Brent Barkin with Shoe Station

Brent Barkin with Shoe Station

This week on The Mobile Alabama Business Podcast, we sit down with Brent Barkin with Shoe Station. Listen in as we discuss his life, career journey, and how he got into retail shoe sales!

Produced by Blue Fish.

Transcript:

Brent:

Hi, I'm Brent Barkin President and CEO of Shoe Station.

Marcus:

Awesome. Having you here Brent.

Brent:

No. I appreciate it. Thanks for the time.

Marcus:

No, I am a fan of Shoe Station because there are very few companies that are located here. And so I think it's amazing that we have you all here as an asset to the local economy and stuff like that. And I do want to get more into Shoe Station and how it got started and stuff like that, but before we do any of that, why don't you introduce yourself by telling us the story of Brent, where are you from? Where'd you go to high school? If here locally, that'd be great and then did you go to college? Are you married? Just give us some of your backstory.

Brent:

So start, I'm originally from Atlanta, Georgia. We moved to Mobile Alabama when I was 10 and that's when my father started Shoe Station. So my Mobile Alabama life took over from there, and went to St Paul's for a few years as did some of my siblings. I don't know if it was a mix between me and St Paul's or St Paul's and me, but I ended up going off to boarding school. I was shipped off. It-

Marcus:

There's some stories there, okay, this might be a longer one folks!

Brent:

Maybe more than 30 minutes... [I] went off to boarding school, we joked my parents shipped me off. It depends on my mother's mood whether she thinks that's funny or not, but went to boarding school in Massachusetts. We were talking before Deerfield, Massachusetts then followed up with a boarding school in Lakeville, Connecticut. They didn't really want me back in Mobile for awhile. Went to school at Princeton, graduated with a degree in government of all things which perfectly prepares you for selling shoes. And then worked as a teacher actually for a few years and then came back to help my father in the business. This was almost 20 years ago.

Marcus:

Very cool. And so when you were teaching, was that at Princeton or was that...

Brent:

No, no, no, no. I was a middle school teacher. I think I was doing it to get back at my dad.

Marcus:

Golly! So you went to Princeton and ended up teaching?

Brent:

That's right. Yeah. Right. Exactly.

Marcus:

I've seen the conversation that your father probably wanted to have.

Brent:

... was not a good conversation-

Marcus:

I can only Imagine.

Brent:

I have three kids. One's 12, my wife Lauren, that's our boy and then we have six year old Jackson as of today. Today's his birthday and then Jenny's four years-

Marcus:

Yeah. Happy birthday Jackson.

Brent:

Yeah, that's right. Jenny is four years old.

Marcus:

Very cool. And I can imagine what the answer to this is, when you look back at your history in school, would you consider yourself a good student or was there a light bulb moment somewhere where it switched? Because you don't go to Princeton without good grades and stuff like that.

Brent:

Yeah. Well I think Prince it wasn't that easy to get into, then it's a lot harder now. So it's a degree that pays dividends because it's much harder to get into now than it was. But no, I was not a very good student. I think a lot of things came to me fairly naturally. So when I was down here, I made good grades or grades that were good enough for my parents to leave me alone. And when I went to Eaglebrook I think this was in middle school, made pretty good grades there as well. The switch moment came from when I went to Hotchkiss and I was I think maybe the transition from one boarding school to another, and I just got into my classes and the teachers there were unbelievable, college level teachers. Fantastic.

Brent:

So on the first semester I made the Dean's list, first semester, and that was my aha moment where I was like, I guess I could do that again. Then it became more of a challenge to do that again. And like you said, it was really a switch because before that at Eaglebrook arguably a lot easier than it wasn't a Hotchkiss. I didn't get those grades-

Marcus:

So maybe it was just the challenge, it wasn't challenging you-

Brent:

That was it. And I think same thing at school down here. I think there's a mix and I try to be like this with my kids now. There's a mix between knowing your kids are okay and pushing them and doing a set it and forget it. I forget what device that was like a kitchen timer. I think they were probably for me a little too hands-off and if they'd pushed me a little bit more I think maybe I might've found that motivation a little bit easier, but so much in life is internal. I don't think that's a switch somebody else turns on. I think you have to turn that switch on. That's what had happened. So it was about 10th grade.

