Shoe Carnival Inc. History

8233 Baumgart Road
Evansville, Indiana 47725

Telephone: (812) 867-6471
Fax: (812) 867-4261

Public Company
Incorporated: 1978 as Russell Shoe Biz Inc.
Employees: 3,770
Sales: $590.2 million (2004)
Stock Exchanges: NASDAQ
Ticker Symbol: SCVL
NAIC: 44821 Shoe Stores

Company Perspectives:

It is our mission to create a shopping experience like no other by offering you a huge selection of quality name brand shoes, the best values, and a fun, entertaining store environment. We want Shoe Carnival to be your number one choice for family footwear.

Key Dates:

David Russell opens his first small shoe store, Shoe Biz.
Shoe Carnival generates $8 million in annual sales from its three stores.
Russell sells a controlling interest in his company to Fisher-Camuto Corporation but remains chief executive in charge of the company's operation.
J. Wayne Weaver, with Russell's help, purchases Shoe Carnival from Fisher-Camuto for $17 million.
Shoe Carnival goes public.
Mark L. Lemond is named president and CEO.
Sales reach $590.2 million and store count exceeds 240 locations.

Company History:

Shoe Carnival Inc. is one of the leading retailers of family footwear in the United States. The company differentiates its shoe stores with value pricing, its large selection of brand names, and a carnival-like shopping atmosphere. Following rapid growth during the late 1990s and into the 21st century, Shoe Carnival was operating 255 stores in 24 states in the Midwest, South, and southeastern regions of the United States.

Russell's Creative Ideas Lead to Success

Shoe Carnival was inspired by shoe salesman David Russell of Evansville, Indiana. Russell worked for 20 years selling shoes in the traditional fashion. He knelt in front of customers to measure their feet, carried boxes from the back room, and earned a commission from every pair of shoes he sold. Throughout his career, however, he had the feeling that there had to be a better way to sell shoes. Finally, in 1978, the 34-year-old Russell quit his job at Kinney Shoe Corp. to open his own shop. He combined his savings with money from his in-laws and opened a small shoe store that he dubbed "Shoe Biz." His idea was to create a selling environment completely different from the traditional, staid shoe store that was so common at the time. He wanted to create a shoe store that was fun. Thus, Shoe Biz offered thousands of boxes of shoes on self-service racks. Jukebox music that featured tunes from the 1950s blared away, though the music was often interrupted by announcements by the store manager, who was authorized to hawk footwear and cut deals with customers on the spot.

Russell's idea was a hit. Sales were so strong that he was able to open a second store in Evansville, called Shoe Shower, which, along with Shoe Biz and the other stores to follow, would come to operate under the Shoe Carnival name. Russell also opened a third Shoe Carnival across the river from Evansville in Owensboro, Kentucky, in the early 1980s. Like the original store, the new stores enticed shoppers with low-cost shoes and self-service shopping, a chaotic and entertaining shopping environment, and a sort of let's-make-a-deal atmosphere. Only "Elvis music or older" was allowed on the jukebox, and customers were encouraged to haggle over the price of the shoes. Managers were instructed to beat any price in town, and the stores featured an elevated stage where a store employee hawked specials on the store public address system every few minutes. The deals occasionally involved spectacular giveaways that generated valuable press for the stores. The shop in Owensboro, for example, once gave away a cow, and one of the Evansville stores awarded $25,000 in cash to a customer.

Russell also grabbed attention with screaming advertisements. On one occasion, he had to prove to the Better Business Bureau the validity of an advertising claim that he literally had "miles of boots" in stock. He measured a boot and multiplied the length by his inventory to discover that he was stocking exactly 5.7 miles of boots. Once the promotions got the customers into the stores, the carnival atmosphere was honed to get them into a buying mood. A free pair of tennis shoes might be offered to anyone who could hula-hoop for a minute or to the first person who could bring an aspirin to the manager. Customers were also enticed by the sheer size of, and selection at, the stores. The shops eventually offered an average of more than 10,000 square feet of floor space, upon which name-brand stock was displayed on tall, self-service racks. By using a smaller number of salespeople, the company was able to keep prices low and generate profits through high-volume sales of name-brand shoes.

Expansion Begins in the Mid-1980s

By 1984, Shoe Carnival was generating a lofty $8 million in annual sales from its three stores. Sales at the private company continued to grow and to catch the attention of other shoe industry players. In 1986, in fact, Russell sold a controlling interest in his company to Fisher-Camuto Corporation, although he remained as chief executive in charge of the company's operation. Based in Stamford, Connecticut, Fisher-Camuto was the manufacturer of shoes under designer labels, including Gloria Vanderbilt, Enzo, Esties, and Nine West. Fisher-Camuto bought into the chain because it believed that it had access to the financing needed to expand Russell's proven concept outside of Evansville. To that end, in October and November of 1986 Fisher-Camuto financed the construction of three Shoe Carnival outlets in Indianapolis. The success of those new stores mimicked that of the Evansville-area outlets. Enthusiastic at this outcome, the Shoe Carnival organization opened a total of 15 additional outlets in major Midwest markets in under two years.

