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In Person: Q&A With FFANY's Joe Moore

The executive reflects on a footwear career that spans more than 50 years.

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Joe Moore

Joe Moore

Photo By Jayme Thornton

Joe Moore has had a life-long affinity for Hollywood glamour.

It's only fitting, then, that his life reads like a screenplay — a script that's taken him from farming to fashion.

Raised in the fields of Indiana, Moore, now 75, said he learned early on the value of hard work. But it was during his first, post-high school job selling children's footwear at Trippets Shoes in Tulsa, Okla., that he gained the most valuable lesson: the power of relationships.

Moore's mentor and Trippets owner Byron Franklin encouraged him to enroll in college and join many organizations. The thinking was that if he learned how to navigate different social circles, it would be a skill that would serve him for life.

"That translated into the real world," Moore recalled.

After his sophomore year of college, he put his people skills to work. In 1957, Moore and some friends went for a summer road trip to Los Angeles that became what he calls "an extended stay." The ambitious youth landed a job selling women's shoes at the now-defunct Bullock's and quickly rose through the ranks. Just six months after joining, he became one of the youngest buyers for the retailer.

Moore's passion for shoes gained him recognition within the industry. Eventually, Neiman Marcus' Stanley Marcus came calling. From there, Moore's influence as a buyer — and his exposure to the global market — increased rapidly.

"Shoe buyers in those days were different than they are today. They ran the business," said Moore, who takes credit for bringing the Salvatore Ferragamo and Charles Jourdan brands to the department store.

After nearly six years at Neiman's, Moore had an opportunity to lead French fashion label Charles Jourdan as president and CEO of its U.S. business. "It was a tough job," he recalled. But it also was one at which Moore excelled. Under his 19-year watch, the firm grew to 50 branded stores and $100 million in annual sales.

Things were going well, and then Saks Fifth Avenue offered "a perfect opportunity" to work as a consultant on special projects in 1990. Moore accepted.

There, the executive wrote business plans for retail expansion and opened pop-up shops in stores across the U.S. But it was Saks' excess inventory that led Moore to his biggest professional accomplishment: creating the Off 5th retail concept.

"We had two clearance stores, one in Florida and one in Philadelphia, and Phil Miller, a great visionary for Saks, told me that those stores could be something bigger," Moore said.

Charged with a new task, he devised a plan to expand the concept. Moore said he came up with the name, the logo and even negotiated real estate deals. The result was $400 million in sales within its first three years.

"We were in the right place at the right time," he said. "It was a new idea, and the outlet business was just starting."

After nearly a decade, Moore retired from Saks, and in 1999 joined FFANY.

Here, the executive talks about the changes he's seen in footwear, the future of FFANY and what he'll do after his planned retirement in 2014.

You've been in the footwear business for more than 50 years. What's the biggest change?
JM:
Nothing has been bigger than production going to China. Made in Spain used to be a bad name, which it's clearly not today. If it says "made in Italy," you might as well outline it in gold because it's so rare. That doesn't mean they are not making good value in China today, but with what's happening with the sourcing and increases in price and with their economy and relationship with the U.S. government, nobody knows where China is going to be in 10 years. Production may be in India or South America, but right now, China is still the biggest. That's been the most dramatic change in footwear.

What is the state of today's consumer?
JM:
When it comes to shoes, they are very good. What's interesting is that so many companies want to be in the high-end part of the business. It's such a small piece of the business, but the prestige that comes along with it is irresistible to people. And women are paying the price for those shoes, which is a good thing for the footwear industry. I love the space and the recognition department stores are giving to footwear. It didn't used to exist.

Joe Moore

For better or worse, what changes in the department store business stand out the most?
JM:
I love what's happening right now in department stores. They are giving the category a lot more floor space and showing the necessary interest in the shoes. When I was a buyer at Neiman Marcus, shoes were respected, but at most department stores in that era, shoes were secondary. For some reason, Stanley Marcus liked them. He made it important and would invest in the shoe business. Today, with the better footwear category and after all the retail consolidations, everybody works from a matrix and has margin guarantees with vendors. That didn't exist in my time. If you couldn't sell it, you didn't buy it.

Are there certain brands no longer in existence you'd like to see someone bring back?
JM:
Yes. There are certain American brands. David Evins was a very important brand at Neiman Marcus. Herbert Levine was also important, as was Erica Shoes. They were made here in New York.

During your 13 years at the helm, what's been the toughest part about running FFANY?
JM:
Dates are always the biggest challenge. FFANY has the four best dates today, which accommodate the needs of the manufacturing calendar. That is always subject to movement. It hasn't moved in a few years, but that is always a challenge.

How have trade shows changed over the years?
JM:
The biggest change was the rise and fall of WSA. It became an ego trip, with all the big booths and huge expenditures. When WSA reached its peak, it was costing everybody a fortune to show their shoes. It was like a show-and-tell, but not many people were buying shoes there. Brands were basically image building. Now they can show the image of their companies at their showrooms in New York. Just look at what the Jimlar, H.H. Brown and Schwartz & Benjamin companies have done in New York.

What's the future of FFANY?
JM:
FFANY will be alive, healthy and continue doing what it does. And depending on who's running it, it will have a bigger philanthropic side to it. I hope the education piece with Ars Sutoria also develops. [For more on Ars Sutoria, see page 30.]

You've said you will officially step down from FFANY in 2014. What's your retirement plan?
JM:
I have five children and six grandchildren. My oldest son is 55 and my youngest son is 17. I've designed my retirement so that I keep working until my 17-year-old graduates from high school. I've worked for many years, and I'm anxious to get to know my children again.

What's your best trait as a boss?
JM:
I try to be a creative leader. I'm always striving to add value to what we do. I have the luxury of not being beaten up for the bottom line, therefore, I can think freely about looking for new ideas to improve the industry as a whole.

Who have you admired in footwear?
JM:
Without question, I've admired Stanley Marcus and Roland Jourdan. I even introduced them to each other in 1968. I've been very fortunate, having worked with a lot of independents, Bullock's, Stanley Marcus, Phil Miller at Saks, Byron Franklin back in Tulsa, Okla., and Ron Fromm — these are all very successful, personable people who cared for their people and educated me a lot. I've had the luxury of working with some great heads of companies in this industry over the years.

What is your proudest professional accomplishment?
JM:
Each stage was so different because of my age and the responsibilities I was given at the time. In terms of where I had the most influence, it would be at Off 5th. That was a business built from scratch. The roots came from Saks' two clearance stores. But that was a business plan we executed well, and other people kept it going even better. I think I've [shown] more of Joe Moore at FFANY; it's been a feel good thing. We've tried to give added value and keep a shoe show in New York City. It's the best place for the industry. The most important people are here, the showrooms are here and you see fashion here.