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If the Shoe Fits...

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The name Florsheim is synonymous with shoes, but for many years, the Florsheim family ran a rival footwear company. Four years ago, as the New York Times reports today, the family was able to buy their name and shoe line back from a private equity company. Now, they're focused on restoring its lost luster.

"Driven by sentiment as much as opportunity, two of the Florsheim scions, Thomas Jr. and John, along with their father, Thomas Sr., bought the broken shoemaker in 2002 for about $45 million, nearly 50 years after their family first gave up control," the Times reports.

The article goes on the describe how the company, which was founded in 1892, changed the shoe business. Milton Florsheim "proved to be a visionary entrepreneur" the paper says: "instead of selling his shoes wholesale and allowing stores to put their own labels on his products, he decided that his company's livelihood should be in establishing direct ties to customers. As a result — and to the chagrin of retailers — he put the Florsheim name directly on the shoe's pull-strap and sole, a move that in the coming years would become standard at other shoe companies." Later, he actually gave retailers seed capital to start their own shops under the Florsheim name.

Milton's son took over the business, and his grandson—Thomas Sr.—eventually joined the company too. But he left after a series of fights with his dad, one of which involved wanting to buy ads in Playboy.

Thomas Sr. started his own kind of shoe company, and his sons eventually joined him in that business. Now, the three of them are working on updating Florsheim's image. One key strategic decision—to discontinue sales through Sears—cost the company $10 million worth of business, the Times says. But Milton's great-grandsons argue that it was a necessary step in terms of restoring to the brand the status it once had as a confident and fashionable purchase. (To read the newspaper article, click here.)

What do you think? Can the Florsheim brand be saved? How would you update it? And do you think it's helpful that the new owners are fighting, in some sense, to protect their good name?

Last updated: Jun 25, 2007




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