Realizing the potential of the Shoe Carnival concept, J. Wayne Weaver, with Russell's help, purchased Shoe Carnival from Fisher-Camuto in 1989 for a lowly $17 million. Weaver was serving as president and chief executive of Nine West at the time. After the buyout, Weaver became chairman of the again independent Shoe Carnival as well as chief executive of Nine West, and Russell retained his chief executive slot. Shoe Carnival continued to expand at a rapid clip under their leadership. By the end of 1989, Shoe Carnival was sporting 30 stores spread throughout nine states in the Midwest and South, including Kentucky, Indiana, Illinois, Iowa, Michigan, Tennessee, Ohio, and Alabama. To support this growth, the chain employed a total of 1,500 part-time and full-time workers. At one point, Shoe Carnival was opening an average of one store per week. Russell and Weaver planned to open only six or seven additional outlets in 1990, however.

Russell managed the expansion of Shoe Carnival during the late 1980s and early 1990s with the help of a close-knit management team that consisted of longtime friends and executives lured from competing shoe companies. The executives stayed close to the day-to-day operation of the stores, and Russell himself was occasionally seen packing merchandise in the company's Evansville distribution center, manning the microphone at Shoe Carnival outlets, and even handing out dollar bills to customers waiting in the check-out lines. Although his retail management experience was limited prior to the start-up of Shoe Carnival, few could argue with his success. Nevertheless, the rapid expansion had not been without minor setbacks. "Initially, we expected to have the success of the Evansville store in every city," said Laura Ray, vice-president of marketing, in the November 1989 issue of Indiana Business. "But after the opening it tended to slow down a little. So it has been an education for us, getting customers used to the Carnival and our way of doing things. But overall we're pleased as punch with everything."

Shoe Carnival Goes Public in 1993

Shoe Carnival slowed its expansion during the early 1990s and concentrated on whipping its existing operations into shape. About ten new stores were added between 1990 and mid-1993. That grew the chain to a total of 41 outlets, most of which were in the Midwest. Throughout this period, Shoe Carnival was effectively a private company and was not required to release sales and earnings information. Early in 1993, though, the company converted from a Chapter S corporation to a public company. The change was made because Weaver and Russell wanted to generate expansion capital by way of a public stock offering. To that end, Shoe Carnival conducted an initial public offering that brought about $28 million into its coffers. That left Russell with about 7 percent ownership in the company. Weaver, who was also a significant owner of Nine West shares and several other interests, retained a 54 percent stake in the company. Subsequent stock offerings shortly thereafter brought additional funds into Shoe Carnival's war chest.

Shoe Carnival generated sales of about $127 million in 1992. Rapid growth following the initial public offering would nearly double that figure within a few years. This revenue gain was primarily the result of new store openings. By the end of 1993, Shoe Carnival had opened a total of 57 stores in 15 states. Sales in that year climbed to $157 million, about $6 million of which was netted as income. Importantly, Shoe Carnival also realized improvements in its net profit margins and sales-per-square-foot of floor space, which were among the highest in the industry.

Going into 1994, Shoe Carnival was an emerging power in the U.S. family footwear industry. Athletic and women's shoes represented 33 percent and 29 percent, respectively, of company sales, while children's and men's shoes accounted for a combined 33 percent. Accessories such as belts and purses made up the remainder of the company's revenues. Popular name brands sold at Shoe Carnival outlets included Nike, Reebok, Hush Puppies, Dexter, Florsheim, and Rockport.

Shoe Carnival continued to add new stores to its chain during 1994. By the end of the year, there were 87 Shoe Carnival stores operating in 15 states. Besides increasing the store number, the company upgraded its Evansville distribution center to 108,000 square feet and installed a mechanized merchandise handling system. The new system allowed Shoe Carnival to reduce its store inventories and to deliver shoe styles that were hot sellers more quickly. That system was augmented by a new computerized point-of-sale system that connected all of the store's cash registers into the company's headquarters computer system. This arrangement enabled managers at both the store and headquarters levels to make decisions based on up-to-the-minute sales, inventory, and payroll data.

Meanwhile, store shenanigans and promotions continued to draw customers. For example, one long-time practice was for Shoe Carnival stores to offer deals at selected times by having an employee spin a big roulette wheel that was part of a Spin-'n-Win game. The wheel was divided into specials such as "$1 off," "$2 off," or "free prize." The deal that came up on the wheel was the one offered to people that were in the store at the time. Another example of Shoe Carnival's unique promotional efforts was its kick-off of the sale of the popular Fila brand of shoes. Shoe Carnival brought in Pop-A-Shot electronic basketball games and invited customers to come in and shoot to win prizes and in some cases to engage in shooting contests with well-known basketball players. Rounding out the carnival-like atmosphere in all of Shoe Carnival's stores were neon signs, colored lights, colorful displays, large mirrors, and 1950s jukebox music similar to what David Russell played in the first Shoe Biz outlet in 1978.

