“I trust everyone, and I trust no one.” That bit of inscrutable wisdom may seem contradictory, but Elliot Flaum, vice president of construction and facilities at Shoe Palace, has utilized this personal philosophy to great success. And, as he breaks down the ways in which he delivers the highest-quality spaces for the footwear retail giant, the product of his outlook becomes clear: Building relationships is key to success in the corporate world, but making sure that you can yield results remains the bottom line.
“Basically, it just means that I verify everyone around me consistently so that I’m never blindsided,” Flaum explains. “I’m going to give you my trust, but I’m going to verify. It’s not you, it’s everybody. Because when it comes back around, if there’s any problem, I want to at least be the responsible party who did the due diligence to investigate.”
Flaum has developed that philosophy across more than 30 years in the retail sphere. He first joined Sears at only 16 years old. Not long after, he became the then-youngest general manager of a newly expanding company called Best Buy at the age of 21. From this early step in his career, the impact of growth became clear. When he joined the local St. Louis branch of the electronics purveyor, Best Buy only had 27 locations. By the time he moved on to a general manager position with Babies “R” Us, the company had already amassed more than 300.
After that, Flaum made stops at a few other nationally recognized retail outlets, including a stint as director of store construction, operations, merchandising, and sales at Garden Ridge, and nearly a decade of general contractor work with eventual employer Shoe Palace. Near the beginning of that tenure, Shoe Palace CEO George Mersho gave Flaum a call, asking for help building a few stores. “It was kind of out of the blue. ‘Someday you’re going to come work for me.’ And now it’s happened nine years later,” Flaum laughs.
Similar to joining Best Buy as it began ascending to prominence, Flaum has the challenge of driving Shoe Palace to a place even larger than its already prominent position, which consists mostly of stores in California and the Southwest. However, in addition to updating and remodeling many of the chain’s stores in The Golden State, Shoe Palace is in the process of developing a handful of locations in Florida—a completely new market.
Managing all of that change takes tremendous drive—which, luckily, is something that Flaum has in a seemingly endless supply. “I’m a workaholic, and to be successful in retail, you have to be that,” he explains. “I’m up and out of bed by 5 every morning, and I’m at my desk and working by 6. I get more done before 8 a.m. than most people get done in an entire day.”
But Flaum is also quick to point out that the organization’s growth isn’t the product of any single person’s work. Shoe Palace is owned and run by four brothers, but the family atmosphere permeates every layer of the organization. For that reason, the retailer has the ability to stay flexible and dynamic. “We are cutting edge, not afraid to spin on a dime, and not afraid to make a mistake,” Flaum says. “We don’t want to be the next big sneaker store; we want them to want to be us. We’re innovators, from the way we display our shoes to the way we present our stores to the way we staff our stores.”
That innovation drove the decision to expand to Florida, a move in which Flaum has numerous new responsibilities, from working with architecture firms to developing plans to hiring general contractors and assigning jobs to turning the store over to operations. He’s confident, too, that this will go smoothly because of the organization’s dynamic brand and track record of success. “Shoe Palace has a wow factor,” Flaum says. “Every mall we open in, customers line up and the managers tell us we have the best-looking storefronts.”
As Shoe Palace builds out new stores through 2017, Flaum is also responsible for the facilities side of existing stores, maintaining, repairing, and even updating locations to more modern designs. “While our competitors are admiring our current look and wanting to be like that, we’re going to be rolling out a new look,” he explains. That involves pushing more branding forward in stores, as well as using more warm, organic materials such as wood rather than the plexiglass and metal of the stores built in the 1990s. In addition, the new stores are trending larger. Shoe Palace locations a few years ago averaged about 3,000–4,000 square feet, but the new stores are averaging between 4,500 and 6,500, further going toward that wow factor for customers.
But, as driven by his philosophy, Flaum insists that there should be a wow factor for Shoe Palace employees as well, one driven by that family feeling. “A store-level employee can call me and bypass all the levels of the company and get an answer from me,” he says. “The lines of communication are totally open.”
In order to continue to grow, Shoe Palace partners and landlords will need to be just as happy. Again, Flaum’s philosophy plays a key part of establishing trust and ensuring results. “My role is to be an intricate part of making growth viewed by our landlords and customers as a seamless and flawless process,” he explains. “The face of Shoe Palace is more than the customer who walks in the door. My role is the back face of Shoe Palace—how we’re all doing and interacting with our landlords in the malls, and making sure it’s just as good as how we look to customers.”
We congratulate Shoe Palace and Elliot on their past success and wish them continued success as they grow their company towards 1000+ stores! We are honored to be their store fixture installer and to serve them as General Contractors. We appreciate being a part of the Shoe Palace family!
A MESSAGE FROM L & L RETAIL CONSTRUCTION, L.L.C.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity to work with Elliot Flaum and the Mershon’s of Shoe Palace who share the same values as our company regarding relationships and team work. The stores present an upscale look in the retail market place that we can take pride in putting our name on as well.