Brown’s Shoe Fit adds options

Sale Rack added near main store

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Olivia Carlson, Brown’s Shoe Fit sales associate, shows off some of the shoes available in the Sale Rack addition to their store in Fort Dodge. The Sale Rack is located in the former Earl May store.

Helping customers find shoes that fit perfectly and meet their unique requirements has been the mission of Brown’s Shoe Fit, 210 S. 25th St, since the enterprise opened for business locally in July 1996.

Craig Jarrard, the Fort Dodge store’s owner-manager, said being focused relentlessly on what patrons need and desire is the key to success in the highly competitive retail world.

“We try to find the product that works best for the customer,” he said. “We want to sell them what’s going to work for them. I still think retail is more of a people business than a product business. … We help our customers. It is 100 percent customer-focused.”

With that in mind, this spring when a nearby storefront that was long occupied by Earl May Nursery and Garden Center became empty, Jarrard saw an opportunity to broaden his store’s marketing focus.

Brown’s Sale Rack

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Noah Carlson, Brown’s Shoe Fit sales associate, arranges a display of boots in the new Sales Rack addition to their Fort Dodge store.

“We decided to have a temporary shoe sale there,” he said. “That was the middle of May. We’ve turned it into an ongoing shoe sale. We call it Brown’s Sale Rack.”

The Sale Rack was initially envisioned as a short-term venture. Jarrard said it is turning out to be a much more durable undertaking than expected and is continuing to evolve.

“It’s doing well and it has some legs to it,” he said, noting that customers have shown strong support for this new option. “We advertised a temporary sale in May and we’ve never closed it. … The response has been good and now we’re adding our summer clearance sale items to it and we’re also buying special product just for the Sale Rack store.”

Jarrard said changes in the local marketplace for shoes created an opening for a venture like Brown’s Sale Rack to thrive. He said the community lost five stores that sold shoes in the last five years and those closings left some of the shoe options customers had long depended upon unaddressed.

“It’s different types of product and different-priced product than what we carry in the Brown’s Shoe Fit store,” Jarrard said. “The Sale Rack idea is to add additional price points. We were able to add price points that we didn’t have before. With the neighbors that we’ve lost, that’s created opportunities for us to add different product.”

-Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Zach Hartig, of Badger, tries on a pair of boots in the Sale Rack addition at Brown’s Shoe Fit. His fiancee, Josie Schild, helps out with the shopping.

He said most of the shoes sold in Brown’s Sale Rack venue are priced in the $40 to $80 range.

The Brown’s Shoe Fit story

Since Jarrard launched Brown’s Shoe Fit locally the enterprise has become a thriving business. The main store has expanded over the years from a relatively compact 3,000 square feet to a spacious 8,000 square feet. The Brown’s Sale Rack component makes use of about 3,000 square feet of the former Earl May storefront. When Brown’s arrived in Fort Dodge, it was a two-person operation. Today the store has a workforce of 11.

Jarrard said the booming local economy in Fort Dodge and Webster County has provided an outstanding environment for his store to succeed.

“The Fort Dodge area market is definitely growing in jobs, which means people need footwear,” he said. “Our blueprint is working in this market. We definitely are still on a growth pattern.”

The store sells an eclectic assortment of shoes. Jarrard said athletic and work shoes are the biggest sellers. A wide assortment of casual and dress shoes is also stocked. And if something the customer desires isn’t in the store, the team at Brown’s welcomes the opportunity to special order the item.

“We can order pretty much anything that is made,” Jarrard said, adding that if a customer sees something online that is appealing he is usually able to obtain it for them.

Sometimes a customer’s specialized shoe needs are directly related to a medical or health issue. Jarrard communicated with local podiatrists and other medical professionals early in the store’s history. The goal was 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. The relationship with the health care community is ongoing.

Customers requiring special shoes have responded to this aspect of the store’s game plan enthusiastically, Jarrard said.

Third Thursday Fit Night

In April 2014, Brown’s launched a monthly event from April through October called Thursday Fit Night. It’s free with no registration and is designed to be an easygoing opportunity for social interaction with a focus on remaining fit and healthy.

“It’s a low-key atmosphere,” Jarrard said. “You participate in a walk, jog or run at whatever pace you want to go. You go as far as you want to go. It’s an out and back route. The mapped out route is from two miles to five miles.”

He stressed that Thursday Fit Night is intended to promote fitness and community spirit.

“It’s not a selling event at all,” Jarrard said. “It’s purely a fun event. We don’t push product. … It’s about coming and hanging out. It’s turned into a very social event.”

Local restaurants make refreshments available. If the weather cooperates the gathering is primarily outside. If not, festivities move indoors.

“We’ve had over 200 people inside the store,” Jarrard said. “Last month we had 250 people.”

He stressed that the response to Thursday Fit Night includes a broad spectrum of the community.

“A lot of families,” Jarrard said. “Strollers and wagons. We’re catching some retired folks. Our record is in a 92-year-old. She walked maybe a quarter mile. She loved it. … We have some really nice prizes at the end of the night.”

The community sponsors for the event are Northwest Bank and The Messenger.

Meet the owner

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.

“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. He is currently 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 who works with the hospice program at UnityPoint Health – Fort Dodge. The Jarrards have two adult children. The oldest, Cole, is a Wartburg graduate who subsequently studied physical therapy at St. Ambrose University and is now working in that profession in Arizona. Carson, a graduate of Iowa State University, is currently in the registered nurse program at Iowa Central Community College. Both are graduates of Fort Dodge Senior High.

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