Marcus:

100% agree. And it's interesting to me because I asked that question of everybody that sits in the seat that you're sitting in. And what I find is that with most business people or entrepreneurs, at some point in time in their history something clicks and it becomes something that they're passionate about. Whatever it is that they're either doing or whether it was the schoolwork or somewhere along the lines of clicks and it takes over. And nobody else has to light a fire under their ass in order to make them do the things that are necessary in order to be successful. And so I guess as parents, our hope is always that our kids. I'm less focused on the schooling, if my boys don't go to college, I'm okay with that, learn a trade, make a good living. If you want to start a business, let's talk about that I can help you there all these things.

Marcus:

But I just think my hope is that they'll find whatever it is that they want to do or that it's not even necessarily that it's a passion, but just something that they can do and be good at and that they're passionate about being good at whatever that was, right? My father... And this is a well-known saying, but if you're going to be a garbage man and be the best damn garbage man that you could be, kind of thing. Right? But anyway. Did you have a job before you taught?

Brent:

No, that was straight out. Well, the job I had was working for my father. So even before I taught, I've been working for him since I was 10.

Marcus:

Okay. So let's go to that 10-year-old Brent. Were there any lessons that you remember from that early job experience that you had?

Brent:

I think honestly not the question you asked, but I think I first did it to be around my father. So I think that was the interesting part about that. It was more, how do I get to be around dad? So I think that was one of the lessons I learned at the beginning was that was going to be how I was going to be around father. My father was sharing his interest in doing that. From a standpoint of being a young man as an employee, you really can't put yourself higher than anybody else that you're working for. My employees call me Brent. That's what I've always had my employees me, is Brent. They don't call me Mr. Barkin. Some people would argue against that. I think it humanizes me. If I'm sitting there and I'm asking them to do something, I'm talking to them, you're having a conversation one person or another and that it's not military-

Marcus:

It's a war that you're taking down.

Brent:

Yeah. It's not a military operation where I'm demanding that they do it. So I would say at the beginning it was, don't ask somebody to do anything that you haven't done or wouldn't be willing to do. So that was the first thing. And I'd like to believe that most people that still work for us and some of them they didn't work all the way back then but it's pretty close. One of our general managers I remember probably has worked there for 25, 30.

Marcus:

Wow. That's very cool. Now, I tell people... And we had a cleaning crew. I was really proud of when we were able to hire a janitorial service, but we have 3,700 square feet where it's concrete floor and none of the janitorial services want to mop a 3,700 square foot concrete floor. And so I've taken it back on because it doesn't take me that long to do it. It's like an hour every other week or something like that to clean this place. So I can go back to saying, hey, I own this company, but I still scrubbed the toilets. Don't ask anybody to do anything that you're not willing to do, right? And I've always had that mentality. Because I know that your father started the business, give us some history there? How did that happen?

Brent:

So I think my personality is a little different from my father's. My father his personality...I have a few brothers so I won't say which brother, but- I have a brother who's got a very similar personality in my father and they're often the smartest person in the room. They don't take too well to when people don't do what they're supposed to do or this about it, mislead people about it. And I'm maybe a little more political about it. If somebody is doing that I will talk to them privately about it. My father and my brother would call people out straight to their face, whether they were a subordinate, their boss and it could be in a meeting and if somebody pushed something on them, they would push back.

Brent:

That didn't work too well for my father. He moved pretty high up, he was in retail. So he worked for Rich's department stores which was bought out by Federated's now Macy's in Atlanta. Work there, had his MBA, work thereafter he graduated from NYU Business, moved back down to Atlanta, originally from Winter Haven, Florida. And he worked his way up to the corporate ladder got about as far up as he could get where you started to need to be political and said-

Marcus:

There you go.

Brent:

"Okay, I got to work on my own." Well, he was smart enough where he could have run the business, but not-

Marcus:

But he had self-awareness enough to know that probably wasn't going to happen.

Brent:

... he could no stop himself from saying what he thought. So decided to start his own business, looked at thought that this is before there was a shoe Carnival, DSW, or they were very early on and said, I want to have big box category killer and pick a category. He had an opportunity to look at a bunch of different ones, because he was a general merchandise manager at Rich's and she used a natural fit. And came back to Mobile, Alabama, that was my mother's hometown and that's where we opened it.

