After 33 years as part of the Dillard’s family, Joe Brennan is trading in his corporate wingtips for a pair of golf spikes. Today, the 73-year-old industry veteran is retiring after a storied career in the shoe business, most recently VP of shoes at the department store chain.
Brennan got his feet wet in retail as a stock boy while in high school. After college, he landed a job at the former Diamond’s, a department store headquartered in Phoenix. Upon the store’s acquisition by Dillard’s, he was named GMM of women’s apparel, accessories, cosmetics and shoes. In 1998, he became president of the chain’s Midwest division, a position he held through 2006.
For Brennan, the role of buyer was the sweet spot in his career. “I discovered I was a results-oriented person,” said Brennan. “You can become a buyer at a very early age and see success. You can see how you’re performing by how the customer reacts to your product.”
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Here, the industry veteran reflects on his tenure in the shoe business.
In your 33-year tenure at Dillard’s, what was the biggest change in the industry?
“The reduction of freestanding department stores and retailers in general. There are less shoe outlets in the traditional sense. The big boxes have taken some of that. At one time, there were a lot of independents and a lot more department stores.”
Who were your key mentors along the way?
“Dillard’s founder William Dillard. In 1984, when he bought [Diamond’s] I was general merchandise manger. [During] one-on-one time [with him] he made clear Dillard’s stands for integrity and loyalty — important DNA. There’s [also] Alex Dillard, William’s son. In 1990, Dillard’s decided to take back its [leased departments]. [Since] Diamond’s was the only operating division that had shoes, Alex talked to me about what we needed to do. He thought shoes were important to Dillard’s. With him as my boss-partner we grew the business to the level it is today.”
What are your plans for retirement?
“I will take a breather and spend some time with my wife and kids, Mary and Patrick. My son and grandchildren live in Switzerland, so it will give us more opportunity to travel [without] a calendar. I’m also dusting off the golf clubs and getting the sport back to where it was.”
What will you most miss about coming to work?
“The people. There are [four] important groups in my life. There’s my wife of 51 years and my children. [Next], there’s my Dillard’s family that includes, Alex and his brothers and sisters. There’s [also] the people I work with every day. It’s stimulating being around a lot of young people. It keeps you young. I also have the vendor family. They’re stimulating, exciting, and everybody wants the same thing — sell more, make more profit. We team together to do that.”
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