoes this fall.  We designed a new walking sole that you can see on our already-popular VOYAGER style.  Our ROTHSAY casual boot uses a cream-colored harrier rubber sole with the traction-savvy wave pattern on it that's more of a hunter's look.  And our GUIDARE tasseled driving moccasins from Italy have a brand new sole on them, too -- a sole that feels like a true driving moccasin but also handles the weather all winter long.  You don't have to give up on durability now to get that driving moccasin feel.

Speaking of the MORA, it's back by popular demand as another of our new styles this fall.  We discontinued the first Mora edition a few years ago because, frankly, we didn't think we had the fit just right.  After quite a bit of pattern work and "fit trials" on a lot of feet, we felt the style was ready for an overdue comeback.  The MORA 2.0 is the result -- a very classy and unique statement shoe for the office or special nights out.

We take new product development very seriously at Allen Edmonds.  It's a never ending process for us.  I hope you like what we've come up with for Fall ’13!

Best wishes,


Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO
Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Friday, September 6, 2013

A Stitch Above

A great thing about the record sales growth at Allen Edmonds since the “Great Recession” is that we have roughly doubled manufacturing employment at our Wisconsin factory.  When a new hire tells you, “This job is the difference between my daughter going to college and not going to college,” that’s a good feeling.  With new stores across the country, burgeoning online business and, most important, the amazing loyalty of our customers … our U.S. employment is now the highest it has been in our company’s 91 year history.

Just like with shoes, less than 2% of the apparel bought in the U.S. today was made in this country.  Since regaining our footing in 2010, our team’s long-term goal has been the evolution of Allen Edmonds into a broader men’s lifestyle brand.   We’ve believed that the values for which Allen Edmonds is renown – i.e. eye-catching handcrafted quality, superior customer service, an unrivaled price/value ratio, and a dogged determination to grow USA manufacturing – will be welcomed in clothing as well as shoes by busy men who desire those qualities across their entire wardrobes but have little time to search for them.

So, we’re proud to launch our curated collection of men’s clothing, including sport coats, vests, sweaters, shirts and pants. These are just the first of several waves of seasonal offerings going forward. Along with these products, we are also launching exciting collections of leather bags inspired by some of our top selling shoes, such as the Park Avenue, McTavish and Neumok, and a substantial broadening of our belts and small leather goods offerings. The clothing, belts and leather goods collections represent our continuing commitment to Made in USA and American employment growth. We’ve partnered with manufacturers across America – in Vermont, Massachusetts, New Jersey, Virginia, Minnesota, California, New York, Florida and, of course, Wisconsin to craft exquisite and timeless pieces right here – between the earth’s two largest oceans, not across them.

We’re also excited to premier our new brand identity. As we move forward with an expanded product line and broader vision, we needed to refresh our brand. That’s why we’re introducing a new crest featuring the year Allen Edmonds was founded, 1922.

The crest harkens to our strong heritage and our special authenticity as American designers and manufacturers. Through the passion and dedication of our people – customers and employees alike – we’re still here, standing for what we’ve always stood for. The cobbler’s hammer references our dedication to excellent craftsmanship and to our core identity as world-class men’s shoemakers. Placed dominantly in the center of the crest, the hammer signifies that Allen Edmonds will always lead with great shoes! Our tagline “An American Original” is a reflection of both our company and our customers, who are originals in the way they lead in their lives.

You can expect to see this renewed identity in everything we do. And you can expect more seasonal product offerings from Allen Edmonds as we continue to grow, at the product quality and service level that you’ve come to expect from us.

Thank you for your continued support.

