When Paul Grangaard first began running Port Washington-based Allen Edmonds, he was expecting it to be a four or five year part of his career. As he starts his tenth year with the company, Grangaard is now planning to retire in the near future.
The exact timing of the departure, part of a transition to new leadership following the company’s acquisition by Famous Footwear parent Caleres Inc., is still undefined, the Allen Edmonds chief executive officer said.
“It’s very exciting, they’ve brought a lot of resources that as a small independent company we didn’t have before,” said Grangaard, highlighting improved access to leather suppliers as just one area.
Another boost is coming in the form of increased marketing efforts in the near future. Some older stores, particularly in larger markets where the company first expanded to, will likely see a refreshed look as well.
“Brand awareness continues to be our biggest challenge, as much as people in Milwaukee know Allen Edmonds,” he said, noting the brand doesn’t have the same profile in large cities around the country.
Grangaard joined the company in 2008 after it was acquired by Minneapolis private equity firm Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison in 2006. He has commuted to and from Minneapolis regularly, something that played into his decision to retire.
“That’s been a real sacrifice for my family,” he said, adding that it also made it hard to be involved in civics or in non-profits in either region. “That’s hard to do when you can’t make meetings.”
Grangaard’s first task after joining the company was to turn the business around and sustain growth. He stayed on as CEO after Allen Edmonds was sold in 2011 to California-based private equity firm Brettwood Associates.
That acquisition provided the capital for the company to continue growing. Grangaard said there were points when Allen Edmonds considered going public, but it never quite reached a large enough size.
Grangaard, named BizTimes CEO of the Year in 2013, said leading Allen Edmonds has been a very fulfilling part of his career and was quick to point to the company’s people as among the things that stood out from his tenure.
“I was very lucky that there was a core of very highly-skilled, talented people,” he said, adding the existing group was augmented with some additional hires. “It was just an excellent team of leaders, but also an excellent team of people who worked for those leaders.”
He added that the relationships with customers and the ability to continue manufacturing were also highlights of his tenure. He pointed out less than 2 percent of the shoes bought in the U.S. are made here but the company was able to buck that trend.
As for his future, Grangaard said his friends have advised him to take a few months before deciding what to do next. He likes to build things and enjoys being CEO at a smaller firm, which made the decision to leave following the Caleres acquisition easier.
He added that he has lots of interests and may look to be involved in public service, starting a company or helping a small company grow.