Journeys’ New President Thinks the Death-of-Malls Story Is ‘Overblown’

In 1987, Mario Gallione was managing one of Genesco Inc.’s stores. Seven years later, he was elevated to the product team of Journeys, the retail subsidiary of the Nashville-based company.

Now he’s ready for his next big move: taking over the 1,200-door retail giant. Gallione, 57, was tapped to replace the retiring CEO, Jim Estepa. Here, the new president of Journeys Group NA weighs in on the road ahead. 

You have some big shoes to fill. How do you feel about that?
“I need to help ensure there is a smooth transition first and foremost before we even talk about the business side of things with the team. Fortunately, that should be fairly easy in the sense that this management team has worked together for a long time. I’m fortunate [to inherit this] management team that I have been part of for all these years. It should be easy for me to maintain the culture here because I have grown up in it.”

As you take over, how do you view the rest of 2018?
“We feel like we have strong momentum coming off of a good Q4, off a good holiday season. That should give us the momentum we need going into this year. Our biggest continued focus both as Journeys and as a retailer is this blending of our stores, the web and our people. It’s a huge advantage for us. In the early days, when companies like ours had lots of stores, the web was viewed as another part of the business, something not necessarily connected to the stores. Now it’s becoming seamless. The customer expects and demands to be able to have access to your company. So having the web and having so many stores, almost 1,200 in North America, is a huge advantage for us. Then when you blend in the fact that we have really good people, that’s like a three-stranded cord that’s hard to break.”

What will be key areas of growth?
“Our kids’ business will continue to be the biggest in terms of store growth. We have around 250 Journeys Kidz stores now. We’ve set our sights on between 400 and 500. We’ve sold kids’ shoes in the Journeys stores for years — in fact, we do about 5 percent of our kids’ footwear business in the Journeys stores. That growth of actual kids’ stores allows us to acquire customers at a very young age, retain them into their youths and then transition them into the Journeys stores.”

What’s the state of the teen shopper?
“Some things are the same. Seventeen years ago, we did some research and found that teens wanted to be different, just like their friends. Kids used to run like a pack in the mall. And four out of five of them would wear the same thing. You could look down and they’d all be wearing the same thing. Now you could see that same pack in the mall and maybe one or two of them are wearing the same thing. There is a lot more individuality and diversity, yet they still want to be cool and different like their friends. That part hasn’t changed. What’s changed is the way they’ve been empowered with social media and their phones. They have access to anything and everything whenever they want it. That’s made us all realize that fashion cycles and timelines can move a little quicker, but at the end of the day, our very best-selling products are our very best-selling products. There is not a whole lot of deviation.”

Do you worry about empty malls?
“For the most part, [the death-of-malls story] is still overblown. Again, there is a little bit of overretailing in America. But by and large, there are still a lot of great shopping centers people like to go to. The landlords are doing a great job reinventing themselves, making the mall appealing to consumers and giving them a reason to stay.”

How will your leadership style differ from Jim’s?
“Jim talks a lot about our core values. One of our core values is about never-ending improvement. [I came from the product side, and] my first boss used to say, ‘We’re always wrong; it’s just a question of to what degree.’ We are in the fashion business, and we are in the teen fashion business, so it’s kind of a double whammy. We have this notion that no matter what we do from a product standpoint, it’s never going to be right. It’s not a negative; it’s a positive. It keeps you striving to always get that next buy, that elusive perfect buy. There is never going to be one. You either bought too many or too few, or you were too early or too late, had the wrong color, wrong price, wrong part of the country. That perspective has created this thick skin with me, in that I don’t get pushed one way or the other. There are always going to be cycles. We’ve got a great track record over the years as a company of comp sales increases and earnings, and we’re proud of that, but that upbringing within the context of Journeys has allowed me to stay balanced.”

What’s the best piece of advice Jim gave you?
“That we are in the people business — we just happen to sell shoes. That’s one of his most famous quotes. Upon taking my new role, he also gave me another good piece of advice: to just be yourself. ‘You don’t have to worry about filling my shoes,’ he said. We have a great team here. The weight of the world is not on my shoulders. It is balanced across everybody.”

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