For 50 years, Cliff Sifford, vice chairman of Shoe Carnival Inc., has been paying it forward.
“I’ve seen icons of the shoe industry win this award. And when they told me they wanted to give [it to me], it really was humbling,” Sifford told FN.
The retail exec first began working with the organization when he joined Belk Department Stores in the 1970s. But Two Ten CEO and president Shawn Osborne said Sifford’s award is based on more than just his contributions to the nonprofit. “He has dedicated years and years to supporting not only Two Ten but many other organizations in his community and across the nation,” said Osborne. “And he’s
inspired the employees at Shoe Carnival to get involved in giving as well. His commitment to the organization and philanthropy is going to be recognized.”
Under his leadership, Shoe Carnival has been involved with eight charities in Evansville, Ind., including Youth First, Ronald McDonald House and Habitat for Humanity, in addition to several national charities such as Two Ten, American Cancer Society and Toys for Tots.
“When I took on the helm of Shoe Carnival, I wanted to make Shoe Carnival a great corporate citizen. And I think we’ve done a very good job of that,” said Sifford. “Our passion lies with families and children, because that’s who we serve. We do a lot of shoe business in Evansville, and we’ve been very lucky to have begun our retail business in Evansville, so to give back something to the city really feels good.”
Sifford began his career with Shoe Carnival back in 1997 and held the top post as CEO from 2012 until last year, when he transitioned to vice chairman of the board. Meanwhile, he also serves as chairman of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America and as a board member at Two Ten.
Looking back, Sifford told FN he’s most fond of his relationships and building a homegrown team. He said expanding the Shoe Carnival staff internally and recruiting Indiana locals is what has set the retailer apart from the competition — as evidenced by the average 10-year tenure in its buying department.
“I’m real proud of the fact that our buying staff is all homegrown. Who knows better than someone who truly grew up with Shoe Carnival, grew their career with Shoe Carnival They understand our customer’s wants and needs,” he said.
Further proof of his strategy: Shoe Carnival has grown revenues to more than $1 billion and achieved 11 straight years of comparable-store sales growth leading into the 2020 fiscal year.
For Sifford, the shoe industry has become a family. He recalled tough times during the COVID-19 pandemic where the vendor community came together. “We wanted to make sure that they knew we were there for them. But you know what? They were telling us the same thing,” he said. “That is what sets the shoe business apart. I have a lot of friends who will stand up for me and make sure that we at Shoe Carnival get what we need. But it’s always a two-way street. And that’s what I love about the footwear industry, and that’s the reason why I’ve stuck around.”