Marcus:

Where's your father from?

Brent:

Winter Haven Florida.

Marcus:

Okay. I was going to say because he sounds very... I get a hard time from some people because I'm not going to call anybody out, right?. But I'm also very direct. I'm not going to sugarcoat. If we're having a personal conversation, I'm just going to be like, hey, blah, blah, blah. And I don't know if that's a Northeastern thing or if that's just a characteristic of some guys or something like that.

Brent:

He was up in the Northeast for a little bit NYU Business, but I think that's just as hard as fiber. Yeah.

Marcus:

Yeah. Now do you remember the first time when you came back to work for your father where you thought, okay... Or maybe you weren't even working for them, but you just had this moment where you're like, okay, this is something that I really enjoy, I'm passionate about this and I can see myself doing this for the rest of my life.?

Brent:

Sure. I think I had two of those moments. One was probably earlier on when I was 14 or 15 years old and was helping my father. And we would open these stores that we do now, again, called these Annex Stores where we basically take all the stuff at the end of the season, putting all in one huge room, market way down and cleaned it out. So to digress a teeny bit my dad's philosophy was always just sell the merchandise as fast as you can. If it didn't work, mark it down and move on, bringing in more stores smart retail. There's a lot, I call it, it's like the opposite of a pawn shop mentality where buy and hold. So early on he actually had me run one of those stores when I was 16 or 17 years old.

Brent:

Yeah. And I remember one day and he said this jokingly where we were having the sale and he asked how we're doing, and I say, "Dad, I got $20,000 cash in this bag." And he's like, joked, "Take it, take it out." It's like, no, no, we didn't take it. We ran through the register and it's all his company. So he was playing. so at that early age to be in charge of that was pretty cool. So I had that moment.

Marcus:

It's not a small amount of responsibility to give...

Brent:

No, no, and it was fun at the time. So that was my moment where I thought, okay, this might be fun. I think I was getting into college I had a couple summers while I would come home from college and help open some stores. So it continued. I think right around the time I decided to go into teaching wouldn't say me and my father had a falling out, but it became a little less fun where it was, this is the kid that's doing this and he's excited about doing this. And the key, I think maybe that part of him that was a little more blunt started kicking into me as the adult me and it was a little less enjoyable, hence the teaching.

Brent:

Right. So then after I came back I was with him for probably about two years in, and we started up the website and didn't have a website, we're going back. But at that point 17 years something like that. So where the idea of a shoe website was really not that big there was Zappos in its early stages and a little bit of Amazon, but that wasn't a thing where now it's ubiquitous. So after we started the website I remember doing the plug and play and the website was live. And I remember where I was, it was at the Atlanta shoe show and I was able to log into the TV to see the orders come in. That was cool. And where we had I noticed the map when I came in with the pins, we had that to deal with, the first set of orders and we would color code the orders.

Brent:

So that was I think that new excitement of saying and that's really where retail can be fun, where you can go it's a social laboratory where you can say, if we try this, here are the inputs we're putting this product in. Here are the variables we're running these ads what are the results? And then that to me was the cool aspect of that, of seeing, of doing that, seeing the fruits of the labor putting all the hard work in and seeing the results of the web sales at that point.

Marcus:

So people don't think of business as science, but very much... So one of the things that I've recognized over the last decade plus of doing this is that you talk about, literally I'm just going to come up with a hypothesis. I have this idea, I'm going to have all these inputs that I put out. I'm going to watch the outputs and make sure that I'm getting the results that I want. And then I'm going to tweak things with that to see whether the outputs go in the right direction or in the wrong direction, and then course correct based on that. And it's literally just an experiment that just never stops. There's no finish to this.

Brent:

There's no finish. And then it's hard because in a real experiment it's double-blind, you don't know anything and you're not allowed to change things really, unless you scientific experiment if it was a vaccine and you see things go really bad, you stop it. You can't do that and-

Marcus:

Your not stopping this vaccine.

Brent:

... and you have the desire to stop it because that's going badly, but you want to let it play out. But if it's going badly enough, you the answer. Okay, we dropped that ad. We thought we could do it in a TV instead. Oh my God, that's horrible. Okay. Well, when we plan to do that for a month, stop it. We're not doing it, reverse course.