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

An Investment in the Man You Will Be

My wife, Margot, is part of a group of volunteer tutors at our local high school.  They work with kids who are mostly from challenged home situations and having serious difficulty in school.  It’s a high-powered group of women doing the tutoring and they take it very seriously.  One woman studied the entire Chemistry textbook night after night to be able to help her student.  Margot, an English major in college, does some math and mostly helps on composition and literature classes, sometimes intervening with teachers on papers turned in late.  The kids often don’t commit to the tutoring all that much, which frustrates the tutors to no end.
There were two young men, though, who started to understand that education is like life – you only get out of it what you put into it.  Both of these guys wanted to get their grades up to the level at which they’d be eligible to play college football.  With little time left in the year and serious ground to make up, graduation suddenly became something to work for … and they made it! To congratulate them – their names are Deon and Matt – Margot took them to the Allen Edmonds store to be fitted for new shoes.  They were amazed that she’d do this and they took the fitting and the choice of shoe style very seriously.  Matt chose a pair of Strands and Deon – a lineman with very wide feet – went for some Waltons.  At check-out, Margot told them, “I want you to think of these shoes as an investment in the man you will be.”  Both Matt and Deon seemed to get as much out of that sentence as they had out of a year’s worth of tutoring.  They promised to wear their shoes proudly at Graduation, which they did, and to keep them in good shape for when they leave college for the working world.  They took their game up a level right before Margot’s eyes that day.  Their appreciation made us all realize once again the value of helping youth… and of a pair of great shoes!

At Allen Edmonds, we’re seeing a major surge in younger men as customers.  College graduates today seem to understand, way better than I did at 22, the impact of a good pair of shoes and an overall strong personal presentation – in the job market and everywhere else.  We have thousands of fans on Facebook and followers on Twitter, for example.  My email inbox and participation on e-community forums like “Reddit” show that Allen Edmonds is a shoe of choice for younger men of intelligence and aspiration.  It somehow gives me greater faith in the future.

This week, across the nation we’ll celebrate the founding of the United States of America.  The legacy that the Founding Generation passed on to us is truly amazing:  a great and complex gift and a tremendous responsibility.  It’s good to see that the coming generation will carry the legacy forward with enthusiasm, optimism and drive – and in a really good pair of shoes.

Happy 4th of July, everyone!

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Thursday, April 11, 2013

While unseasonable snow and hail storms absolutely ruin Spring hopes for many parts of the country, the weather in Georgia yesterday was like high summer up north.  A few colleagues and I had the pleasure of escaping winter’s return and joining tens of thousands of pilgrims on the trek to Augusta.  Truly, The Masters each year must be like the great pilgrimages of history.  Believers come from all over the world, dressed in golf shirts showing logos from home courses listed on Golf Digest’s Top 100, or they wear Masters attire purchased in years past that shows their devotion to the Faith.  They descend en masse on an otherwise quiet city, tying up traffic for miles and marching in perfect step and long lines toward hallowed gates, to see the best golfers in the world compete for the championship they most want to win.  It's an impressive scene.   
Come to think of it…. I’m sure Chaucer could write an incredible Canterbury Tales sequel about this.  For his “Augusta Tales” he could just recycle his CT Prologue, with its indelible description of the earth’s re-birth, as April pierces the drought of March to the root.  All he would have to do is change the “tendre croppes” reference to Azaleas, and add in astoundingly perfect turf, and it’d be good to go.  This year, the "Secretary of State's Tale" and the "The 14 Year Old's Magical Mystery Tour" would be among the best stories, I'd bet. 
Yesterday was especially unforgettable for the Allen Edmonds sojourners. Colin Hall (our SVP of Marketing, Golf and International) and Jim Kass (our SVP of Operations) and I waited patiently (why would we not?) at a sun-soaked table, behind the ropes around the back of the world-renowned clubhouse, for Jack Nicklaus to finish speaking with the 14 year old Chinese phenom who qualified for this year's Masters. The prodigy was seeking wisdom from The Oracle of the Six Green Jackets.  After their conversation about how to play key shots on the course, and after several pictures of the boy's family with Jack – Andy O’Brien, our host and everyday partner in our relationship with Nicklaus Companies, ushered us into the living room of Jack's cabin for the week. Barbara was there, son Steve checked in to drop off purchases from the ANGC pro shop, son Gary came in with a couple of his kids to say hello to Grandpa… and we sat down with Jack to talk for over an hour! Instead of a quick meet and greet, it was all about soles, no-tie laces, golf swing support requirements, Jack's view of the future of golf shoes, shoe construction, lightweight materials and the challenges of finding a perfect-fitting golf glove. Now I know how he remembers his championship rounds across the decades shot-by-shot. The man has incredible attention to detail and extreme standards of excellence. 
We presented Jack with three of our new golf hats with the icon of his "Yes Sir!" birdie putt on 17 in  1986, without any expectation that he would wear one of them.  For years, he has worn a "Golden Bear" logo hat at his appearances.  But his grandson took one of the three for himself to wear, Gary grabbed another, and then (to Andy's surprise) Jack said he'd wear the third for the Par 3 Tournament.  It was a white hat with a blue “Jack on 17” logo. He joked, "I'm always wearing a black hat in some people's eyes when I play with Arnie, so I'll wear the white hat today."  I chuckled at how the good friends still compete so intensely -- Jack at 73 and Arnie 10 years older.  Jack also wore our green and white "Muirfield Village" golf shoes that we've developed together over the past 18 months.
Andy O'Brien and I met later in the afternoon to head to the Par 3 course, where we bumped into Golf Digest's Mr. Fashion -- Marty Hackel.  It was Marty who first introduced Andy, Colin and me to each other two years ago, which set our relationship with Andy and Jack in motion.  After the Par 3 Contest introductions and opening tee shots, Andy headed off to catch his plane back to Florida and I was able to watch the Big Three (Gary Player, too) play the first three holes before I, too, had to leave for home to get back to work. 
While waiting at the airport, my wife called and let me know that she had just heard on TV someone yell: "Cool logo, Jack!" to him.   She also alerted me that our other great partner in our foray in to the golf business -- Ben Crenshaw -- had made a Hole-in-One during the Contest.  Ben represents us on the Honors Collection – the classic, and more traditional spiked golf shoes that he prefers.  Very appropriately for golf’s greatest historian and keeper of the traditions of the game, Ben was wearing our LEGENDS model shoe as his high wedge spun out of the ballmark and perfectly followed the sloping contour of the green to drop into the front of the cup.  It was a great ending to the day for me, and a great start to the tournament for Ben.
Here are links to the Par 3 Contest Highlights videos…

