Although Rick Ausick entered the footwear business decades before consumers were shopping with the click of a mouse, he’s skillfully navigated through endless changes in fashion and buying habits.
The president of Famous Footwear, a division of Caleres Inc., is celebrating his 40th anniversary in retail this year, with a career that spans merchandising roles at major department and specialty stores.
“It’s been a progression of opportunities and experiences that’s allowed me to have a better understanding of product, people and customers,” said Ausick.
The executive’s career began at Marshall Field’s in 1977, where he entered a training a program for MBA graduates. His first footwear role was assistant manager at a branch location, overseeing soft-goods categories.
“After that, [shoes] just happened,” recalled Ausick. Next he served as DMM of footwear at Burdines and then GMM at Eaton’s. He joined Famous Footwear in 2002 as chief merchandising officer, taking over the top spot in 2009.
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Under his leadership, the chain continues to be the largest contributor to Caleres’ performance, producing sales of roughly $1.6 billion in fiscal 2016. “The shoe business has been very good to me,” said Ausick. “It has lots of great people, and the customer has an emotional connection to the category, which is unique. These things make it fun to be in the business and feel excited about coming to work every day.”
Friends and industry partners said that Ausick’s success is built on developing solid relationships. “If you think about a collaborator, Rick comes to mind as a true partner,” said Matt Powell, sports industry analyst with The NPD Group Inc. “He’s always seeking ways for brands and [Famous] to win and be successful. If a decision goes against a particular brand, Rick always goes out of his way to make sure it’s [understood] why and offer opportunities for future collaborations.”
Michael Greenberg, president of longtime vendor Skechers USA Inc., has also observed Ausick’s knack for connecting with customers. “He makes the Famous consumer the focus, drawing from digital marketing and social media data to select product and designing marketing stories that connect with shoppers,” said Greenberg. “He’s also made Famous efficient in its operations, constantly training his associates to better serve their customers.”
Lori McDermid, VP of Caleres’ Naturalizer, Bzees and Natural Soul brands, added that Ausick encourages the idea of success as a team effort, and values the work of his staff. “Rick has a genuine concern and interest in the people who work for him,” she said. “When you’re lucky enough to work with someone like that, it motivates, encourages and makes you want to be better.”
And after four decades in the business, Ausick continues to look ahead to new opportunities. “We all have to get faster,” he said. “We have to find ways to design, produce and distribute product in a shorter period of time. The customer is looking for newer and faster all the time.”
After 40 years in the industry, Famous Footwear’s president continues to listen to consumers to stay at the forefront.