Elbert W. Allen, Sr. was a young man with great vision. In 1922, his plan to manufacture men’s dress shoes as comfortable as they were stylish positioned him to revolutionize the men’s footwear industry. Allen’s idea received the enthusiastic support of Ralph Spiegel who was then his co-worker at the Ogden Shoe Company in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. The entrepreneurs immediately took action by purchasing the Belgium Shoe Company in Belgium, Wisconsin. Before long, they were manufacturing a line of flexible footwear marketed under the name “Osteo-Path-Ik.” Early advertisements for the firm featured the slogan: “the shoe that needs no breaking in.”
Corporate change came in the late 1920s. Milwaukee shoe manufacturer William Edmonds, owner of Edmonds Foot Fitters, bought out Ralph Spiegel’s interest in the firm. The trade name “Osteo-Path-Ik” was abandoned and the company’s growing line of leather shoes became known as Allen Edmonds Footfitters.
When the founder’s eldest son Bert Allen took over management of the business, he expanded sales to the national marketplace and promoted the line as the “Shoe of Tomorrow.” Allen’s effective methods of marketing to the retail trade helped the business to grow. Retail clerks were encouraged to purchase Allen Edmonds shoes at wholesale prices so they could personally experience the benefits, thus helping them better articulate the brand’s value to customers.
More business came during World War II when U.S. Army and Navy contracts were awarded to Allen Edmonds. Men who were issued the leather shoes remembered them as the most comfortable they had ever worn, inspiring them to become customers when they returned to civilian life.
In 1980, the company was sold and reorganized under a new management team headed by John Stollenwerk. Because of his energetic leadership and focus on building the brand’s cachet, the company grew significantly. A setback came in 1984, when the Belgium plant was destroyed by fire. But the steadfast Stollenwerk quickly got the company back on track and in 1985 began rebuilding on a new site in Port Washington.
The Port Washington facility continues to thrive in spite of the increasing pressures of globalization on American manufacturers. In order to keep making shoes in the U.S. the company recently invested more than $1.5 million to implement a lean manufacturing system. The new system is making it possible to serve customers even better while controlling costs more effectively. Today, Allen Edmonds keeps growing through a network of company-owned retail stores, Internet sales and a strong presence in the showrooms of elite retailers around the world.
In July 2006, Goldner Hawn Johnson & Morrison Incorporated, a Minneapolis-based private equity firm, completed a majority equity investment in Allen Edmonds. Goldner Hawn will partner with the current owners and management team of the privately-held company and looks forward to playing a significant role in the continued success of Allen Edmonds.