Meet Ken Sollie

Ken Sollie

First appearance gives you the impression Ken grew up on the California coast, surfing in the sunshine. So, it surprised me to learn that he was born in southern Alabama before moving to Alaska as a child. A career in the shoe industry gave Ken the opportunity to make his way to the golden coast and have the lifestyle that includes all the things that matter most to him. I caught up with Ken, at his home, on one of those rare days in between trade shows and meetings with buyers.

How did you get your start in the shoe industry?

I got my start working at Nordstrom in Anchorage, Alaska. I began the trade stocking shelves.  Eventually, I worked my way up to shoe department manager.   When the opportunity arose, I moved from Alaska to open and manage Nordstrom shoe departments throughout Southern California and eventually became a buyer for the department store.  After about 15 years, I became a rep  and began selling lines to retailers.

I enjoy working with independent, family owned and operated stores. My experience gives me the ability to consult with buyers and shop owners on their business management, merchandising, and window displays.   I have a responsibility to them because I can affect their business for good or bad. So, it’s never about just getting the order. I want to be more than a one hit wonder in their stores. I want to have a lasting presence there.

Tell me more about the brand you currently represent?

I represent Latigo, a label under the Footwear Unlimited Company. Latigo embodies vintage, chic designs and a cool, raw, leather vibe.   It weaves together superior materials, stylish design and lasting comfort. The company is managed by a father/son team with solid Midwestern values and a respect for family.   It’s a great company.

What do you love about your job?

I love a lot about my job; the friendships I’ve developed with retailers and wholesalers, the travel to stores and tradeshows and helping stores achieve success. At the heart of it, it is a business that connects people. I like to be out there talking to people. I get to do that every day in this job.

How long have you been coming to TRU Show?                                               

I’ve been coming to TRU Show since its beginning. It’s a unique show that really provides a space for independent merchandisers. The show is organized by similar brand styles. So, retailers can easily browse new brands for their stores. The show layout with individual show rooms reminds me of the days when stores advertised with big window displays. Each exhibitor can set up their room to show off their lines and the retailers get to window shop the whole show.

What has been the biggest change in the shoe industry since you began?                                               

The Internet. Stores have to evolve to compete in the age of internet retailers. While the brick and mortar stores can provide excellent customer service, their customers are also prepared to shop for the best price. So, stores need to be better informed who they are competing with for the best retail price.


Bare Your Soul

What is your most treasured possession?

I don’t place much value in material things.  The most valuable thing to me is my family.

What inspires you?

Happiness.

What is your favorite time of day?

Mornings.

What historical figure would you like to meet?

Elvis.

What are you currently reading?

Unbroken, by Laura Hillenbrand.

What is your least favorite word?

Yeah.

What is your favorite city to travel to?

Seattle. 

Who would play you in a film about your life?

Bruce Willis.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Breathing Underwater.

What would you do on a day off?

Go Surfing.

What is your guilty pleasure?

Red Wine.

Where was your first job?

McDonald’s.

What sound do you love?

The Ocean.

What is your favorite pair of shoes?

My OluKai’s.

 

Thanks Ken for taking the time to talk with us.  Catch up with Ken and view the Latigo Brand at our next TRU Show event.

Meet Joe Siegal

During his career, Joe Siegal has worked as a shoe buyer and salesperson for over 50 years. As a professional in this industry for over half a century, he could author his own history on the shoe business. So, I felt fortunate to sit down with Joe in his show room on the final day of TRU Show in San Francisco this past August. At age 80, Joe is full of wisdom, energy, and has a terrific sense of humor.  Enjoy reading about this TRU Soul.

Joe, how did you get started in this industry? 

I started out in retail while I was going through college. I traveled the west coast as a buyer for footwear distributors in Los Angeles. Around 1958, I joined California Magdesian Bros. and represented them for almost 55 years. I retired for a couple of years to help my wife who had knee surgery. But, David Tate Shoes asked me to come back and represent their line and I happily took the opportunity.

