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Nick V. interviews Paul Grangaard, CEO, Allen Edmonds

Discussion in 'Classic Menswear' started by Nick V., Sep 20, 2011.

  1. TheWGP

    TheWGP Well-Known Member

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    Just catching up with this posted stuff that I missed... ^^;

    I've had a PM conversation directly with Paul over on AAAC, and seen him both there and on SF responding to customers and genuinely trying to get feedback. Designs have been altered or selected based in part directly from the feedback on these fora. If that's not listening to your customers I don't know what is. My impression of Paul is that he is the CEO and he's aware of the responsibilities with that, but that he genuinely cares about the company in a way that's surprised many people both inside and outside AE. There's no way he ever intended to end up heading the company, and the responsible, successful way he's managed it has been key to their growth and "recrafting" as a company, as an earlier poster put it. Sure, he has to be somewhat circumspect in interviews - he's the CEO and he's right that one big advantage of being private is that not all moves have to be up on the scoreboard for everyone to see. At this point, though, I think AE has earned a certain amount of trust - as someone put it earlier, 9 out of 10 things they've done recently have been good decisions

    That Dalton boot at the end is one of the most phenomenal products AE makes in my opinion... now if only a shell model were to pop up! :devil:
     
  2. TyCooN

    TyCooN Well-Known Member

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  3. AlexE

    AlexE Well-Known Member

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    First Nick: Thanks for putting the effort into this!

    One hint: Interviews are usually more interesting if you mix up some critical questions with uncritical or neutral ones. This is something missing in this interview. For my taste this whole thing is too much of an unchallenged hooray on the work of the Paul as CEO. He might have done a good job in general and I am in no position to doubt that (I have not seen any financials and KPIs and doubt they are available for AE in the first place). However, one point, which should have been disputed, is the "our quality is better than ever". Frankly, I have not talked to anyone (sellers, cobblers, long-term customers) who does not think that quality of materials and manufacturing have declined over the past few years when Paul was in charge.
     
    Last edited: Oct 13, 2011
  4. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Thanks for the feedback. I think if you were to monitor posts here and on Ask Andy going back several years. the most consistent assessments of declining quality at AE preceed my tenure by quite a bit. As a board member and customer in 2006-07, I agreed. Raising our quality consistency was therefore one of the first main initiatives we pursued aggressively starting with my arrival in August 2008. As I described in the interview, we built a much larger QC team and now utilize more sophisticated processes and statistical analyses under the leadership of an senior outside hire with significant QC experience. We've also released the passion and knowledge for superior quality of some key employees who have decades of shoemaking experience. Raising the bar again here was a welcomed move, I'm glad to say. Fortunately, we do have empirical data about quality levels in 2011. We just had our annual meeting at the Nordstrom Quality Center to review our performance. As you all know, Nordstrom sells thousands of our shoes and their quality expectations on behalf of their customers are extremely high. Their Quality Center performs an intense review of all their major suppliers, utilizing store personnel observations, product returns statistics, inspections of returned products, customer complaint data and new product testing. Our quality scores for the last year were the highest in our history and the NQC leaders consider us an exemplary supplier, worthy of emulation. Our own customer complaints as a % of shipped shoes and sales in our stores are also at recent historical lows, real low. We have had some specific issues nag us this year as we added over 100 people to our Port Washington production lines and also put stress on our heel and sole suppliers with significantly increased orders to keep up with demand. We appreciate customers holding us to high standards and pointing out when we fall short, so we know to fix the problems. We're not perfect, but we're pursuing perfection in order to get as close to it as we can. We're working to turn around every opinion of those you talked to. We're going for 100%.

    Thanks,
    Paul
     
  5. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Sorry to disappoint you. I've gotten to know Nick personally over the past couple of years (I sought his advice) and thought I knew what he was asking. I do write my own material, so don't blame our PR people for it. I don't know how you approach leadership or if you are in charge of a company culture, but the things I listed are part of the history and fabric of this place. People do like them and our turnover is very low. As for pay levels and job security, the success in turning around declining sales (we're up about 25% so far this year and were up 20% last year -- at current pace this year will be a new record for AE) have meant people's income is up substantially for their work here. And we've added a number of new employees, many of whom had been laid off from other manufacturers. We do provide solid health insurance also. As for your assessment of my motivations and "all business private equity guy" approach (I was in PE with a 20 person firm for all of 3 years), all I can say is I'm sure we've never met nor have you spoken to anyone who would know. My favorite number in our stats is our employment growth, my second favorite is our sales growth because customer choices determine how we're doing. I realize that most business books about "execution","KPIs" and management techniques don't talk the way we do. I think it's how long term successful businesses run, though -- focused first of all on product and on the customers who buy it and the employees who make it, on the suppliers behind it and on the community that supports the company. It's capitalism, so we need to make a fair profit. Taking good care of the product development and the other groups of people first, however, usually works out very well for the owners as a derivative effect. Sorry if that seems fake to you, but it's how we run here.