Shoe Carnival's revenues rose 37 percent in 1994 to $214 million. At the same time, the company's sales-per-square-foot figure declined slightly and net income fell to just $1.2 million. The slide in net income was attributed to a number of factors. Several of the new stores that had been opened in Detroit, Alabama, and Georgia failed to live up to management's expectations. Additionally, Shoe Carnival's attempt to market private-label shoes was a flop. The company had hoped that they could boost profit margins by offering private-label women's shoes. However, the shoes consumed valuable shelf space previously occupied by name brands, and Shoe Carnival lost money on the project. "We got a little bit out of our element," Russell said of the experiment in Forbes in 1994. Another part of the problem, according to some analysts, was that the shoe market was become increasingly crowded with other discount retailers that were eating into Shoe Carnival's piece of the pie.

To boost the profitability of existing stores, Shoe Carnival reduced its expansion plans for 1995, although it still expected to open up to 15 new outlets. Executives were also planning to further reduce sales of private-label shoes and to trim the organization's inventory and overall operating costs. By mid-1995 management had made significant progress toward those goals. Despite management's efforts, the company reported a $7.2 million loss for the year, the largest loss in its history.

Lemond Takes Over as President and CEO

Founder Russell resigned in 1996 due to health problems. Thereafter, Mark L. Lemond, Shoe Carnival's chief operating officer and chief financial officer, took over as president and CEO in September. Under new leadership, Shoe Carnival launched an aggressive strategy to upgrade its image and increase earnings. It closed eight of its unprofitable stores, began remodeling existing locations, and cut 10 percent of its administrative staff. The company also started to bolster its product line by adding more brand names, including Etienne Aigner, to its arsenal. In-store displays were also revamped, giving the stores a cleaner, easier-to-shop look.

Lemond's bold moves paid off in the late 1990s and into the 2000s. Sales and profits rebounded, and in 1999 the company received a line of credit that would allow it to expand by up to 30 stores per year. The firm also restructured its buying organization, upgraded its information systems, and trimmed its selling, general, and administrative expenses. By 2001, Shoe Carnival's sales had nearly doubled since 1996. In 2002, sales climbed to $519.7 million while net income grew to $15.6 million.

In August 2002, the company introduced a new store design. Over the next two years, 80 of its stores were showcasing the new look. Twenty-two new stores opened their doors in 2004, and 12 to 14 new stores were slated to begin operations the following year. Shoe Carnival also revamped its advertising strategy and hired a new advertising firm in November 2004. An advertising blitz entitled the "Red Nose" campaign focused on the store's fun atmosphere and popular new fashions.

With president and CEO Lemond at the helm, Shoe Carnival had overcome its financial troubles of the mid-1990s. While intense competition and fluctuating sales remained everyday challenges, the company appeared to be on the right track for continued success in the years to come. When asked what his top priority was in a 2005 Evansville Courier interview, Lemond replied, "Continued growth. The growth of our company in terms of the number of stores, in terms of sales and earning growth and the economic growth of our shareholders and employees."

Principal Subsidiaries: SCHC, Inc.; SCLC, Inc.; Shoe Carnival Ventures, LLC.

Principal Competitors: Brown Shoe Company Inc.; Foot Locker Inc.; Payless ShoeSource Inc.

Further Reading:

  • Basch, Mark, "Weaver to Sell $11 Million of Shoe Stock," Florida Times Union, October 20, 1993.
  • Darlin, Damon, "Send in the Clowns," Forbes, August 1, 1994, p. 89.
  • Derk, James S., "The Shoe Carnival," Indiana Business, November 1989, p. 28.
  • "Executive Exchange Common Sense," Evansville Courier, February 1, 2003, p. J10.
  • "Glitz, Glitter, and, of Course, Shoes Galore," Tribune Business Weekly, August 11, 1993, p. 3.
  • Julian, Alan, "Shoe Store Tries to Kick Sales Slump," Evansville Courier & Press, September 15, 2002, p. E1.
  • Kent, Jennifer, "Shoe Carnival Coming," Cincinnati Post, May 26, 1993.
  • Massa, Sherri, "Shoe Carnival Swings into Town with Low Prices, Crazy Gimmicks," Indianapolis Business Journal, January 19, 1987, p. 12.
  • Miller, Laura Novello, "Shoe Carnival Spins IPO Wheel to Finance Expansion," Indianapolis Business Journal, May 23, 1994, p. 9B.
  • Raithel, Tom, "Stepping up Shoe Carnival Takes on a New Look and New Ideas as It Treads toward Better Profitability," Evansville Courier, March 30, 1997, p. E1.
  • "Retail Entrepreneurs of the Year: Mark Lemond," Chain Store Age, December 2001, p. 74.
  • "Shoe Carnival Inc.," The Wall Street Journal, September 20, 1996.
  • "Shoe Carnival Reports Second Quarter Results," PR Newswire, August 24, 1995.
  • "Shoe Carnival's Wheel of Fortune," Chain Store Age, November 2002, p. 46.
  • Wilson, Melinda, "The Shoe Carnival Is Coming to Town," Detroit News, February 25, 1994, p. 1E.

Source: International Directory of Company Histories, Vol.72. St. James Press, 2005.