Marcus:

And I would imagine your experience on the e-commerce side because now you're responsible for all of it, right? But your responsibilities on the e-commerce side allow you to do that in a much more fluid, much more quick manner, but now being responsible for all of it, it's like, well, we have a hypothesis that a store would do really good here, wherever here is. And when you go into those places you're signing leases and investing money and doing all these things stocking up, it's a lot of money at play and there's no just saying, hey, timeout, this didn't work. We've signed a lease for however long, five, 10 years or whatever. And how do you manage?

Brent:

Yeah. And again, it's funny how, not only the rules that you figure out, but the way you play has changed. So going in 10 year lease, you're going to sign a 10 year lease, you make the hypothesis that we do pretty well in these types of markets. We do pretty well in these types of centers. We do pretty well next to these retailers. And there's all these things that now to me, 20 some ideas years, and if I count going back to when I was 10, you just understand them where back then oh, well, I don't want to be next to somebody that sells shoes, because they're going to compete against me. Well, you look at where car dealers are, they're right next to, because that's where people go to shop for cars. So we can be around people that sell shoes. We want to-

Marcus:

We have an annex right now next to...

Brent:

Exactly. So I think you make your best estimate as to what you're going to do. You run the numbers and the thing I think you've got to do is be honest with yourself when the numbers too. So you go, well, we're going to put this store here and it's going to do $4 million. And because that's what we have to do to make it work. If that's what you say, then you shouldn't be doing it because you're not defining it correctly. Oh, you must do this, therefore, okay. It's going to do... Well, hold on a second. You have other stores that have been in business five years, 10 years, 20 years, that aren't at that point. So I always joke-

Marcus:

What makes you think that that one is going. Yeah.

Brent:

That's right. So I always joke and we're in the City of Mobile, they've done a phenomenal job with development. So this is not about the City of Mobile, but as part of what I was doing in college with public policy a lot of it had to do with economic development, which was all, oh, we're going to build this, we're in downtown Nashville, we're going to do a new museum for the arts, and it's going to have a million visitors a year. And you go, well, hold on. What other attractions do you have that have a million people a year? None. So why do you think this new one's going to do better than any of those old ones? So from a business standpoint you have to do the same thing. So if I say this store is going to immediately do that, well, if it's going to do that which of your stores do that? Is it enough alight those stores-

Marcus:

Right. You can do a comparison because you have that data to look at.

Brent:

That's it. And I think that's where you have to get ego out of the business. So you say really where do we do best? We have stores in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, right now, our sweet spot... And we do fine in the other three States, our sweet spot is Mississippi, Alabama. Those customers tend to buy the same things. If Crocs are amazing, they're amazing in all of those stores. Louisiana might be okay or Georgia stores might be okay, Florida, they're going to be phenomenal there. And as Sperry women's duck boots are insane, that's where they're going to be. Are wallabies going back 20 years or Sperry a boat shoes going back 10, 15 years. So you start knowing that and you recognize where you're strong.

Brent:

If you're honest and you recognize where are you strong and why you're strong, then try to find locations that play to your strengths and not play to your weaknesses or say, well we're just so good that I can have a store in Arkansas. Well, and it's just the same. Well, is it really the same? We tend to do better than Alabama and Mississippi. We also tend to do even better along the coast in those markets, the further North I get, believe it or not, people buy different things in Birmingham than they do by in Mobile. It's not that much difference, it's enough different so that I can't just immediately expect success. And that's where you also have to give yourself a horizon to for success. And now I would sign a little shorter leases, maybe sign a seven year lease instead of a 10 year lease or a five-year lease with some options, hedge your bets a little bit more.

Marcus:

And when you stock, are you stocking differently for coast versus North?

Brent:

Yes. And I think where it helps to have that knowledge also of where.

Marcus:

It's different in Nashville than it is here on the coast with Flip-Flops and Crocs are worn most of the year here versus North of here where they just don't have the weather to support.

