NSRA’s Awards Retailer of the Year, Vendors of the Year, and Hall of Fame inductees

NSRA’s Awards Retailer of the Year, Vendors of the Year, and Hall of Fame inductees

The National Shoe Retailers Association honored several shoe companies and individuals at its annual leadership conference held Nov. 13-15 in Boston.

Sajdak Named NSRA Retailer of the Year

Sajdak owns Stan’s Fit for Your Feet/New Balance Milwaukee, a four-location business headquartered in Brookfield, WI. He joined the company, founded by his grandfather and father, during the 1970s, and served as vice president for 16 years before becoming president and CEO in 1989. Under his leadership, Stan’s Fit for Your Feet expanded from one store to its current multiple locations.

His company has been a member of NSRA since its opening in 1950. Sajdak was elected to the NSRA Board of Directors in 1995, and has served the Association as a conference speaker/panelist, an Education Committee member and head of several committees before being elected Chairman of the Board in 2001. As a past chairperson, Sajdak headed NSRA’s NextGen initiative, which launched in 2009 and which, in partnership with the Family Business Center at Chicago’s Loyola University, works with NSRA members on managing the complexities involved in bringing new generations into a business.

NSRA Honors Aetrex, Clarks as 2013 Vendors of the Year

“Recipients of this award are companies that retailers hold in high esteem for the integrity of their business practices, and for their long-term commitment to the independent retail channel,” said NSRA president Chuck Schuyler. “This year, NSRA’s selection committee found two companies equally deserving of the accolade, ‘Vendor of the Year.’ Rather than recognize only one of them, the committee elected for the first time to bestow the honor on both, and it is with great pleasure that we do so.”

Mindy Ojea, accepting on behalf of Clarks, noted that her professional experience includes time with both manufacturers and retailers. “I understand what partnership means on both sides of our business,” she said, adding, “Vendor of the Year isn’t about our accomplishments – it’s about our partnership with retailers. We appreciate you and hope we’ve helped you as much as you help us. Thank you – and know that this award is for everybody in this room.”

NSRA chairman Rick Ravel, owner of Karavel Shoes in Austin, presented the award to Aetrex, represented by Aetrex founder Richard Schwartz’s three sons, Larry, Matt and Evan, who have been running the company for several years. As president of the company, Larry Schwartz accepted, saying, “On behalf of my brothers and our dad, thank you. When we first were selling you stuff, maybe everything we did wasn’t all ready for prime time, but we’ve always gotten better with your help. We’re having a lot of success together, and we look forward to many more years with our great friends at NSRA.”

Four Inducted into NSRA Hall of Fame

The National Shoe Retailers Association inducted Jerry Levin, chairman, Lebo’s, Inc., Charlotte, NC; the late retailers Howard Penn, Puritan Clothing Company of Cape Cod and Al Singer, Allan’s Shoe Stores, Bay City, MI; and the late Terry Armstrong, co-founder of shoe manufacturer SAS, to their Hall of Fame.

Jerry Levin grew up in the shoe retailing business, at Lebo’s, Inc., founded by his father, Sidney, in 1923. He left college to manage the business full time when his father needed medical leave, and never looked back. He became first a full partner, then sole owner in 1964 when his father retired. Under his leadership, Lebo’s grew into a multi-store retailer selling women’s, men’s and children’s footwear, as well as Barbette Footwear and Dancewear, a line Levin created of ballet, tap, jazz, clogging and square dance shoes. Barbette products are also sold in many retail stores in the U.S. and abroad. Later, Levin launched Colorama Dance Costumes by Lebo’s, sold through dance studios. He was elected to NSRA’s Board of Directors in 1987, and later served first as vice chairman, then chairman, 1995-97, of the Board. He continues to be an active past chairman of NSRA, part of the eight-member informal Past Chairmen Advisory Council to NSRA’s Board. Levin and his wife, Barbara, who have been married since 1951, have four children and several grandchildren. Both the senior Levins regularly attend NSRA events, where their friendship and advice is cherished.

Howard Penn and his brother Milton joined the family business, Puritan Clothing Company of Cape Cod, during the 1950s, building it into a multi-location business that is still a family-held company. Penn’s passion for the footwear part of the business led him to join the National Shoe Retailers Association, where his fellow retailers soon elected him to the Board of Directors. He served as chairman of the Board from 1991-93, and remained active with the Association as a past chairman until illness prevented him from attending meetings. In addition to his work on behalf of independent retailers, Penn was a firm believer in giving back to the community. He held leadership posts with the Jaycees, Boy Scouts, YMCA, Kiwanis Club, Big Brothers and Big Sisters, and several athletic associations and civic groups. He was also active with the Two Ten Foundation and as a member of the Cape Cod Synagogue.

Al Singer expanded the shoe store founded by his father Harry into a four-location business in Bay City, Michigan. He began his career working part-time for his father. After college, he became a sales representative for a series of footwear brands. In the early 1960s, he returned to Michigan, joining his father in the women’s shoe business in 1964. He began expanding the inventory into sizes and widths, then into the comfort arena. By 1984, Singer was sole owner of the business and his wife, Pat, became his business partner. They added men’s shoes and quickly grew the business to more than $3 million in annual sales. Singer’s business success led to consulting work in design with several footwear manufacturers. He also used his business to raise funds for breast cancer research, with proceeds donated to the Virginia Clinton Kelly Research and Education Fund of the Arkansas Cancer Research Center.  Singer was a tireless advocate and producer of jazz; from a second home in Phoenix, Arizona, he served simultaneously on the boards of directors of Jazz in Arizona Inc. and the Arizona Classic Jazz Society. He produced concerts as fund-raisers, providing financial assistance to ailing individuals within the jazz industry and college scholarships to music students who intended to become professional musicians. Singer was elected to NSRA’s Board of Directors in 1991; NSRA created the Al Singer Award in 2005 to honor him as a man whose contributions to NSRA and the nation he loved were broad and varied.

Terry Armstrong was a career footwear man who learned shoemaking at Maine’s Northeast Shoe Co.,  where he worked for nearly 20 years. In the early 1970s, Armstrong, his wife Gena and their long-term friend Lew Hayden recognized that shoe manufacturing was moving from the United States to locations abroad, where labor was cheaper and easier to control. Fearing that the quality of footwear could be compromised as a consequence, Armstrong and Hayden decided to pursue a dream: They moved to Texas where, in 1976, Armstrong and Hayden founded San Antonio Shoemakers, which handcrafted every pair of shoes the founders sold. Today, the company has more than 100 stores in the U.S., nearly 100 franchises and a number of retail locations abroad. It was word-of-mouth that turned the shoes into a national brand; the company name was eventually shortened to SAS, with a focus on two promises: First, that “Life is a journey. Wear comfortable shoes.” and second, “Experience SAS – you’ll be glad you did.” In 2010, the Terry and Regina Armstrong Family Charitable Foundation was established in their memory; rather than directly undertaking charitable activities, the Foundation supports philanthropy, voluntarism and grants-making foundations by giving them financial assistance for their works.