    Paul
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2011
  6. jrd617

    jrd617 Well-Known Member

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    ...
     
    Last edited: Oct 17, 2011
  7. Nick V.

    Nick V. Well-Known Member

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    Thought I should comment here....
    First, I am not a journalist nor do I profess to be. I am simply a guy in the shoe business.
    Over my 35 years in the business I have had the privilege of meeting many upstanding people in the business. So, although my interviews do not meet the standards of traditional journalism, they are not intended that way. The intent is to share with SF by bringing out the realism of some of these people and the true passion for excellence they strive for. Nothing more.
    While the feedback has been overwhelmingly positive the PM's, phone calls and, comments from SF members that have become Friends are greatly appreciated as well.
    As Paul mentioned, we've gotten to know each other personally over the past couple of years. I also know salespeople, store managers and, have had the pleasure of meeting other executives at AE. They ALL share the same passion, commitment, energy and, excitement for the brand that Paul does. Something that's very rare these days. I can only attribute that to the Guy at the top.
    When I read a post from a guy that admits he "has no experience with them (AE) or knowledge of their history etc" then trashes the man in a personal way, and his motives, boggles my mind. This while hiding behind the guise " This is not in any way meant to be against AE"
    So, let me get it straight you never owned a pair of their shoes, have no knowledge of anything yet think it's fair to post your opinion including your accusation's and insults?? Yes, we are all aware of CEO's, Presidents, MD's that subscribe to the culture you refereed to. However, for you to categorize a person admitting you have know knowledge is unfair speculation on you're part.
    Accordingly, I consider your comments as merrit-less, reckless, and, have zero credibility. They offer nothing constructive with any basis.
    You may want to attain some knowledge and then comment.
    That is of course, if you happen to read this post "by chance".
     
  8. adt 1984

    adt 1984 Member

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    Nice job Nick. What a comprehensive interview. It was a combination of GQ meets Harvard Business Review. Keep up the excellent work
     
  9. AlexE

    AlexE Well-Known Member

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    Well maybe I have just been lucky with my purchases in 2007/08/09 and unlucky with my purchases in 2010/11. With the latter ones I have seen a decline in leather quality, shaping of the soles (not a great sign if you need to see a cobbler to grind of heel material in order for the rear of the heel to touch the floor) and especially durability. However, maybe I only got the ones which slipped through QC.

    What really irritated me in your statement is following quote: "We have had some specific issues nag us this year as we added over 100 people to our Port Washington production lines and also put stress on our heel and sole suppliers with significantly increased orders to keep up with demand." Frankly, you must have been very naive if you believed that stressing suppliers and adding 100 untrained employees (that must have been around 15-20% of the existing workforce, right?) would not lead to quality issues.
     
  10. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Alex - We stand behind our products and would be glad to address directly with you any quality issues you've experienced. As mentioned, we achieved our personnel increase (of which we're quite proud... most of our new employees had been laid off from other manufacturers and were in need of work) and still also achieved the highest quality scores in our history at Nordstrom. Our operations team has decades of shoemaking experience, so we're not naive and we provide excellent training.. It's a handcrafted manufacturing process with a great deal of human involvement, so we're not perfect either. We shoot for perfection, though, and work to fix it when our customers are not satisfied. As the Deutsche Bundespost used to say when I lived in Germany in the 1980s, "Ruf doch mal an." wobei ich meine, Sie brauechten einfach unsere Kundendienstabteilung anzurufen, um irgendwelche Probleme zu loesen.

    Paul
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2011
  11. NAMOR

    NAMOR Well-Known Member

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    Im a 100% Alden/ C&J guy and have never tried on a pair of AE's. However, I have been considering AE's for a while now and this display by Paul has really pushed the pendulum towards AE's favor. I have been really impressed by your thoughtful replies and sincere interest in making a great product. Well done, sir. Oh, and how 'bout them Cardinals?!