And here’s hoping Spring comes soon for all of us who can’t wait for Winter 2013 to end


Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Think about the polarized objectives inherent in a modern golf shoe.  We avid golfers want:
·         Great traction for those side-hill lies on wet grass, but no dents or scuff marks on the greens.

·         Serious support and stability for an aggressive rip at the ball, but lightweight comfort over a 3-5 hour walk.

·         Styling that looks athletic and updated, but respects the traditions of the game.

·         Waterproof technology that locks out water, but high quality leathers that look classic, breathe and take a shoeshine.
As you see, it’s not an easy formula.  Golf course superintendents around the U.S., whose jobs depend on preserving smooth putting surfaces that roll at 11-14 on the stimpmeter, lament the way aggressive new “soft” spikes and other aspects of “techno-traction soles” leave thousands more marks and much greater green damage than the old 11 point metal spikes that were outlawed long ago.  Many “spikeless” shoes have hard plastic nubs on them that also damage greens worse than metal spikes ever did.
Then there’s the styling, support, comfort and “leathers” of most new shoes.  Who really wants to see a golf shoes look more and more like skateboarding or NBA basketball shoes?   Are we running a marathon out there, or are we looking to swing aggressively at the ball and get the distance we need?
So, since a bunch of us in the management of Allen Edmonds are avid golfers and we wanted to “bring classic back” to the time-honored game, we thought there’d be one man uniquely qualified to partner with us – golf’s greatest champion, Jack Nicklaus.  Working closely with Jack throughout the design and testing of our new golf shoes, we think we’ve come up with the best answer to the contradictions on the market today.  Let us know what you think….  Here’s the link to our Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf by Allen Edmonds page on our website.

Hit it long and straight (but don’t scuff up the greens)!

Paul D. Grangaard
President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

We’re heading toward March and all of the storied basketball and hockey tournaments around the country.  They are great distractions to make all of us in the north forget that winter is still dragging on and on, as our Spring Fever reaches acute levels. 

One of the advantages of AE’s Made in USA production is our ability to offer new shoe concepts at most any time of the year.  Another is how our head of production, Jim Kass, gets to use his creativity to make shoes nobody else had been thinking about. 

My son is a sophomore at the University of Wisconsin, which has been to the Rose Bowl in each of his first two years there.  Last year, his team faced Oregon, where one of his best friends had gone to school.  Jim had a great idea to make red and white shoes for my son and green and gold shoes for his buddy.  This year, my son had to deal with an intra-family rivalry as both his parents and his two sisters are Stanford alumni.  The trash talking was pretty fierce again. 

