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In Person: Q&A With Bob Campbell

BBC International chief shares tales from his past and his recipe for success.

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You’re a very public face behind the company. Why is keeping a high profile in the industry so important?
BC:
The fact that I am so visible and hands-on brings confidence to our partners. I am constantly traveling and getting out to trade shows, visiting with customers in their stores and checking in at our factories. Everyone knows who I am. I don’t hide away. I make myself very accessible and I am closely involved in everything.

Who were some of the important mentors for you in your career?
BC:
My mother was a big one, obviously. She always gave me good advice and guidance, but she never told me what to do. She encouraged me to make my own decisions. I had an offer at one point to go into my uncle’s bakery business, but she didn’t push me. She just said, “Do what you think is right.” It gave me a lot of confidence in myself. Another important mentor was Cameron Anderson, [who passed away in 2011]. He was the head of Kinney while I was there and he then went on to help launch Foot Locker. He taught me so much about the business and inspired me in everything I did.

Do you find time to mentor others?
BC:
Absolutely. I love to mentor people. I mentor a lot of my employees here. At least five of my [former] employees have left BBC to start their own businesses, and I am proud of that. I’ve also had a big influence on my son Seth, [who founded Upper Echelon Shoes]. He’s a talented guy and very connected with this business. I see a big future for him. I just don’t know that he has any desire to come work for BBC. He’s like me — he wants more of a challenge. He wants to build something on his own.

What is it about the children’s business that you love so much?
BC:
There is no other business like it. It’s a very challenging business: You have to create product from baby to juniors’ sizes — a total of 34 unique sizes — but I like that. What’s exciting about it is that when you really specialize in it, you are more recognized. We are recognized in this industry by retailers from every single tier of distribution for being experts at what we do.

What is the biggest challenge facing the kids’ shoe industry today?
BC:
The major challenge is all the governmental regulations, from safety to environmental. The regulations are getting worse and worse, state by state. Individual states are demanding we test hundreds of different components. And the environmentalists are taking things a little too far, in my opinion. It’s making production extremely complicated and costly. It’s not like making shoes 10 years ago. We respect the need for regulations — nobody wants to have harmful chemicals in children’s shoes — but it’s a real challenge. We have to work very hard at it and be constantly vigilant. We have a whole team here in Florida and a team overseas dedicated to this, and we talk every single morning about any new problems. We just tied up a contract with one of the major testing labs in Asia to work with them to create [an even better] system. But I don’t think it’s a challenge we’ll ever overcome because the regulations are only going to get stricter.

Looking ahead, where do you see growth opportunities with your new licenses, as well as with your existing brands?
BC:
There is still a lot of growth potential for us in the branded area. Every adult brand wants to be in the kids’ business, and they seek out companies like BBC that specialize in it. I’m looking at three brands now that I would love to have in our portfolio. We’re also very bullish about the Heelys business. It gives us an entrée into the sporting goods category, which we’re not in. We’ve developed a whole new line that will hit for holiday and we’re out selling it now. We’ve signed with new distributors around the world, and we’re already in about 50 countries. We think the brand is going to come back very strong because our product is going to be very different. Right now, we’re focusing on the wheeled shoes, but we plan to move into some more lifestyle-driven shoes down the road.

What are your hopes for BBC as you look toward the future?
BC:
We want to keep getting bigger and better, but really more better than bigger. We’d love to continue to get stronger in the branded market because it trickles down. With our strengths in building brands, we can service the mass market better. When mass retailers see our ability to make great shoes and that we work with such prestigious labels, they know they can expect top quality from us.

Could you see BBC moving into the adult business in a serious way?
BC:
We own Charles Jourdan and Robert Wayne, so we are in the women’s and men’s markets. But we don’t operate these businesses in-house. We really want to continue to focus on what we do best, and that is children’s footwear.

Have you given any more thought to your succession plans?
BC:
You know, I’m not stepping down anytime soon, but succession is something we do talk about. We’re ready for any kind of changes. We know the key people within the company who can move up to higher positions. We’re not looking outside the company at all.

And still no plans to slow down?
BC:
Nope. I really believe that retirement is death. I love what I do. I wake up in the morning, I’m healthy and happy, and that’s what matters most.

 

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