Tell me about the David Tate brand?

The David Tate line includes women’s comfort casuals from flats to heels. We warehouse everything in Los Angeles. So, we can offer great service and the full range of sizes and widths. Many of our classic patterns have been in the line for years. Our products have broad distribution in the US and overseas in Australia, Scotland and England and are available at small retail stores to department stores and ever increasing online sales.

David Tate is a fun, family oriented company. It is run by 4 brothers, all of whom are great business people. They are also great to work with. David cooks lunch for the employees every day in the office which has been converted to a kitchen. He’s a great cook and very health conscious.

What do you love about your job?                                               

I value the friendships I’ve made over the years. You don’t lose friends in this business. It’s a very small industry. I also enjoy the challenge of working with people to enhance their business wherever possible.

If you continue to be active, the odds of maintaining a healthy and interesting life improve. I check Forbes every morning. If I’m not in it, I go to work.

How long have you been coming to TRU Show?

I’ve been coming since it started.

TRU Show answered a need. Not every buyer goes to the big shows. So, this regional show provides an opportunity for local buyers to shop for next season’s products. It’s a well run business.

When I pack for TRU Show my car is always full of samples. If my wife wants to go with me to a show, she has to run alongside.

Does your wife travel with you often?

She used to travel with me. Now, she has a life of her own at home. We’ll have been married 58 years. We have 3 kids and 6 grandkids. We all got together recently to celebrate my 80th birthday with brunch at the Four Seasons in Westlake. My family is very important to me.

What’s been the biggest change you’ve noticed in the shoe industry over the years?

The advent of the internet has added greatly to the industry. Traditional stores need to find a way to compete in the age of internet shopping.


Bare Your Soul

What is your most treasured possession?

My Freezer.  I’m a fisherman.  Every year I spend 10 days on a fishing boat from San Diego to Cabo San Lucas.  We hire a captain and cook and fish morning to night.  On my last trip, I caught 10 yellow fin tuna.  I came home with over 350 lbs. of filleted fish.

What is your favorite time of day?

I’m an early riser and I run every morning (from the bed to the bathroom).  My favorite time of year is spring and summer where it’s light later in the day.

What are you currently reading?

I just finished Jersey Boys.  We belong to a movie group.  So, we read the book and see the movie together.

What is your favorite word or phrase?

“I will.”

What is your favorite city to travel to?

Kauai, Hawaii and Carpinteria, California. 

Who would play you in a film about your life?

My Son, Steven.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

I love to fly.

What sound to you love?

The Violin.

What are you wearing on your feet?

Mephisto. I also like SAS and Johnston and Murphy.

Joe, thank you for taking the time to talk with us.

When he’s not fishing the open seas, you can reach Joe and learn more about the David Tate line at (805)570-7332 or jhsiegal@aol.com or meet up with him at one of our next TRU Show events

Meet Chris Carpenter

Chris Carpenter pictured with Kendra Terlouw and Eric Morris

As an independent shoe rep who represents 8 – 12 different lines at a time, Chris Carpenter, really knows the market trends in this industry. He  loves his life on the road visiting retail outlets throughout the western United States. We caught up with him at his home as he caught up on some rest and relaxation before his next trip.

 

 

 

Chris, tell me about the lines you represent. 

I represent a broad array of shoe lines. The majority of the lines are from Europe.  They are quality comfort and fashion brands from Italy, Portugal, Spain and Germany. I’m also representing some Chinese brands where the quality and design are continually getting better and better. Basically, I’m always looking for hot, new lines that will fit into my portfolio. I don’t want my brands to overlap or compete with each other. I really enjoy launching new lines in stores and regions they haven’t been before.

How did you get started in this industry?

I started out working in the JC Penney shoe department. I’ve worked at Kids Footlocker and as a shoe department manager at Nordstrom. I moved to southern California and eventually began working for Laurevan Shoe Corp. I thought, ‘I could be selling out there’ and just started doing it.

How long have you been coming to TRU Show?