Jim again made colored shoes (cardinal red and black) for all of us and also for one of our board members, whose son plays on the Stanford team.  He also made some blue and gold pairs for friends of ours who are big Notre Dame fans.  The reaction from other fans to these shoes is always pretty astounding.  So….we thought we’d let you decide how you want to color some shoes to show your team spirit – or just to make some great-looking shoes. 

Have some fun with it.  We’ll get the shoes to you by mid-March, in plenty of time for the big face-offs and tip-offs.  You’ll be the talk of the town.

Go Team!

Paul D. Grangaard

President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation

Monday, January 21, 2013

Each New Year kicks off furiously in the footwear and apparel business. “After-Christmas Clearance” has become a major strategic shopping season unto itself for retailers; trade shows in Florence, New York, Orlando, Chicago and Vegas offer anticipatory looks at Fall Season fashions and a chance to showcase again what could be ordered last minute for Spring; department stores and independent clothiers shift their focus to their bigger plans for the new year (having been consumed by the Holidays for all ofQ4); and across the country people’s intensity turns back to work, after a month of reflections, reconnections and recreation. Combined with a few recent roundtable dinner discussions with friends who have some pretty big jobs in Minneapolis and Milwaukee, there’s also a lot of proprietary backward-looking and forward-looking information to process.

This year’s prognosticating has been unusually challenging, I think. The whole spectacle of continued fiscal crisis and dysfunction in Washington should be making for uncertainty that’s bad for business. Sales in our stores in mid-December seemed to indicate that the economy was headed for a “cliff-based” slowdown, while our “leaders” once again punted in their showdown. Other retailers were sharing the same longer term concern through the grapevine. Then January landed, and things have been going surprisingly well (knock on wood).

The consensus among my friends in senior roles in investment management, insurance, manufacturing, agribusiness, corporate finance and health insurance seems to be that the economy will continue to weather the stand-off in the Capitol, and will grow 3-4% in 2013 – with the Fed keeping interest rates mostly where they are, unemployment falling gradually and housing recovering distinctly. It seems, then, that retailers’ experience in December will continue throughout the year – with solid business interrupted by disconcerting spurts of negative momentum which, we hope, go away again.

In fashion, things are more easily predicted. The professional men’s wardrobe transformation that began a couple years ago continues. Multiple shades of brown shoes and wing tips of many kinds remain hugely popular for dress and casual situations. Special occasion dress is getting more dressy now. Pleated pants are out, flat fronts are in (I got called out for pleats myself this summer by younger members of the “Reddit” website community, when I had to post a picture of myself to confirm my identity). Overly generous sizings in pants, shirts and sweaters have given way to slimmer-fitting apparel. Vests, as a substitute for a sport coat, are also spreading at the office and social functions. And “pops” of brighter colors are seen in almost everything – from soles to shoelaces to socks, and to any kind of patterned shirts, ties, vests and blazers. You golfers out there can follow what’s happening by thinking of Ricky Fowler’s influence on PGA attire. Three years ago his orange, lime green and bright blues were unique outliers; last year they became mainstream, on and off the course. Bright colors – writ small and large – are seen all across the entire conservative to high fashion spectrum.

Finally, last night (1/19), the National Hockey League re-started their season after the owners locked-out the players for several months. This is very big news in my part of the world. So, I thought I’d finish with an update on “Allen Edmonds Arena”, about which I wrote a year ago. As I said then, many great brands have a sports facility named after them and, not to be outdone (but within our company budget), my hockey-crazy brother-in-law offered to christen his backyard rink “Allen Edmonds Arena”. He supplied the yard, the boards and the water, and we supplied the banner. My nephew, now 6, is scoring even more goals at AEA this year than last. The on-ice action has picked up speed and we had a great intra-family game over vacation with my sons and nephew taking on my brother-in-law and me. A friend of mine, who somehow hadn’t yet heard of the new sports facility in town, drove by their house and, surprised, snapped the attached photo.  

Here’s hoping 2013 does indeed bring lower unemployment, improving economic growth, continued strong business for Allen Edmonds and for all… and better weather for making outdoor ice.

Warm regards,

Paul D. Grangaard

President & CEO

Allen Edmonds Shoe Corporation