Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Giving Back. Who’s the Student Anyway?

A couple weeks ago, I was invited to speak to a class at a small magnet high school in Milwaukee. Those who follow education policy know that the Milwaukee Public Schools have been at the vanguard of school choice and in allowing state funding to follow students to their chosen schools, public or private. Milwaukee is now also a leader in hiring Teach for America teachers – newly minted college grads, like the Peace Corps – to bring new energy and enthusiasm to the learning environments. As an ex-school board member in my hometown, I’m interested in education reform and quality improvement, and therefore showed interest in supporting TFA. They in return invited me to speak to one of their classes.

I was amazed and incredibly impressed. I walked into the school building and, after checking in at the office, was led to the classroom by a young man in a blue jacket, white shirt and tie, who started the conversation with me, not vice versa. There the infectiously upbeat TFA teachers greeted me and told me more about the school. The bell rang and the kids filed in quickly, all wearing their uniforms, and headed directly to their desks where they waited respectfully for me to begin. Their attention never wavered. To my shock, as a four-time experienced father of teenagers, they never looked bored.

I spoke of course about Allen Edmonds and how we make shoes and that we’re one of the last remaining American shoe manufacturers. They were naturally interested in what it takes to create jobs here in the U.S. Mostly, though, I talked about the power of clear vision in business and in life and how, if you don’t know where you’re going, any road will take you there (to nowhere). If you have a vision for your life, your career, your family, your company…. you can figure what to do and what not to do, what you need and what you don’t need, to achieve your goals.

Then I opened it up for questions. Suddenly the tables were turned and I was the student. It was obvious from what they asked me how much these kids really were thinking about their futures, and how much they wanted those futures to be bright. Their questions were good. They had done their homework and knew all about my background. They asked about my time in college. They asked about my time in Germany. They all introduced themselves at the beginning of their questions. They were genuine, smart and eager. They “had it goin’on.”

By the end, I knew who had benefitted the most from my visit. I had.

Here’s to their visions and their bright futures!

Best wishes,

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Golf Shoes.

Gonzalo Fernández-Castaño
Anybody who loves golf knows that the obsession isn’t just about hitting good shots or, as bad as we might want it, even totally about the score. Anybody around teenagers knows that there’s such a thing as way too much technology. Those two points in juxtaposition bring me to the following statement --- Let’s bring real spikes back to weekend golf!

I’m now officially on a mission. I miss cleaning my spikes on those bristles and actually having the tangled grass fly off with ease. I miss the connection with generations of other golfers I used to sense when walking toward the Men’s Locker Room on a spike-worn carpet or marked wooden floor. I especially miss that cool sound of my spikes on a parking lot and a cart path, and the memories of when they clacked in stereo with my Dad’s. And I miss the condition of the greens when golf shoes only made 11 small nail holes under other golfers’ feet, instead of the complex geometric patterns -- of 9 pyramids, 8 triangles, 7 circles each containing 6 points of indentation, five golden rings, four calling birds, three French hens and a perimeter of angled trapezoids – on the soles of this year’s newest golf shoes.

Really.  I’m old enough to remember when soft spikes made some sense in terms of being better for greens.  Have you looked lately?  Check out a well-manicured green after a pair of modern, hard-plastic soles have walked over it, especially on the feet of some hacker who thinks he’s in the U.S. Open.  You know that guy.  He looks at his double-bogey putt from four vantage points, feeling the slope of the green as he traipses to the hole and back on each side of his imaginary chalk line (which means that he’s walking right on top of your line, having seen too little break when he plumbed the putt five minutes ago).  The occasional real spike mark could be tapped down in any friendly game and the problem was solved.  There’s no chance to re-grade the whole surface of a twenty-foot birdie putt when it looks like Neil Armstrong has just walked across the moon.  “One giant leap” indeed.

Of course, you know it’s all a big conspiracy. It always is. Years ago pros and greenskeepers liked the original green-friendly soft spikes. I spoke with a bunch of them – some from Top 20 courses -- at our booth during the annual PGA Merchandise Show in Orlando this January. Most would bring back traditional golf spikes (the shorter version) in a heartbeat. So would our buddy Marty Hackel, Golf Digest’s Mr. Fashion, who came by our booth, too (you can see his piece on shoes in the new GD issue). The conspiracy is driven by clubhouse decorators who insist on keeping up this fiction about what happens on the course. They never much cared about the “connection with generations of other golfers” that came with carpet erosion and pock-marked wooden floors. Hey, what are all the hefty fees for, anyway? Real golfers don’t mind threadbare carpet. Change it out once in a while.
Hal Sutton, wearing Allen Edmonds Fort Worth, 
teeing off at the Toshiba Classic in Newport Beach
For all the press about a few pros going spikeless (what a misnomer – have you felt the edges of all 60 of those non-spikes on a “spikeless” shoe?), lots of pros wear real spikes. And still you don’t see them fussing over spike marks all that often in a round, despite the official rules (now there’s a real conspiracy – the Rules of Golf). Besides spikes on their soles, it also seems today’s pros like wearing classic clothing again, including classic welted golf shoes. We’ve got a growing list of pros wearing Allen Edmonds Honors Collection golf shoes this year.