Brent:

We joke, my father always used to say, well, the Northern stores... By Northern, he means Tuscaloosa. He doesn't mean Grand Rapids, Michigan, but interestingly, early in the season, by early in the season for us, it might be October we can start selling boots in Montgomery and in Columbus, Georgia and in Jackson, Mississippi, we can start selling boots in October there. You don't start selling boots until early November when you get further into the coast. And that's just a couple 100 miles. So for us to want to just rush and open a store in Texas in Arkansas or wherever, you've got to be cognizant enough of that, that what you do and what you do best might not translate. Same thing if I want to open a store in Orlando. Assume it's the same customer might not be the same customer. And that's taken me a while to learn. I think that it takes most business people want to learn.

Marcus:

Well speaking of learning ,if you were talking to someone that wanted to get started in running their own business, what's the one bit of wisdom that you would impart to them?

Brent:

I would say and again, this taken me a while, I use the word lightly, but I also use it intentionally experts. You can't assume that you're going to do all of the accounting on your own and that it's going to be done right. And if it's good enough, then that's okay. Same thing with contracting, you get what you pay for. So if along the same lines I'm not saying that you need somebody with 50 degrees necessarily to run your business. The practical knowledge means a lot, but if you're talking true technical, if you're talking, getting the building done, getting it designed right, getting your taxes done, getting your LLC set up, you can't underestimate how important that is. And I think it's expensive. That's the other thing I would say is if you're starting your own business you probably need about three times as much cash as you think you do.

Brent:

And you also have to give yourself a range of projections. What are we going to do if this is half of what I think it is? Can we survive? How long can we survive? I think the restaurant business is known for that, where you open it and what number of restaurants fail in the first year?

Marcus:

It's like 80, 90%. That's huge.

Brent:

It's like the mass majority of them. That's right. And there's a lot of people out there that their desires to own a restaurant. There's a lot of people out there, their desires to own a small retail store. But if you don't factor in all of the costs and know all of those costs unfortunately you're in for a rude awakening. And then again, I don't think you can turn a blind eye now especially to what's going on with the internet and the need for social media. And you have to have a plan for that, and it might not be your one plan, but it should absolutely be a year to plan.

Marcus:

Yeah. It's interesting to me that you say that because I actually, we batch record the marketing madness episodes that we do for social media and for YouTube and for our website and stuff. And one of the things that I'm going to be talking about, because we're going to record a few today is this idea of writing down your five-year plan. And so oftentimes I think when people think about their five-year plan. In your case, it would be like, they think of maybe the stores that they'll have open up and the staff that they'll have for those stores, but they don't think about the support staff and all the experts that are needed in order to do that. And so the thing that I normally encourage business owners or entrepreneurs to think about as they're coming up is that your first hire is your hardest hire but also having people on your side that are those experts, whether it's your accountant or lawyer or two, or you've mentioned contractors. If you're building out stores, obviously you would need those.

Marcus:

But a lot of times it's the services that you need that you can relinquish control of certain things. Because you need somebody it's not that they may like you said, have a ton of degrees, but their focus is going to be on this. If you're the business owner, your focus shouldn't be on whether you're categorizing your expenses correctly. To a certain extent, you need to know that they're being done correctly, but that shouldn't be your eight hours a week task . Your eight hours a week tasks should be on casting vision, making sure you're heading in the right direction. What decisions are we having to make in order to ensure that, all the things that you talked about the difficulties of are we hitting the minimum? Are we hitting the maximum on that store? What can we tweak about that store in order to get it there? Those are all the things that your experience bring to the table, not, hey, did that lunch get categorized as meals and entertainment or not?

Brent:

That's right. And I think that if you... Again, as part of that five-year plan you bog yourself down in the weeds and you might have to at the beginning because you don't have 30 people to sit there and do it. But four or five years down the road, you should say the, head should be about the vision. And it's hard to relinquish those and what I'm learning even now this is your I think five or six and to me being completely in charge, it's just about how you communicate with people where without being rude to them that, hey, okay, I can give you input on that, but don't not do it until you wait for me to say yes to every single thing that you're trying to do. And it's about communication because I don't feel like I'm like that. I want them to do, I want them to have that autonomy. But if you micromanage, they're going to get to the point where it's just easier to do nothing and to wait. And then every ball is-

Marcus:

Either.

Brent:

... but see then it's you Marcus, here you go, what should I do?

