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The Best Foot Forward

YPO member Jacob Bishop seized the opportunity to rebrand his 40-year-old family retail business and reach a new audience.

In a successful family business, it’s common for the next generation to want to join the ranks. It only seemed fitting that YPO member Jacob Bishop, an aspiring entrepreneur and University of Miami graduate, would work for his father, the founder of the 45-year-old Mr. Alan’s shoe retail chain.

However, he and his brother Adam opted instead to strike out on their own, partnering together to open Soles Inc., a small high-end sneaker boutique in Miami’s South Beach, Florida, USA. Their venture grew into four locations in just five years. Around 2012, the brothers, now Co-presidents and CEOs of Mr. Alan’s, merged their Soles brand with their father’s chain of stores in Michigan, USA. With that came an opportunity to rebrand the company and for the brothers to make Mr. Alan’s their own.

Reviving through rebranding

At the time of the merger, Mr. Alan’s was renowned as a company driven by price point, with a “$29 or two for $50” marketing campaign on television and radio. The brothers’ retail experience, on the other hand, was in a very different market and their reach through different forms of media. “We knew premium products, the premium experience with community outreach and harder-to-find brands,” says Bishop. “So, when we took over it was only natural for us to go a more premium route with smaller footprints in the actual stores and more elevated brands.”

The retail chain started rebranding by transforming the customer experience. First, the Bishops paused the company’s aggressive advertising until the future messaging and branding could be determined. Second, the company upgraded and remodeled every existing store in Michigan to create a more upscale and engaging shopping experience. Next, they reevaluated each store’s inventory and began adding more exclusive, expensive brands to the shelves.

For a year, Mr. Alan’s was renamed Elite Mr. Alan’s to reflect the new direction of the company. Bishop says he and his brother struggled with whether or not to change the name of the company, whether it would it be easier to brand a completely new company or to rebrand one that had been in business since 1974. “At the end of the day, we realized there was so much heritage and brand equity, and the fact that we had been in business for so long was such a ‘pro,’” says Bishop. They wanted to build upon what their father had created and returned to the name Mr. Alan’s, focusing their efforts on rebranding the business model instead of the name.

Accessing new inventory

One of the challenges the Bishops faced when they took over the company was overcoming the company’s price-point image in order to attract the high-end brands they wanted to carry. “Getting new brands in our industry is one of the most important and hardest things to do,” says Bishop. “For the most part we get them through large trade shows and my father taught me how to cultivate those relationships and to be important to fewer brands instead of going wider with brands.”

Not wanting to dismantle their father’s legacy or lose the business from Mr. Alan’s consistent and loyal customer base, the retailer slowly phased out older, price-point-driven brands and replaced them with more and more higher-end brands.

Reaching a new audience

As Mr. Alan’s had been aging, so had the customer base. Reaching a younger audience was necessary for the company’s continued growth and evolution. “Rebranding, reinventing ourselves and taking advantage of social media allowed us to get that younger customer base in addition to keeping the customer base we had,” says Bishop.

Mr. Alan’s was able to capitalize on branding through social media rather than traditional TV and radio advertising. As a result, the company has been able to reach a vast and fast-moving customer base. Bishop says that social media, and Instagram in particular, is the only way the retailer can keep up with and communicate with these customers. “We can target hundreds of thousands of customers in our base with the click of a mouse or phone,” says Bishop. “If we get new product in, we can reach them to tell them and we can sell thousands of one product within minutes.”

This generates a lot of hype for the special limited-edition collaborations Mr. Alan’s has launched with Fila and Starter, as well as the arrival of other highly sought-after products. The collaborations as well as the ability to tailor inventory for each market gives Mr. Alan’s an edge over its biggest competitors, primarily national brands that blanket the country with the same products.

Evolving over time

“Compared to our competition, we’re best in breed from a community outreach standpoint, product standpoint, service standpoint,” says Bishop. “It’s something we focus on every day.”

It’s also at the very heart of the company’s mission to bring an innovative, dynamic retail experience to its customers by offering premium product, superior service and community involvement. They do so by staying committed to these four values: relationships, innovation, consistency and experience.

The brand overhaul worked. The chain expanded from 12 to 31 locations and plans to open eight more this year. The sales margin increased five percentage points; the annual turn of product went up a full point; and same store sales increased by 45 percent.

Being able to evolve with the times and neighborhoods has been the key to Mr. Alan’s success throughout its 45 year-history. “Consistently trying to innovate is one of the largest obsessions that I have as the leader of our company,” says Bishop. “The biggest challenge is trying to stay ahead of the customer or even keep up with the customer because they have so much access to information.”

Melissa Fleming has previously worked for Catchafire, Fast Company, Harper’s Bazaar, Stanford Social Innovation Review, Time Out New York Kids, Town & Country and Vogue, among others.