Producing shearling footwear may seem like a cozy business, but for Bearpaw president John Pierce, the shoe business can be tough as nails. So he’s relied on advice from a former colleague who encouraged him to be himself, as well as his father, a hard worker who carved out a career at J.C. Penney that lasted decades.
Here, Pierce talks about the challenges of his job, encouraging the next generation of workers and how he unwinds at the end of a busy work day.
My leadership style: “I believe in treating everybody as equals. I provide guidance and am available to assist when necessary. But we’re all adults and are in this together, so I expect people to pick up the slack and roll up their sleeves as I do.”
Greatest mentor: “My dad. He was in retail for 36 years with J.C. Penney. He started at the store level and worked his way up through the ranks, retiring as president of its private-label division. I believe you build your own success through hard work, which provides you opportunities to grow.”
Best lesson learned: “Be true to who you are. A store manager [told me] many years ago, ‘No matter what you’re doing, be the person you naturally are.’ I’m a straight shooter — honest and upfront with those I do business with. It doesn’t mean you don’t face difficulties along the way. But as long as you stay true to that [idea], things will end well.”
Most challenging part of my job: “It’s the ever-changing retail environment. You have to adapt and move as [retailers] move, particularly in regard to e-commerce. Amazon is probably the most difficult. We made the decision to cut back on [the business] we do with them directly. But it makes you rethink on a daily basis what the right decision is, since the big retailers are only getting bigger, and you have to make sure you’re [part of it].”
Biggest change in the industry: “Speed to market. Some brands have adapted to the change, and others have not. Some of it comes down to the size of a company. The larger ones have the time and money to invest and have improved accordingly. Since we’re a small company, it’s not as easy to execute.”
Business leader I admire: “I’m reading Phil Knight’s book, ‘Shoe Dog.’ He’s one individual I’ve watched through the years and have seen what Nike achieved under his direction. You can’t help but think of some of the troubles that have occurred there since his retirement.”
Advice to younger generations: “Don’t expect anything to be given to you. The biggest battle with the next generation is entitlement. They need to roll up their sleeves and invest in what they’re doing. Persistence and integrity are two essentials to achieve one’s goals.”
My to-do list for Bearpaw: “Continuing to increase revenue and profits by [adding] a first-cost division. For retailers, we can provide assistance by filling their private-label needs. For wholesalers, we can help them enter a category where they don’t have factory connections or resources.”
If I could do it all again: “I wouldn’t do it any different. I started as a store manager at Foot Locker and then became a buyer of athletic footwear at J.C. Penney. I made the move to wholesale with And1 in their heyday in 2001 and have been on the wholesale side since. These roles helped me know how consumers and retailers think, and become more informed.”
How Pierce balances business with pleasure:
Morning routine: “Normally, it’s roll out of bed and go to the gym or get a run in. I am not a coffee drinker, so no need for that startup.”
Break time: “I’m embarrassed to say I’m a big ‘Candy Crush’ fan. When I want to escape from what I’m doing, I pull out the iPad and play.”