Marcus:

I never want to be the bottleneck and the one thing that I've worked on over the last decade pluses is identifying where I'm the bottleneck. As you're talking, I'm sitting here going, man, I need to set a meeting with my CPA and hand off some more stuff than I'm like, it is because there are things and you'll quickly realize this as the organization grows, you hate handing over that money. But if you hand over that money, then what are you freeing up that allows you to go and push further in the direction that you need to go and increasing sales or increasing your relationships with your customers or all the things that you should be focusing on. So anything that you guys are currently working on that you want to share with us?

Brent:

No. Up until October we haven't really been able to recognize how much traffic we get into a store. When you get into thing and I'll get questions all the time, oh, is traffic down? Oh sure, traffic is down. Oh, traffic's down businesses down. We've been measuring it now since October or something and it's so eyeopening what you think you know, really. So you assume, and I've gotten snipped out before for my brother who talking too much about by traffic counts, but you just generally speaking people way underestimate... Oh, sorry, way overestimate how many people are walking into their door and buying something, what percentage that is. Yeah. So that's just been eyeopening for me on seeing that. And that's just something we're just going to leverage so much more now.

Marcus:

Do you think that that comes from your experience online? Because online you very much want to see, hey, this is total traffic. This is the amount of conversions. This is the amount of money that we're making per client that's actually purchasing things. This is the profitability, the lifetime value of a client, all those things come into play.

Brent:

And you can track it and you small changes and that's where that whole science thing gets into small changes. If average conversion rates are 2% on a website, and they're about that two, 2.5 % that little push from a two-

Marcus:

To three.

Brent:

... two to a three is insane. You get a 20% lift in your sales by taking the two and a half to a three. So we're really starting to test with that now. Really getting into that, digging into the weeds and now just started up a March contest where basically any time that a one of our stores beats their target in terms of conversion, we put them in almost a lottery and all the manager at the end of the month will draw a lottery. And then the employees can get a raise of the store that wins, the managers get a bonus. And we're able to track that now, not real time. The numbers come in every 15 minutes but I'm not giving it to them that often, but every morning I'm saying here was your target conversion, here's what you did.

Marcus:

That's so cool, man. Because I don't work in retail anymore, even though that was my plan after college was to go into retail management. But no, that's cool because we live in that world where that stuff makes sense because it is easily trackable and you don't have to get into the details of it. But it just cool to see that, that's actually happening in a physical world too because like you said, manipulating those numbers online it could be the changing of a color of a button. But how do you affect that? That's really more of a soft problem with people, more so than anything in physical world.

Brent:

That's the real technical way I think that we're measuring it, but really the biggest thing that we're trying to do right now is just philosophically get our workers in the mindset of I call it... And even though we partner with Amazon a little bit, our anti Amazon. Our anti Amazon shift where we're going to go, how do we become the anti Amazon? If Amazon is originally was opera, certainly was about customer service really now it's incredibly in-person. It's convenience.

Marcus:

Try and get somebody from Amazon on the phone.

Brent:

That's it. That's it. Or answer an email. It's convenience. I can get it pretty fast, but there's no personal touch. So we're really philosophically trying through what we called our right fit program which is just really making sure the customer, we say leaves with the right fit. What it really means is as engaged with right by our employees.

Marcus:

Are they finding the right products?

Brent:

That's it. Are they walking out with something that works for them?

Marcus:

Are we noticing things that they are asking? Are we being asked for certain things that we weren't... Yeah. That thing. Interesting. And I'm going to take your father off the shelf, don't answer that because that's an obvious. But if you look to the business world, is there one person that motivates you? I say the larger business world didn't know anybody, so.

Brent:

Yeah. For me interestingly it's some of my peers in the footwear industry I'll bring up. I don't know if you're familiar with Marcus Lemonis?

Marcus:

Yeah.

Brent:

Yeah. So he's one that I really look to and respect. He's obviously on TV a lot, but I had a chance to meet him at a shoe show. Actually, he had partnered with a shoe company at the time called INKKAS. I'm not sure of this level of partnership with them now. Got a chance to meet him. He's the same in person as he is on TV, exactly the same person. So developed a little bit of a friendship with him and we talk from time to, and I'm connected with him where he could give a speech to the University of South Alabama business students-

Marcus:

Really?

Brent:

Yeah. So he gave a little Zoom meeting with them the other day and it was just the most incredibly refreshing conversation that he was having with them. Yeah.

