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Shoe Execs' Silver Lining Playbook

Some of the industry's most celebrated executives weigh in on the ups, the downs and the greatest learning experiences.

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Asher and Isack Fadlon

Photo By Courtesy of Sportie LA

Donald Pliner

Photo By Courtesy of Donald J Pliner

Isack Fadlon
Co-owner, Sportie LA

What was your biggest career mistake and how did you overcome it?
IF:
There are so many mistakes we’ve made along the way, from overbuying certain styles due to our insatiable appetite, to not investing in the right stocks. Specifically, I mean Nike Inc. From our first day of operation, we should have invested in Nike shares. I’ve learned that it’s always wise to invest in an industry and brand that you are very familiar with.


What’s been your biggest roadblock to success?
IF:
At the end of 2008, the economy changed the playing field for everyone, including us. It didn’t just hit our industry, it hit everyone. Up to that point, the sneaker industry was riding a wave where things were going well. But when the economy gets hit in such a big way, you have to think deeper and change how you function on a management level. That’s been a challenge because we have a large appetite here in terms of what we want to try and launching new brands. This recession was deeper and longer than any other one we’ve experienced in the past.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
IF:
Every day is a new challenge. In our industry, things move so fast and you always have to look to see how you can continue to develop what you’re offering. Every day I wake up and ask what’s next. The day one sits back and feels they’ve achieved everything is the day to do something else.

What remains a constant struggle for you?
IF:
How to grow in an organic way. In 27 years, we’ve had six stores plus our online store, so we’ve grown at a very methodical, slow pace. We don’t go out and seek funding. We do everything on our own, even though we’ve been approached by others to expand to the East Coast and the Midwest. My dad, who was not only my best friend but also my guide, taught me that. When we were opening in San Diego, he supported us and was there to help make sure we were ready and had everything in order first.

Do you regret turning them down?
IF:
The opportunities haven’t felt right. You can’t just take your model and replicate it. If you don’t do it right, it just waters down your brand. At the end of the day, the two decades you’ve taken to build can vanish. That’s always been a fear of ours.

Bob Goldman
Founder & CEO, Cels Enterprises Inc. and Chinese Laundry

What was your biggest career mistake and how did you overcome it?
BG:
Getting into the shoe business. I’m involved in a lot of other businesses, in real estate, in finance — any business is better than the shoe business.

Why do you say that?
BG:
It’s a very complex business. Footwear is a challenge every day and every year. There are 35 components that go into making a shoe. Getting all those components into production and according to schedule, while ensuring quality is there and the sizes are right, are all challenges that shoe people have to deal with. The only industry more complicated, as I understand it, is the women’s undergarment business.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
BG:
Developing people who understand the business and understand where to go with it, and how to fit in. You can’t have a business this size as a one-man show. It’s all about structure, organization and training.

Has any deal you signed gone south?
BG:
The Modu Mode deal [in the 1970s]. It was just such a big loss. There was a $5 profit on each unit, and on an order for 1 million units, I thought I’d pocketed $5 million. But the market keeps moving. It’s part of doing business. We all have ups and downs. You just have to keep rolling ahead and focus to be successful.

Have you made any other professional errors that stick out in your mind?
BG:
We had a factory in Los Angeles in the 1990s that didn’t work out. Over the years, [manufacturing has moved from] America to Europe to Taiwan to China. It’s a challenge getting people to help you do all this. You have to deal with people in all these factories that you work with. [And it’s tough because] every country has its own idiosyncrasies. They’re not all the same.

Donald Pliner
Creative director, Donald J Pliner

What was your biggest career mistake and how did you overcome it?
DP:
Closing my Beverly Hills, Calif., store. The real problem [wasn’t the strength of the business] but that [the street where the store was located] was converted from a two-way street into a one-way. Business fell 60 percent overnight and I was losing a lot of money for one-and-a-half years, but my ego kept it open. Every time I walk down that street [now I think] it’s really a shame. It was on the same block as where I opened my first store in 1967, so there was some heritage there.

What have you been most humbled by?
DP:
In 2008, [when the financial crisis hit and retail sales plunged], when many people were declaring bankruptcy, I should have made the same decision. I didn’t because I was trying to protect a lot of people who were working for me and had been working for me for more than 20 years. But now they all seem to have forgotten about it. I should have protected myself.

How have your financial troubles impacted you and your passion for the business?
DP:
You lose a little bit of your self-esteem each time. It’s very difficult when banks don’t loan you money. The number of banks that have consolidated today makes it more difficult.

Is there anything you would have done different?
DP:
I probably would’ve been more positive about how strong I really was [as a designer]. When bad things start happening you start losing faith in yourself, but you should never do that.

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