Laurie’s Shoes has been a St. Louis fixture for decades

BY JILL KASSANDER, SPECIAL TO THE JEWISH LIGHT

Amazingly enough, none of the siblings who run Laurie’s Shoes is named Laurie. This year the family-run business celebrated their 55th anniversary. They have six locations throughout St. Louis including: Birkenstock the Store — a concept store in Creve Coeur, a store in Mid Rivers Mall in St. Peters and one in St. Clair Square in Fairview Heights, Illinois. Each location has its own personality: a “Mom and Pop” feel which is exactly how the owners want it.

The first generation of the family in the business was Morris Goldman who fled from Romania. He settled in St. Louis and was a jobber for the shoe business between the wholesalers and retailers. His daughter Joan married Wally Waldman. The couple had a real passion for the shoe business and took it to the next level, opening two retail stores in 1951: one in Glendale and one in Wellston. Joan’s brother, Bob Goldman, was involved in the business at the time. His daughter Laurie was the only girl cousin at the time, so hence the name Laurie’s Shoes.

Today the company is run by Joan — Wally has passed away and her three children: Mark Waldman, Patty Baker and Scott Waldman. Though each of them has titles in the company their positions often overlap according to Scott.

The siblings are active in the St. Louis Jewish community in several congregations: Mark belongs to United Hebrew, Patty belongs to Central Reform Congregation and Scott and Joan belong to Temple Israel.

The children learned the company from the ground up and share the passion, enthusiasm and vision of their parents. Though they admit, going into the family business wasn’t the first thing on their minds after college.

Mark went to Washington University and planned to go to law school. His father’s illness brought him back to the business. Wally had a long history of rheumatoid arthritis and was confined to a wheelchair. He passed away at the age of 56.

“My father’s awareness of the business was amazing,” Mark said. “I was out of town at the time when Dad called and said he couldn’t handle this business, we had one store at the time. He asked me if I wanted to come back. I came back in the 70s and never left.”

Patty went to Washington University and majored in business and sociology. When she graduated her father did not need any help in the business. Patty began working full time at Helen Wolf, a well known clothing store. One day her father called because a manager quit and he needed her help.

“So I went to work at the Glendale store and stayed for 20 years,” said Patty. “I’ve been in the business for 30 years now. I am waiting on the grandchildren of our customers.”

Scott attended the University of Missouri – St. Louis and St. Louis University Parks College. He planned to go into meteorology. He worked for two years at an independent weather company doing forecasting for local businesses. He also worked at Six Flags for seven years.

“I was used to being around retail,” Scott said. “I began to enjoy it and get involved. It’s fun. I think all three of us inherited the passion for the business from our parents.”

Joan is as passionate about the company today as she was when it began according to her children. She drives seven days a week transferring footwear from one store to another.

“I love it,” Joan said. “I love to see the generations — we are serving the kids of kids we had as customers. I also seeing all the employees and of course, my family. My granddaughter Lynn is a cashier at one of the stores.”

Today Laurie’s Shoes is one of the larger independent retailers in the country according to Mark.

They still have their first original store on Manchester which is 8,000 square feet with tens of thousands of pairs of shoes. The company’s vast inventory is one of the secrets to their success.

The carry a huge variety of sizes and widths for women from sizes 4 to 14 in widths from AAAA through EEE and in men’s from sizes 6 to 18 in widths from A through EEEE. They carry 72 sizes of one shoe, said Mark.

The company is concerned about having a professional staff to serve their customers. Customers want to know the person making the recommendations knows what they are talking about — not just trying to make a sale. Laurie’s Shoes recently sent two of their associates to Temple University in Pennsylvania to study for certification in Pedorthics — the study of feet and footwear.

“It’s about fashion, comfort and fit,” Mark said. “This is a very hands on business and we need to really get to know the customers to meet their needs. We have aging baby boomers, children and seniors with foot problems.”

Customer service, which influences customer loyalty, is a number one priority for the siblings, their mother and all the employees. Joan, Mark, Patty and Scott all talked about waiting on the grandchildren of customers who were customers themselves as children. It is about: providing good products, having the inventory, knowing the customers, having a knowledgeable staff and keeping the local “mom and pop” feeling in each store. Cookies and water and balloons for the kids are served at all their stores.

Another secret to their success is treating each store as a separate entity.

“Despite having six locations we do run our business like a corporation,” Mark said. “We don’t buy a supply of shoes and put them into each location. We buy shoes separately for each location. Each store has a particular clientele with particular needs to be met.”

Their popular trunk shoes help show off some of their exclusive brands. It gives customers and opportunity to see everything a company has to offer in person and talk to a company representative. Laurie’s Shoes and the manufacturers offer a special gift with purchases at the trunk shows.

Two of their lines are from Israel. Adult shoes from Beautifeel and Naot are very popular according to Mark because of the consumer demand for comfort along with fit and fashion. They also carry a line of Israeli children’s shoes called Nimi. They currently have limited distribution in the United States.

The siblings already see the next generation of their family on the horizon to become part of the family business. Future plans for the company, include an expanded web presence and new store front locations. However, they know the importance of remembering where they came from according to Mark, Patty and Scott.

“We know we need to keep it fresh and different,” Mark said. “It is about providing good people on the sales floor for customer service. It’s about product: quality and quantity. It’s about keeping it personal and listening to the customer.”

For more information on Laurie’s Shoes visit their website at: www.lauriesshoes.com.

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