Marcus:

He's such an incredible individual and really cool. Yeah, because I don't know if you haven't watched that show and you're listening to this, go back and I'm actually after we get finished, I'm going to pull up YouTube TV and add it to my playlist because it's been a while since I've watched it. But the whole premise is these businesses that they may not be doing all that well. And so he comes in and with his experience because he's got experience now and everything, there's not a industry or a business that he hasn't worked in, but he comes in and he makes a decision about whether he wants to partner with them or not. And sometimes that partnership is greater as far as percentage wise goes then other times.

Marcus:

But there's a number of Simply Greek, I think is one of his organizations which is over here on Florida Street Republics. And I know he's got a number of others, but he really brings in these business principles that most small business owners just don't know, but he also brings in infrastructure and he also brings in cash, right? But also just he's there as lending them an ear and helping them understand these principles and he's not looking to push them out. He's just looking to help encourage them in the right direction. I absolutely love that show because I think his heart is in the right place. But the other thing that's interesting to me is after you watch it for a couple of seasons, you realize he's purchased all these businesses and all these different areas that now feed off of the businesses that he's purchasing or buying into. So he's got marketing companies and he's got printing companies and he's got clothing companies for embroidered shirts and all these things, which all of his facilities are gonna need. So he you end up keeping money within the circle which makes him a lot a lot more money.

Marcus:

So anyway, now are there any books, podcasts, people, or organizations that have been really helpful in moving you forward in your career?

Brent:

I would say I've been reading Simon Sinek recently and for those of your listeners who haven't read Simon Sinek it's just some really interesting philosophy. Start With Why, to me... Again, I keep saying, eyeopening, but just a way of a way of looking at people understanding why you do things. And from a business leader standpoint, if you understand why you're trying to get where you're trying to get, the path becomes infinitely clear and people get bogged down in the what. What am I going to do? What are the specific things that I'm going to do? And years before reading that book I would come up with a lot of different things that we would try to do, oh, we're going to have a price match. We're going to have a more open return policy and you throw these things at a wall, but if you're not explaining to yourself and you're not explaining to your customers why you're doing it, what is our purpose? Why are we trying to do there?

Brent:

So again, touch on the right fit. If our goal is to make sure everybody leaves with the shoe that fits the correct for their wallet and their foot literally. And that making that as easy as possible. That's a pretty easy why understand. So from a why standpoint I really like it.

Marcus:

And it goes beyond mission statement. The why that you're talking about is really it's more of like, hey, we're trying to impact people's lives or we're growing up. Growing up I'm flexing a little bit today I got my black and red Jordan ones on.

Brent:

Yeah, they look good.

Marcus:

Yeah. But it's funny because growing up I was shopping at Payless. I had probably one pair of shoes at a time, you know what I mean? Stuff like that. But I think we forget just how important it is for kids that are in high school and middle school and even elementary school to have a nice pair of shoes and providing that service and stuff. So how you think of shoes, how are you impacting someone's life. It's like, no, really, this is serious stuff. There was an article that's been floating around recently about a principal that there was a young black kid and it was elementary school who went to school and wouldn't take his hat off. And instead of rating the kid, he just asked him, hey, what's going on? Why? And apparently the kid's haircut was messed up and he didn't want to take his hat off cause he was going to be embarrassed.

Marcus:

But what else happens in that is they mentioned that the principal has also purchase shoes for kids and stuff like that. And all those things make a difference. He's not just providing an education, he's helping reach those people and helping them fit in and not making it an issue that he has a messed up haircut or that the soles are falling off of his shoes or whatever, so that he can get an education. And so anyway, you never know shoes are impacting people's lives, so. What's the most important thing that you've learned about running a business?

Brent:

It's humbling-

Marcus:

It so perfect.

Brent:

My father always used to joke that turning business around was like turning a battleship around. So you can have the best thoughts, the best plans, the best intentions and hurricane Try again. Let's try real hard. We spent all this time and effort and energy thinking about how we're going to buy what we're going to buy, what sizes we're going to buy and COVID. So I think it is humbling, but you have to be humble about it. I think you can go in with confidence if you've planned, if you thought, if you've really given some serious detailed consideration. Now the other side of that is if you don't, I can guarantee that on average things are not going to be anywhere near as good as they could have been.