Ben Crenshaw at the Toshiba Classic
A month ago I was at Riviera – Hogan’s Alley (as everybody still reading this far likely knows) – and, for the first time in my long golfing life, I was on the practice tee during tournament week, thanks to the smart thinking and fast talking of our head of golf sales.  We watched Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño pound drives high into the netting some 270 yards away wearing our shoes.  He won a PGA event last fall in them.  Ben Crenshaw made a hole-in-one in them out in Monterey last fall, too.  Hal Sutton has started wearing our shoes.  And Darren Clarke’s agent walked up to us on the Riviera tee as we were leaving and said, “Are you the guys from Allen Edmonds?  Darren would really like to try wearing your shoes.”   I played it cool, of course.  “Huh?”  I said.  “Who?  The suddenly super-fit guy over there?  ARE YOU KIDDING ME???!! !   THIS IS GREAT!!!”  Well, anyway, Darren Clarke may be wearing our shoes at Bay Hill next weekend.  I hope he plays well on Moving Day.  CBS coverage would be nice for the mission I’m on….

Looking forward to green grass and temperatures above 38 degrees, hopefully both sometime before July.

Best wishes,

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


Allen Edmonds was recently featured as the cover story for FedEx Access magazine. Made in America: Allen Edmonds and the accompanying video prompted spirited questions and responses while providing a look behind the curtain of our humble and growing operation. The answer to one reader’s query, in particular, bears sharing here.
"Less than 2% of the shoes purchased in the U.S. are made in U.S. manufacturing plants. Allen Edmonds is one of the last remaining U.S. shoe manufacturers. We make 90% of our shoes in our plants on the shores of Lake Michigan in Port Washington, Wisconsin. Our employment in the U.S. since 2010 has grown over 50%, by over 250 people, and we employ about 700 people now in our country(and still counting). Sales hit a new record for the company in 2011 and we grew 20% per year in 2011, 2012 and 2013.
All of our shoes made in the U.S. are made of two sewn-on-sole constructions. They're high value shoes made of high end leathers in multi-step handcrafted methods that can support higher pricing. About 80% of our sales are made in the 212-step Goodyear welted handcrafted process for which we're overwhelmingly known, and the rest are American handsewns that have the sole sewn through the bottom of the shoe (our bestselling Maxfield style is made this second way).

During the darkest days of the Great Recession, I became frustrated by the poor sales of our uncompetitively priced boat shoes and driving moccasins, and by the huge majority of the shoe industry that's dominated by cemented rubber sole construction, a construction method in which we had no expertise, experience, capital equipment or product offerings. We were forfeiting the dominant part of the men's shoe industry by being either too costly in boat shoes and drivers, and completely absent from the cemented bottom market — and I really hated forfeits when I played sports as a kid.

So, we started making a few styles in the Dominican Republic. There's a strong base of cemented-sole and boat shoe manufacturing down there we were able to tap into. We're careful to use a sub-brand — "ae by Allen Edmonds" and "Jack Nicklaus Signature Golf by Allen Edmonds" — for our DR-made styles. If it says only "Allen Edmonds" in the heel, its one of the 90% we make in Wisconsin.

Having 10% of our sales in DR-made shoes helps us grow our store base, our non-production employment (such as the new distribution center highlighted in the article above) and it allowed us to enter the golf market with a fighting chance against all the China-made shoes. I can assure you that building U.S. employment is a big part of what motivates our leadership team every day. I remember welcoming a new side-laster to our Goodyear welt Blue Production Line a while ago. He had been unemployed for a couple of years, making ends come closer together (but not meet) through unemployment insurance and landscaping jobs. As I thanked him for joining our team, he thanked me for the job and said, "This job is the difference between my daughter going to college and not going to college." Making that kind of difference in people's lives is the best part of our recent success."

Best wishes,