Since Elliot Flaum’s arrival at Shoe Palace almost three years ago, the burgeoning footwear retailer has doubled in size. As the vice president of construction and facilities, Flaum has navigated the rapid expansion from 75 stores to 150 across the United States. Now, with each site under Flaum’s supervision, the larger footprint is supporting Shoe Palace’s transformation into one of the most trusted athletic shoe and apparel chains in the country.
Flaum credits much of Shoe Palace’s success to his close partnership with the vice president of operations, Shawn Higdon. Throughout their tenure (Higdon joined in 2014, Flaum in 2016), the executives have partnered to ensure the success of the remodeling of Shoe Palace’s existing stores and the building of 30 new stores per year.
Together, the two Shoe Palace leaders have a symbiotic relationship that involves checks and balances and a spirit of open, honest communication. That dynamic allows them to weigh in on each other’s corporate responsibilities without judgment and facilitate the strategic changes in store for Shoe Palace.
On Creating an Effective Partnership
Flaum sees his collaboration with Higdon like bowling: “I set the pins up, and he mows them down,” he explains. Higdon coordinates the staffing in each location that Flaum and his team construct. The two check in with one another two to four times a day to identify issues or share ideas on how to be ahead of the competition.
One of the most important elements of their partnership is the comfort with which they can veer into each other’s lanes and give feedback. “When he tours a store and sees an issue, he can call me and say, ‘Hey, I’m at this store, and something isn’t right here,’ and I can address it,” Flaum says. “At the same time, I’ll be at a store, noticing an operational issue, and I can feel comfortable that I can bring this to him.”
Flaum and Higdon have built a strong relationship based on professional respect. “If Shawn calls me for something, it holds a lot of weight,” Flaum says. Both executives listen to each other’s concerns, suggestions, and ideas and treat them with the utmost importance.
On Managing Facilities with Higdon
From a facilities standpoint, Flaum welcomes Higdon’s input. “To an extent, Shawn is my customer,” Flaum says. The two frequently discuss the designs and layouts of new stores together, collaborating on aesthetic choices and the installation of fixtures, among other aspects. Flaum sees tremendous value in Higdon’s operations perspective and the way it helps him enhance the presentation of the stores. “Although I don’t manage 3,000 employees like he does, those people are directly affected by my actions,” Flaum says. “And that must be my priority.”
In that respect, Flaum’s work in facilities must take Higdon’s staff into consideration. If an air-conditioning unit breaks down, for instance, he understands not only the urgency of the issue but also the larger scope of impact: employees are affected just as much as the customers. Largely thanks to the positive relationships he’s developed with vendors, he’s able to complete work swiftly, and he’s proud of that. “I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been told by Shawn, ‘I can’t believe it’s fixed already,’” Flaum says.
On the Culture of Collaboration
The partnership with Higdon stems from the culture of teamwork and accountability cultivated at Shoe Palace. To ensure his team’s success, Flaum follows an established leadership philosophy: “trust but verify.” He often checks in with his team, which must perform its stated tasks and solve problems as expected. That hands-on awareness is different from micromanagement, according to Flaum. “If something goes wrong, I want to make sure I do my due diligence,” he says, “so that I may be just as accountable.”
Guided by this strong sense of responsibility, Flaum approaches his role with tremendous transparency. Shoe Palace’s operational culture entails a relatively flat communication structure, where one person on the sales floor can easily connect with almost anyone in upper management on the phone at any given time. It’s a foundational value of Shoe Palace as a company, Flaum says. “Titles are there for specific reasons, but outside of those responsibilities, they mean nothing,” he adds.
Flaum appreciates this structure and its ability to ensure a true open-door policy for employees. “In my experience, when other executives say, ‘My door’s always open,’ it often isn’t,” he says. “I try to follow through with that by keeping my door actually open.” Flaum aims to foster more of the transparent, constructive communication that makes his partnership with Higdon so successful while leading Shoe Palace into the future.