I’ve been with TRU Show for about 8 years. It’s a great show. For a lot of us shoe reps, it’s the first show of the season. We can use it as a fact finding event. I see what’s hot and what’s not and get a great head start to guide me for the season. There’s a great camaraderie at the show. People look forward to getting together at this show.

I also see more variety in the accounts that come to TRU show and I definitely have more access to the boutique customers.

What do you love about your job?                                               

I love a lot about my job. Working for smaller companies, I can really make a difference. It’s rewarding launching a new line and seeing it grow. I also love to travel to the stores; being on the road, with the buyers, in their stores and getting to know how they do business.

 


Bare Your Soul

What is your most treasured possession?

Home

What inspires you?

Hard Work

What is your favorite time of day?

Mid-Day

What is your favorite musical group or artist?

Jay-Z

What are you currently reading?

I always have a copy of MacWorld.  I want to see what’s new at apple that can help with my work.

What do you like to do on your day off?

I race horses.

What is your least favorite word?

No.

What is your favorite city to travel to?

New York. 

Who would play you in a film about your life?

Denzel Washington

What single thing would improve the quality of your life?

More time.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Save the world from bad.

What sound do you love?

Fresh Snowfall

What are you wearing on your feet?

I wear everything, but right now, I’m wearing flip flops.

 

Thanks Chris for taking the time to talk with us.

You can catch up with Chris and the lines he represents at one of our upcoming TRU Show Events.

Chris currently represents Coque Terra, Chocolat Blu, Eric Michael, Fidji, Fox River Socks, Klogs, Kravings by Klogs, La Plume, Lirio, RJ Fuzzies, Telic and Worishofer.

Meet Chris Fox at The Shoe Box

The Fox Family at The Shoe Box

Steve,  Ron and Chris Fox

Chris and the Fox Family keep up the tradition of providing excellent footwear to generations at the Shoe Box.

Chris, please tell us a little bit about your store.
The Shoe Box is a family run business. My father, Ron Fox, started this store 28 years ago and it continues to be a family run business with my brother, Steve Fox, and our wives. We are a Men’s and Women’s comfort shoe store with high quality brands such as New Balance, Dansko, Naot, Birkenstock, SAS and others. We are one of the last independent shoe stores in a mall but our customers are very loyal. I like to think of ourselves as being in a hospitality business. We are taking care of people.
What are customers looking for when they come to your store?
Our customers are looking for comfort first and style second. So, when they come to our store we measure feet, the way it used to be done. We want to make sure they have the right fit and we are flexible with trends. We find them a solution for their foot care needs.
What motivates you?
We are not just selling shoes, we are helping people. And we have a strong presence in the community. Our customers know this means something more to us. We are a family in this community, so we support little leagues and school yearbooks. We want to have longevity with our customers.
How long have you been coming to TRU Show?
We’ve been coming since day 1 of TRU Show San Francisco. TRU Show is local to us. We are at the show the entire time, with appointments every hour on the hour. People give us attention at TRU Show. Because it’s a more personal show, we get a lot done. And it is convenient. We stay at the hotel where the show takes place so after show hours, we have a great opportunity to mingle and network with other retailers.


Bare Your Soul

What inspires you?

My family.

What historical figure do you admire?

My Dad, Ron Fox. 

What is your favorite time of day?

Morning.

What is your favorite book?

The Bible.

What do you like to do on your day off?

We get a day off?

What is your least favorite word?

Can’t.

What city do you like to travel to?

Eugene, Oregon for the scenic beauty.

Who would play you in a film about your life?

Paul Giametti

Was your first job in a shoe store?

(Laughing) No, I was the last kid of 4 and I said I’d never do it.  My first job was a bag boy at a grocery store.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Flying.

What are you wearing on your feet?

Tsubo.

Thank you Chris for taking the time to talk with us.

You can visit Chris and his family at their store, The Shoe Box, 3401 Dale Street, Modesto, California or Catch him at TRU Show San Francisco.