Brent:

So you can have the ego of you right away. I'm sure there's a lot of businesses that have really benefited right now during COVID. People that make mask. So mask I'm sure they've done fantastically well, if they spent more time, more thought more energy they could have done better. There's no excuse really to not sitting down, not really thinking about and demanding the same thing of your employees. Sometimes it's better to get it done than to get it done perfectly, but if you don't think about the details, eventually they're going to catch up.

Marcus:

The devil's in the details, right? This is the hardest question that I'm going to ask you. I want you to think real long and hard about this before you... How do you like to unwind?

Brent:

Right now it's really trying to focus on my kids. Life's a process, man, you don't... My 12 year old has been a little bit of practice for the younger ones too, where the kids view all that time you spend with them as an investment. And if you're not making that investment, you're not paying the dividends later. And they really... This goes back from me being a middle school teacher, some of the most difficult kids or how people perceived them, had what I call almost literally you call it attention deficit, but it was almost an attention bank, a love bank from their parents, whoever was looking out for them. It was just empty. People not been putting into them. It was almost a malnourished plant that just will forever be crippled because they're not getting that investment.

Brent:

So that to me is if I'm paying attention and I'm really doing it right is coming home, my wife and I like to drink wine now. I used to be a whiskey drinker, I can't on sleep whiskey. I still like whiskey, I can't sleep on it. So I would say it's getting home, pouring a glass of wine for me and my wife and just sitting back and watching the kids for a little bit. And even being in the same room with them it's enough for them, but that's where you get to take a deep breath and slow everything down. And I got to learn to put away my phone and I think the phone right now is evil I'm sure. I hope your podcast isn't sponsored by Apple-

Marcus:

No, no, no and you're not wrong with that.

Brent:

You got to do it.

Marcus:

I find myself at times just like, oh my God, I've just spent the last hour on my... And you know what? Actually, I had a problem recently with my laptop and I still don't have a replacement, but I had to send my laptop off to Apple for repairing when they sent it back, it was stolen on the way back. And so there were a couple of days where I was like, okay, well, am I going to get one quickly or do I need to go buy one which involved driving to New Orleans. So all that said, I was conducting a lot of business on my phone which is amazing to me that you can do that, but at the same time it's a trap. Because you can go home and immediately continue for another couple of hours and not even realize that whether it's consuming information that helps benefit the business or replying to email or spending time on social media and see what people are talking about and engaging in that. So anyway, it can be a very difficult thing, so.

Brent:

No, I'd say same thing. I've got it now where most productive thing I ever did to myself was putting my work emails on my phone, where I didn't have to log in to my... And probably the worst thing for my attention span and for my interaction with my wife and my kids was putting my work email on my phone.

Marcus:

Yeah, absolutely. Well, tell people where they can find a Shoe Station, so.

Brent:

So we're in Southeastern United States, we're in Baton Rouge. We have two locations in Baton Rouge, one in Lafayette, we got a lot of stores. Couple of Jackson, Mississippi, Hattiesburg, D'Iberville, but check out our website shoestation.com/ for locations.

Marcus:

And I'm assuming you're on social media, on Facebook and Instagram and stuff.

Brent:

Luckily we're Shoe Station. So yeah, you look us up on Facebook \Shoe Station, same thing with Instagram. Little bit of Pinterest not as much as we should, but LinkedIn certainly and our website.

Marcus:

Absolutely. Well, I want to thank you again for coming on the podcast to wrap up any final thoughts or comments you'd like to share?

Brent:

No, I think it depends on your audience. If you've got businessman I would say, all that work and effort is going to pay off. Again, to get back to the whole Marcus Lemonis thing, treat your employees as an asset. You treat your employees as an asset, they're going to want to work for you and they're going to feel like an asset. You treat them like they're something to be used and discarded, they're going to pick up on that. For your other listeners, I'd just appreciate your listening to the podcast. Yeah, yeah.

Marcus:

That's cool.

Brent:

That's great.

Marcus:

Well, Brent, I appreciate your willingness to sit with me and share your journey as a business owner and entrepreneur. It's been great talking with you.

Brent:

Good talking to you too. Thank you.

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