    Oh btw, I was in Minneapolis this past week and im so glad to be back in Cali. Wheew. No wonder the VIkings are considering leaving :p Its coooold
     
    Last edited: Oct 22, 2011
  12. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Funny coincidence. I'm in the Bay Area myself right now and a college buddy greeted me just this morning, a beautiful warm day, with the question of whether we weren't considering moving out here. I learned long ago (starting with my freshman roommate, who was from Orange County) that it's futile to debate the virtues of 4 seasons, including January blizzards, when it's 80 degrees and sunny. :D

    Thanks very much for considering adding AE to your wardrobe. If you'd like any suggestions, let me know. For starters, our Strand in Walnut, our Dalton boot in Walnut and our McTavish in either color are reallly catching a lot of attention these days.

    Our Port Washington, WI employees were of course disappointed that the Brewers didn't make it all the way, but the Cards are playing too well. Tomorrow's game will be key -- if the Cards win again, it'll be really uphill for the Rangers.

    Thanks again! Let me know how you like the shoes...

    Be well,
    Paul
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  13. deadly7

    deadly7 Well-Known Member

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    Paul,

    I commend you on your polite sales staff. Despite being one of the younger people to step foot in an Allen Edmonds store, they're all courteous and helpful. I contrast this to other vendors in men's clothing (not necessarily limited to shoes) where it's obvious the sales person is openly hostile because he/she thinks I'm wasting their time. Your sales staff is one of the reasons I'm going to be adding the Park Avenue and another shoe (possibly the Strand) to my wardrobe.

    As a catalogue question, are there any plans for a lesser brogued shoe? The Strand is probably your least-brogued shoe but I find it to be a bit busy at times.
     
  14. NAMOR

    NAMOR Well-Known Member

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    Paul,

    I will jump through a brick wall for a revised version of the fifth street. I need it to be more of a balmoral boot and less of a chukka. As its shown in this pic, its nether. Of and of course, has to be cordovan :slayer:

    [​IMG]
     
  15. Scrounger

    Scrounger Well-Known Member

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    Been waiting for a tan boot - looking forward to owning the Dalton in walnut soon. I think the Bayfield would look great in this color as well, or possibly in one of the Rough Collection shades.
     
  16. Thanks SF (a new me)

    Thanks SF (a new me) Well-Known Member

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    +1..as an AE customer for 17+ years, I don't recall having a bad customer service on any of their stores (retail, shoebank) or even the customer hotline. Staff are always helpful.As for future designs, I would love AE to add "austerity brogue" (ala C&J Drummond) in both balmoral and blucher options.
    Paul, I (we) appreciate your participation on this fora.....Thanks
     
    Last edited: Oct 23, 2011
  17. AlexE

    AlexE Well-Known Member

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    Actually, I did call in when I had a heel problem with my recrafted shoes. And your customer service colleagues are certainly the friendliest and most helpful folks in the world (hope they get a nice end-of-year bonus)! Shoes were send in, but they came back with the same issue. By the time I received the shoes I had already moved to Europe, so I decided to pay a shoemaker here and get things fixed fast rather then going through the process again. Later I received two pairs of new AEs with the same issue, which I got solved locally for the same reason. Anyway, I am glad that the sole/heel issues were presumably temporarily and that future shoe purchases should not be affected by them.

    P.S.: I certainly did not mean to criticize you for adding jobs. I am glad business is going well for you guys. :)
     
  18. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Alex - Thanks for your reply and your comments on our people. I'll pass on your experience to our Recrafting team lead as well as our head of all production. It's possible the heel base used on the Recraft was too big for your size shoe, which can cause the bounce and unevenness. My apologies.

    Nice posting -- Munich. Enjoy being there.

    Best wishes,
    Paul
     
  19. Quadcammer

    Quadcammer Well-Known Member

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    Paul, I'm wondering if you could address the question I pm'ed you about a while back.

    There has been some debate about whether AEs main line uppers are stitched in the DR or in your US factory.

    Can you clear this up in either of the below threads:

    http://www.styleforum.net/t/228354/are-all-allen-edmonds-uppers-made-in-the-dominican-republic/0_60

    http://www.styleforum.net/t/267059/ae-park-avenue-major-heel-problems/0_60#post_4834400

    I'm a big fan of your shoes and would like to think the work is done in the US.

    Thanks and keep up the good work.
     
  20. AllenEdmondsCEO

    AllenEdmondsCEO Active Member

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    Greetings, Quadcammer - Sorry for the delay. I've been on the road a lot since your PM and focused on this thread initially. I responded to the question on the other thread.

    Thanks for your interest and support.

    Best wishes,
    Paul
     

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