In the early ’80s, Ron Fromm, currently the president and CEO of the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY), was an accountant. Some work with Brian Cook, one of the original employees at Famous Footwear, opened the door to more opportunities in footwear and 30 years later he retired as Chairman of the Board, President and CEO of Brown Shoe Company. “One thing lead to another, then I was spending full-time in the footwear industry,” Fromm said. He continues to serve as a member of the Brown Shoe Board of Directors.
VAMP: What’s the mood like out there among brands for Spring ’17?
Fromm: Optimistic. We came off of a very difficult season. It’s one of the beauties of the footwear industry that we can get right back on the horse and there will be another opportunity. As the weather changes and the closet needs to change, people are anxious to work harder.
VAMP: Just like retail, trade shows are having to find new ways to keep customers excited. How has FFANY handled this continuous demand for newness?
Fromm: Clearly, freshness is important. One of the things that we keep searching for, that gets us back to our roots, is what our membership is seeking: discovery. They have a lot of work to do at the show. As that work continues to grow in terms of the time needed to get their jobs done, there is constantly a need for discovery. What’s new? What’s fresh? What are they missing? We build new vehicles to make that possible.
One such vehicle is the Pre-Fall Wall. Our members sent us product that was immediately available for sale. It gives the ability for a retailer to come over and look at all the different product. If there is a product that they are interested in, they can then make an appointment, call the vendor, or simply take a picture of the wall and share that information with their fellow buyer associates. They can do this all at one time, one place.
VAMP: Footwear is full of contradictions. Business can be done online, yet the industry likes to gather in person. Technology is changing the way shoes are sampled and produced, yet the fundamentals are still crucial to comfort, quality and fit… Do you think one side will ever win?
Fromm: I don’t think you need one side to win. There’s an old adage: “right shoe, right time, right place.” It has been the holy grail of the industry. How can I get the perfect merchandise distribution? As we get more and more tools that allow us to preview, sort and curate our selections and elements, we get a better opportunity to get closer to that perfect mix.
However, as we know, the consumer is king. So, what you thought was the perfect mix when you put the collection together changes. The consumer starts to vote, and it changes your perceptions of where the trend is going. I don’t see that ending. I think that technology is going to continue to eat at it, but there are people who are still going to keep coming back to make a difference. So, I don’t see it ending, I see it evolving and changing. Maybe the timing will change. How things come together may change. But the need for buyer and sellers to get together and to understand, not just the product you’re looking at, but where it stands in the mix and to have those discussions on an ongoing basis with the product right in front of them? That will remain the same.
VAMP: Was there a moment when you knew that you would be involved in footwear for the long haul?
Fromm: I’m sure there was. The reason you stay for the long haul is that it’s meeting your needs. I think that the challenges of the footwear industry and its continuous opportunity make it interesting. And if you’re fortunate to have the right mentors, the right partnerships, the right friends, it creates a really great atmosphere and you want to stay.
VAMP: What are some important qualities to have in order to succeed in the footwear industry?
Fromm: Persistence. Resilience. It is a seasonal industry. It has highs and lows. Therefore, there is a premium given to those who have that sort of resilience at their core, those who have a “never give up” attitude. They are constantly aware of the opportunities. Seasons come, seasons go. There’s really good ones, there’s really tough ones. What you do know is that there is going to be another season in just a few weeks.
VAMP: Who do you admire in the footwear industry?
Fromm: There’s so many people! I admire the business leaders. I had the great fortune to work with Brian Cook who was really the heart and soul of building the Famous Footwear chain. He was a true merchant. He put the customer first. He was tenacious. But, most of all, he loved to empower people. He enjoyed helping people do more, be more and make a difference.
You look at people like [Skechers Chairman and CEO] Robert Greenberg and what he’s been able to do time and time again. He helped me throughout my career by challenging me at how much better we could be at serving the customer and at being right on trend. He’s about having passion for growing the business and never being satisfied.
I have a great relationship with Sam Edelman. He has a voracious appetite for trend and for doing the hard work to turn over every leaf to find those things that the consumer is passionate about having to have. All three of these people shared this constant quest to serve that customer, to be right.
There’s so many terrific people. It’s what makes the industry great.
VAMP: Why have you remained passionate about the footwear business?
Fromm: The industry has been good to Ron Fromm and Ron Fromm really enjoys being with FFANY and helping others create success for themselves.