My day job is being a small business owner: I own two Red Wing shoe stores, one in Delafield and one in Brookfield. I love being part of this iconic brand. Even before I owned the store, I was familiar with the company: They’re headquartered in Minnesota, my grandfather was a farmer and horse trader who wore Red Wing and I had good, nostalgic feelings about the brand.
I started my professional life in corporate marketing. I had a UW marketing degree and my first job out of school was with Kraft Foods and Oscar Mayer, right here in Madison. I ended up in Chicago with the company, then returned to the UW for an MBA and followed that up with a great job as a Buyer at Target in Minneapolis.
My wife and I loved Target and Minneapolis, but we also missed Madison and relied on our friends in the Badger network to get back. I returned to more of a marketing role for the men’s division at Lands’ End and it was there that I first heard about the opportunity to be a Red Wing store owner.
Lands’ End had done a deal with Red Wing to sell their heritage boots, this was back in 2010 or so, and as I researched the brand I saw a little line at the bottom of their website that talked about being your own boss and owning a shoe store. I clicked on that, filled out some forms, there were some emails back and forth and then…nothing.
The years passed, I spent some time with the UW MBA program, then pivoted back into corporate marketing with American Family Insurance. And then, out of the blue, Red Wing reached out to see if I was still interested.
We set up an initial call that turned into a two-hour discussion and I was super intrigued. I started the process, zeroed in on an opportunity in the Milwaukee area and started to look for a site. The site we wanted became available in late 2015 and by February 2016, we had a store.
It’s exhilarating to open a business. You’re off and running—but you have no idea if anyone will come to your door. I still remember the day we got our first customer: We weren’t even open, we were unpacking and someone knocked on the door, needing boots. It seemed like a good omen of things to come!
I’ve been very fortunate to have great long-term employees. In 2018 I purchased a second store in Brookfield. This past year was hard, but it also showed us that if we’re creative and work together, we can pull through tough situations.
Even though it’s challenging to be a brick and mortar when so much is digital, there are things that set Red Wing apart. We sell a great product that can last years and years if you take care of your boots. The company’s been around since 1905 and people just love the brand: It’s not unusual to have a customer come in whose dad and grandfather have worn Red Wings.
For the people in the trades and construction who wear our boots 8-16 hours a day, it’s important to get a good fit. They want to come in and make sure a boot works for them. And lots of times, when people need new boots, they need them now. Hopefully our service wins people over, plus the Red Wing work product is only sold in stores, not online.
My most memorable caffeine story is my morning commute, complete with a cold soda and a podcast or an audio book. I love the ritual. Getting to learn something new or listen to something entertaining gets my day off on the right foot.
My current caffeine of choice is Diet Mt. Dew. I enjoy it way more than I should.
My favorite place for caffeine is the Kwik Trip on Pennsylvania Avenue. Kathy, the Kwik Trip lady, knows me well.
The person I’d love to share a cup of caffeine with is my mom. She passed away eight years ago, and she’s missed out on a lot of the fun, with our family and her grandkids. She wasn’t a coffee drinker—iced tea was her choice—and she would have loved to know what’s going on with all of us. We also joke that she would have been crazy about Facebook—she would have loved knowing what was going on with old friends and family. She was always the person who called and caught up with everyone.
World problem that could be solved with the right amount of caffeine: A better appreciation of the trades. With the work I do now, I’ve seen what a potentially wonderful path the trades can be. I used to teach at a high school, and it was abundantly clear that there’s still a stigma for those who don’t go the traditional college route.
I’ve spent the last 5 ½ years working with people in the trades and seeing how rewarding their jobs are—personally and financially—and I wish more people were exposed to that. Having worked at a university, and gotten a great public university education, I’ve seen there are too many people going to college who might have been better served elsewhere. Don’t get me wrong, college is still a great path for many, but I wish kids had exposure to all the other wonderful paths out there.