The Brown's Shoe Fit store in Fort Dodge, 210 S. 25th St., has been named the company's Store of the Year for 2013.
Craig Jarrard, who founded the local outlet nearly two decades ago and is its owner and manager, said he learned his store had been singled out for this award at the company's annual meeting in February.
He said the award is "a huge honor" because it is a recognition of success by one's peers - the owner-managers of the Brown's large network of stores.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Reflected in a foot mirror, Brown’s Shoe Fit sales associate Amanda Sprecht, left, helps customer Lisa Christensen, of Perry, try on a new pair of shoes as store owner Craig Jarrard looks on. The store was recently awarded the Store of the Year Award.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
The traveling Store of the Year plaque and the crystal award that they get to keep are displayed at the Fort Dodge Brown’s Shoe Fit store, 210 S 25th St.
-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Brown’s Shoe Fit assistant managers Brandon Erickson, at left, and Bryan Sullivant compare notes on the features available on a pair of running shoes.
"They've had a Store of the Year award for 90-plus years," Jarrard said. "It's voted on by all the other owners throughout the company. We have 81 locations in 12 states. There are eight personnel in Shenandoah who also vote on it. ... We get every store's numbers for the year on sales and profit and all the business numbers. That's what they base it on. You have to have pretty sizable gain in volume to be in the running. You have to have a pretty sizable gain in volume and profit."
The Fort Dodge Brown's store has grown from a two-employee operation in the beginning, housed in a 3,000-square-foot storefront, to a 4,200-square-foot enterprise with a staff that now usually numbers seven or eight. Jarrard said he has hopes to soon expand the store's size by another 2,000 square feet.
He said the selection of the Fort Dodge store for top honors in part acknowledges a very successful year for his store.
"2013 was a very good year," Jarrard said. "It was our single biggest growth year in the 18 years we've been open."
He said his store thrived last year because of a long-term commitment to a successful business model. It also was assisted by the booming local economy.
"There's no doubt it's partly the growth we're seeing in the area with Cargill coming to town, with CJ Bio America being here," Jarrard said.
He explained that his store sells a large number of work and safety shoes as well as work-related clothing and over the years has built extensive relationships with many local employers including the newcomers.
"The business doesn't just fall in your lap," Jarrard said. "We've gone after some of it. ... All the contractors in town temporarily, that's driving a lot of our business, too."
The huge selection of shoes the local store's inventory allows it to serve a diverse clientele including customers from many neighboring communities.
"It's 12,000 to 15,000 pairs of shoes on hand," Jarrard said. "We do have one of the biggest selections in the state, actually."
And if a desired item happens not to be in stock locally, special orders are available and welcome.
"We do try very hard to have it in the store so you can get the instant satisfaction of not having to wait for it," Jarrard said. "We can special order anything. If they make it, we can get it. We can usually get products in a week."
The mix of shoes available is eclectic.
"The athletic department is our No. 1 category," Jarrard said, reflecting on the mix of products sold. "That's from serious runners to casual walkers. We sell a lot of athletic shoes for work shoes, too. Then the work category would be the safety-toed boots, industrial boots. That's our No. 2 category. Then casual and dress are the rest of it."
The store specializes in shoes for adults - both men and women - but also features some children's shoes. Additionally, it has an assortment of other products.
"The sock industry has become a major category for us," Jarrard said. "We do some running gear, running clothing and work clothing, too."
Healthy shoes have always been a priority at Brown's.
Jarrard said he communicated with local podiatrists and other medical professionals early in the store's history. The goal was twofold. He wanted to learn from them what products they wanted available for their patients.
Additionally, he sought to familiarize leaders in the health care community with his ability to stock - or readily obtain - shoes and related items that would serve patient needs.
Customers requiring special shoes have responded to this aspect of the store's game plan enthusiastically, Jarrard said.
"We see a lot of people who limp in here and walk out comfortably," he said. "It feels good to help someone."
Satisfying all types of customers and being focused on what they actually require is at the heart of the business approach Jarrard employs.
"We truly care and appreciate their business," he said. "We'll figure out what their needs are and take care of them. Get them in what they need to be wearing. We're not going to sell them something just to be selling them something."
He said the key to making a retail business succeed is really quite straightforward.
"I think the biggest secret is the simple things," Jarrard said. "It's treating people fairly, honestly and sincerely."
He said he takes pride in the team of professionals who staff his store and regards their contributions as critical to its success.
The store's longest-serving employee, other than Jarrard himself, is Amanda Specht who has been part of the sales team for 14 years.
"She's a huge part of the store in relationship building," Jarrard said.
There are two assistant managers. Brandon Erickson, a graduate of Fort Dodge Senior High, has been with the store for two years. Bryan Sullivant, a St. Edmond graduate, has been with on the job for six months.
The Brown's corporate model
Jarrard said Brown's business model meshes the advantages local ownership and control can provide with the resources a large corporate entity can mobilize.
"Brown's Shoe Fit Co. is actually a partnership," he said. "Every store is an individual partnership. Every single location is operated independently. The partners at each location are managers and retired managers of Brown's Shoe Fit."
He said this arrangement has great appeal to managers who choose a career with the company because they benefit very directly from a store's success and the company's growth. It also provides the flexibility that permits each store to offer a mix of products and services customized to the market it serves.
"We cater to the communities we are in," Jarrard said. "I think that contributes a lot to our success."
Meet the owner
Craig Jarrard grew up in Charles City. He got his introduction to Brown's from his father, Don Jarrard, who was part of the Brown's Shoe Fit family for 42 years. The elder Jarrard retired in 2001. By then, his son also had begun to build a successful career with the company.
""I followed in my father's footsteps," Craig Jarrard said. "I got into Brown's full time in 1988 in Charles City."
He subsequently was at Brown's stores in Wyoming and Oklahoma before launching the Fort Dodge Brown's Shoe Fit in July 1996. He has been the store's owner-manager since its inception.
Jarrard is in his second year of a six-year term on the board of directors of Brown's Shoe Fit Co.
Jarrard is married to Raquel Jarrard, who he said was his high school sweetheart back in Charles City. She is a registered nurse and team leader at Friendship Haven. The Jarrards have two children. Cole, 20, is a sophomore at Wartburg in Waverly majoring in biology. He graduated from Fort Dodge Senior High in 2012. Carson, 17, is a junior at FDSH.