Shoe Mill

Shoe MillShoe Mill aims to expand its footprint by continuing to improve the high-quality level of customer service for which it is known. By Bianca Herron

Shoe Mill is an independent, family-owned fine footwear retail company that owns and operates eight stores in the Pacific Northwest. For 39 years, the Portland, Ore.-based company has prided itself on offering customers a compelling merchandise mix and an unmatched level of caring customer service.

Today, Ed Habre, president and CEO of Shoe Mill, oversees the company with his sister Tamara St. Cyr, who serves as vice president of finance. Habre’s parents founded the company in 1978 and his four sons – Jared, Josh, Joel and Jordan Habre, along with their cousin Shane St. Cyr – are also now integral to the present and future success of the company.

“It’s a pleasure to come to work every day and not only have the opportunity to hang out with my sons, but also to watch them grow and mature in the business,” Ed Habre says. He adds that he’s most proud that his sons have earned their respective roles by merit and not because they carry the family name. Shoe Mill Info

“Each of the boys started working with the company at entry level positions,” he explains. “During the early stages of their working careers, I was never their immediate supervisor. It was only after they were promoted to area supervisors they began reporting directly to me.

“This organic and natural growth allowed each of them to progress based on how they performed under the supervision of seasoned senior staff members,” he continues. “They clearly understood at the onset that they would not be promoted artificially or given any exceptional privileges. If they wanted a future with the company, they had to earn it.”

Habre notes that for the company’s 64 employees, it is positive motivation for them to see his children rise up through the ranks based solely on merit. “In addition, our basic company philosophy toward job advancement is to promote from within,” he says. “Whenever we have a new job opening in our company, we first send out a company-wide notice. Promoting from within allows us to keep our culture strong and our valued team members motivated with upward mobility opportunities. Our hope is that each employee feels valued and respected as they assist us in doing their part to ensure the success of their company.”

Customer First

Over the course of its history, Shoe Mill has earned a loyal customer base. “Our primary goal is to give each guest a superior footwear experience,” Habre says. “We want to ensure they not only are delighted with the purchase that they make, but also are delighted with the experience of making their purchase.”

Shoe Mill’s customer experience includes warmly greeting each customer when they enter a store, interviewing them to assess their needs and then taking the time to properly fit them. “My father established a selling culture that was based on insuring that the customer was properly fit,” Habre says. “His policy is still the cornerstone of our culture: we will do our best to not sell a customer the wrong size. So it’s all about long-term customer satisfaction, and quality fit in a quality product.”

Training is also critical to the company’s emphasis on customer service. According to Jared Habre, vice president of operations, Shoe Mill holds its people accountable to the sales practice standards that the company has established. The company recently completed a new training center in their corporate offices that is set up to model the operation of an actual store; in order to teach each employee practical aspects of its retail operation.

“We wanted to be consistent when training new hires and provide them with all the information that we can for them to succeed before they ever step onto an actual sales floor,” he says. “Ultimately, we want to give them enough information to where they can operate with confidence as they serve each customer. This education also includes refresher courses and ongoing technical training. We want to help them to meet their sales goals, so they can be incredibly successful and fulfilled in the roles as customer service specialists.”

Thinking Ahead

Shoe Mill not only prides itself on offering an unmatched customer experience, but also trendy and a compelling high-quality product. “We have a consistent theme, which is always about what’s going on under your foot,” Vice President of Sales and Merchandise Josh Habre says. “Our aim is to wrap each foot in an attractive package that is incredibly comfortable. Whether it’s an arch support or a cushion story, our theme will always be making your feet feel great, while you feel great about wearing your footwear.”

Located in the Pacific Northwest, Shoe Mill operates their business in the shadow of retail giants like Amazon and Nordstrom’s. Their biggest challenge in their brick-and-mortar locations is maintaining a strong stock position in key products so that customers who choose to shop “offline” will be able to take their purchase home with them that day. “Understandably, they had a need and chose to give us an opportunity to meet that need,” Josh Habre says. “They don’t want to wait, they want it now. So we are altering our buying metrics to allow us to consistently be in stock in our best-in-class curated collection.”

He notes that although every generation has its challenges in business, Shoe Mill needs only to work smarter, not harder. “Retail giants have a tendency to move slower when it comes to identify trends and subtle changes in the marketplace,” Josh Habre explains. “However, our size allows us to be nimble and react very quickly to trends and emerging opportunities.”

Joel Habre, vice president of marketing, agrees. Adding that he believes there has been a noticeable shift in the industry toward a quality retail experience in every aspect. “With the proliferation of information, people are incredibly well informed,” he says. “This gives us an opportunity to get our message to consumers who place great weight on the candid real life experiences of people who have previously shopped in our stores. My goal is to make sure that the message we publish is consistent with the experience that they have when they visit our stores.”

Joel Habre notes that’s how he became “hooked” on the family business. “I felt like I actually made a difference, instead of selling as many shoes as possible,” he explains. “It was about selling shoes the right way and making customers’ lives better. Customers can feel that genuine concern, which makes them want to come back again.”

As Shoe Mill looks ahead, the company aims to grow its footprint even further as they launch some exciting new initiatives. “As the marketplaces changes and customer buying patterns evolve, we have to stay in step with customer buying preferences so we can continue to thrive,” Ed Habre concludes. “We understand that there are customers who don’t necessarily want to come into a brick-and-mortar store, so we are determined to offer the same Shoe Mill high-quality experience wherever they shop with us. We want our customers to have a consistent, amazing and memorable experience.”

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