How 125-Year-Old Schuler Shoes Keeps Growing
Had none of his four children been interested in the family firm, John Schuler’s fourth-generational run as Schuler Shoes CEO would have likely been his family’s final stand in the shoe business.
Instead, he said, each of the next generation remains on board as the Maple Grove-based company just finished its 125th year in business. At a time in which independent shoe stores are shuttering across the country, Schuler Shoes is adding a 10th brick and mortar location in the Twin Cities this week and forecasts 8 to 12 percent revenue growth for the foreseeable future.
“It’s the American dream,” said Schuler, who added that his family expects to keep the business going for at least another 40 years.
On Wednesday, Schuler’s newest store will open at 2081 Ford Parkway in Highland Park, with a grand opening celebration to follow March 26-29.
The business Vincent Schuler founded in 1889 shortly after he emigrated from Austria is now a $40 million company with 225 employees. John Schuler, now 70, has not only resisted selling out, he’s also kept urges for further growth in check.
“We’re not trying to grow real aggressively. Too fast growth is just too hard to manage,” he said. This stance firmed up in the last three to four years as the company’s volume climbed. When the business wasn’t quite as big, a 20 percent increase was manageable. Now, Schuler said, if increases are too steep, the company would have to scramble to hire and train even more employees. “It just piles up,” he said. But, he adds, if you’re not growing, you’re going backwards.
And keeping an independent shoe store afloat is nothing to take for granted. A Star Tribune profile of the company last year cited a figure by the National Shoe Retailer Association that 8,000 such stores are still alive in the U.S.—down considerably from 40 years ago. To stay strong, Schuler said his business doubled down on service. That’s something he said too many retailers pivoted away from.
A major web overhaul also coincided with Schuler Shoes’ big anniversary last year. Many of the 100-plus brands it sells in stores can be bought online and Schuler said the store’s website is better updated to reflect what’s in stock. “It hasn’t been simple, but definitely worth it.”
Still, its physical stores remain top priority.
“You can’t do what we do on the Internet. It just isn’t possible. If you came into one of our stores, sat down and hung out a couple hours, you’ll see people come in and spend one or two hours trying on shoes. Some people may try on 40, 50 pairs of shoes.”