Milestone: The Rise to Fame

Famous Footwear’s evolution from a single outlet store to a national chain of family shoe shops is a story of vision and value.


• 29-year-old Neil Moldenhauer opens Neil’s Factory Shoe Outlet in Madison, Wis., financed by a $10,000 loan. Moldenhauer’s concept: “Brand name shoes for less.”


• Brian Cook, a stock boy at the Wisconsin store, is promoted to manager.

• Moldenhauer opens a store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, and calls it Famous Footwear.


• Eight Famous Footwear and Neil’s Factory Outlet stores are in operation.

• Annual revenues grow to $950,000 from $300,000 over the previous four years.


• Fifteen locations are in operation, now all under the Famous Footwear banner.

• Longtime employee Dave Orfan, Cook and a group of outside investors purchase 90 percent of the chain in a leveraged buyout.

• Orfan is made president of the company and Cook is named EVP.


• Cook is promoted to president of the

retail chain.


• Sales total $30 million.

• The company operates 36 Famous Footwear stores in nine states.

• St. Louis-based Brown Group Inc. acquires the firm and opens a Southern division of Famous Footwear, which eventually grows to 80 stores.


• The Madison office and Southern division merge operations, ending the year with 230 Famous Footwear stores.


• The company adds 47 new doors and absorbs three discount footwear chains operated by Wohl Shoe Co., a division of Brown Group.

• A 740,000-sq.-ft. distribution center opens in Sun Prairie, Wis., doubling Famous Footwear’s distribution capacity.


• Sales reach $268 million.

• 66 new units are opened, bringing the total to 353 Famous Footwear stores spanning 39 states.


• Famous Footwear acquires 63 additional locations from Wohl Shoe Co. and opens 105 new stores. With 477 total units by year’s end, Famous Footwear becomes the nation’s largest family chain of shoe stores selling branded footwear.


• Ground is broken for an 800,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Lebanon, Tenn.

• Store count totals 722 doors in 44 states by the end of the year.


• The Famous Footwear chain has 8,500 employees in 814 stores.

• 58 stores are opened in the greater Los Angeles area.

• The Lebanon Distribution Center is completed and begins serving stores in the Southern and Western regions.


• The company acquires the privately owned, 26-store footwear chain Mil-Mar Shoe Co.

• Mil-Mar stores in Milwaukee, Illinois and Iowa, known as Warehouse Shoes and All About Shoes, are renamed.


• Famous Footwear reaches the $1 billion sales mark in mid-January.

• Cook announces his retirement as president.


• Joseph Wood is named president of the company.

• The retailer operates 924 stores in the U.S., Guam and Puerto Rico.


• Stores undergo a redesign based on customer feedback from focus groups and other consumer research. Aisles are widened, backless sofas are installed, fashion-forward styles are highlighted on an elevated runway and the store colors become chocolate and cherry after an enthusiastic customer says shoe shopping is “like dessert.”

• The Shoe Crazy Shopping Spree, a contest where customers can enter to win a free shopping spree, is launched.

• Famous Footwear becomes a national sponsor of the March of Dimes WalkAmerica event (now known as the March for Babies).


• The firm opens its first Manhattan location. Living mannequins clad only in sleek body suits and the chain’s spring footwear balance on 5-foot pedestals that fill the city streets around Penn Plaza to tout the opening.


• Dr. Scholl’s collaborates with the chain to create an exclusive walking shoe to raise funds for the March of Dimes’ nationwide walk event. Sales of the shoe raise $40,000.


• Famous Footwear passes the 1,000-store mark, with 1,074 locations.


• Brown Shoe announces it will close the Madison office and consolidate associates from the Madison and St. Louis divisions to create a more connected footwear company headquartered in St. Louis. Roughly 270 Madison-based employees are offered jobs in St. Louis.


• The 350,000-sq.-ft. Famous Footwear Distribution Center is completed. It has an annual capacity of 32 million pairs of shoes and expected inventory turns of 17 to 22 times per year.

• The chain’s first nationwide branding, advertising and social media campaign, “Make Today Famous,” debuts for the back-to-school season. The campaign includes Famous Footwear’s first national cable TV advertising, radio spots in 47 major cities and a significant social/digital media component.

• Wood announces plans to retire in 2010.

• Rick Ausick, the company’s SVP and chief merchandising officer, is selected to take over as president of Famous Footwear.


• The retailer kicks off its “Mind Body Sole” tour, featuring Ali Vincent, the first female winner of NBC reality TV show “The Biggest Loser.”

• Apple iPhone and Android apps are launched that enable consumers to shop from their mobile phones. The iPhone app also includes an electronic rewards card that can be read by store scanners, eliminating the need for consumers to carry a physical card.

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