 

Meet Karen Smythe

 

A native to Australia, Karen relocated to California just 4 years ago. With a love for sunshine and the ocean, Karen had no problem making the golden state her home.   She travels throughout the west selling Fit Flop Shoes and exploring different regions of the state.

 

 

 

How did you begin your career in the footwear industry?

I started in this business about 16 years ago working with shoe distributors in Australia and New Zealand. When Fit Flop began in the UK in 2007, the company I worked for became the first international distributor of Fit Flop. After I relocated to the US, I approached Fit Flop and joined them here on the west coast.

Tell me about the Fit Flop Brand…

Fit Flop is a standalone brand. We have a unique place among comfort and fashion styles. The tri-density midsole technology offers support/cushioning similar to a running shoe but it’s also a cute sandal. We have a growing loyal customer base.  Once you become a fan of Fit Flop you’re a fan for life!

What do you love about your job?

I love the travel, the people interaction, the opportunity to be part of the growth of the brand season after season, and helping customers and retailers decide what’s going to work for them.

What has been your experience with TRU Show?

Oh, it’s such a great show. I’ve been to the last 4 shows. It’s a very personal and interactive show. The room format gives me focused attention with the retailers. We can spend more one on one time to plan their order without distractions.

 


Bare Your Soul

What is your favorite band?

INXS.  They graduated from my school.  Growing up, we’d take off school, go down to their studio and hang out with them.

What inspires you?

People doing extraordinary things against the odds.

What is your favorite time of day?

I’m a morning person… I start fading in the afternoon.

What are you currently reading?

The Gods of Guilt by Michael Connely.

What is your favorite word?

Yes!

What do you like to do on your day off?

I like to get in the sun and relax.  I’m definitely a beach girl.

What is your favorite city to travel to?

In the US, it would have to be New York.  Of course outside the US, I have to include Sydney because it’s home and my family is there.

Who would play you in a film about your life?

Cate Blanchet.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Wine and Chocolate.

What was your first job?

Flipping Burgers.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

I’d like to see the future.

What sound do you love?

Waves crashing.

What are you wearing on your feet?

 My Whirl Fit Flops in Sesame.

Come meet Karen and preview the next season’s line from Fit Flop at our next TRU Show event.

Meet Debra Hendsch

Debra Hendsch is part of a growing collection of accessories sales people that find TRU Show to be a successful place to meet current clients and grow their client network. Hard at work, Debra made time for us to get the scoop on her career and current role selling bags for baggalini and Sven.

 

Tell me about baggalini?

The baggalini company was started by Dixie and Anne, both flight attendants for Delta. In their line of work they wanted a stylish, light weight bag that could help them stay organized while on the road, so they designed and sold their product in the busy travel lounge to colleagues in the airline industry. As the travel business evolved and sales grew, they began to sell their product into the wholesale market.

In 2011 they were purchased by RG Barry, a developer and marketer of accessory lifestyle products that provide fashion and function.

You also represent Sven Design Bags.  What are some of the features that make their bags unique…?

Sven Design began in Berkeley over 40 years ago. These are primarily US made bags with supple soft leather that endure over time. We like to say that these bags don’t wear out, they wear in. Our customers value longevity in their handbags. The style, functionality, and craftsmanship make Sven bags timeless.

How long have you been coming to TRU Show?                                               

I’ve been with TRU Show for about 5 years. It’s a great place to meet with current customers and find new sales opportunities. It’s a civilized, convenient place for me and the buyer to conduct business. The viewing area down stairs is a great way to demonstrate to buyers who is at the show and what products are available to them.

How did you begin in this industry?

In the mid 1980s, I was a gift rep. I gravitated to bags and travel. I liked the consistency of the travel and luggage market. The people who work in this industry are a tight group of people who I’ve gotten to know and trust.

What do you love about your job?

I enjoy the long term relationships I’ve developed through this line of work. I’m also a mom and having my own ability to plan my schedule was invaluable to me. Every day is different. I get to travel and encounter different work experiences each day.

 


Bare Your Soul

What is your most treasured possession?

My health.

What inspires you?

Kindness, Beauty, Family & Friendships.

What historical figure do you admire?

It would have to be a woman… Hillary Clinton.

What is your favorite time of day?

Evening!

What are you currently reading?

Edna O’ Brien, A memoir of a county girl.

What do you like to do on your day off?

Workout, Hike.  I like to be physically active.

What is your favorite city to travel to?

Paris. 

What word do you hate?

Awesome… overused!

What was your first job?

I was a retail clerk at Halle’s, a department store in Cleveland, Ohio.

What was the worst job you ever had?

Catering.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

Fly.

What sound do you love?

The Ocean.

 

Come meet Debra and preview the next season’s line from baggalini and Sven Designs at our next TRU Show event.

 

Meet Mark Napior

It’s a typical Sunny California Day. Mark is pumped full of caffeine, the trunks of Naot samples are packed and he’s ready for the 4 hour drive home from Visalia to Sacramento. He’s eager to get back to his wife and precious little girl. As he embarked on this long, lonely journey home; he plugged in his Bluetooth and took some time to chat with me about his life in the shoe business.

 

How long have you been in the shoe business?

It’s been 7 years now. I was representing some outdoor sport companies and also working part-time in an office job when a colleague introduced me to the Naot rep in Northern California who was getting ready to retire.  I’ve been with Naot ever since.”

Tell me about Naot.  What makes their shoes unique in the industry?

The Naot Company is based in Israel. Since 1942, they’ve designed and manufactured sandals, clogs, boots, and work shoes out of their factory in Israel. They don’t outsource their manufacturing. They differentiate themselves from other comfort shoes because of the unique “negative” foot bed. Similar to stepping on sand, they are soft, absorb shock and alleviate pain. Travel reviews have picked Naot as “the one shoe to take on vacation” because they provide all day comfort and are fashionable enough to wear into the evening.

They also listen to their retailers about product design and ideas.  I just came back from a design meeting where they invited a small selection of reps and retailers to choose the styles and colors for 2015.  My retailer, who has one small store but does a good business with Naot, was blown away at the amount of input that they were able to give towards the new line.  It was amazing to be able to be part of that process with one of my retailers.

What do you love about your job?                                               

I love to work with the small, local retail stores. I have great relationships with store owners. Every day and every store is different. I enjoy the opportunity to serve each shop’s unique needs.

How long have you been coming to TRU Show?

It’s been about 7 years. TRU Show is more relaxed than the big national shows. It’s more personal and a hands-on place to work with people outside their stores. I also love being around other sales reps.


Bare Your Soul

What is your most treasured possession?

My Daughter, SaraBeth

What inspires you?

People pursuing their passion

What historical figure do you admire?

Theodore Roosevelt

What is your favorite time of day?

Early Morning! I like to get up and get things done!

What is your least favorite word?

Serendipity

What are you currently reading?

START by Jon Acuff.  He is, hands down, the most real and relatable motivational author I’ve ever read.

What do you like to do on your day off?

Spending time with my wife and daughter

What is your favorite city to travel to?

Amador City, it’s an hour away from home, but there is a restaurant there called Buffalo Chips that makes the most incredible pie. 

Who would play you in a film about your life?

I’ve been told that I look like Ryan Gosling.  But, I’d probably say that Jim Parsons (Sheldon from Big Bang Theory) is a better representation of me.

What was your first job?

I was a paper boy.  I loved getting up early.

What was the worst job you ever had?

I temped at a bulk mail office.  I spent a whole day stuffing envelopes too small for their contents.

If you had a super power, what would it be?

What makes you think I don’t have a superpower?  But, I can’t tell you what it is… it’s more powerful if I keep it a secret.

Do you have a guilty pleasure?

Listening to the Beastie Boys

What are you wearing on your feet?

Naot of course!

 

Come meet Mark and preview the Naot line at our next TRU Show event