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Walking a Mile in Michael B’s Shoes

Posted on 3/30/2016 2:49:56 PM

John Lipinski’s Introduction to Entrepreneurship class and the Center for Family Business at IUP hosted Michael Boiano, owner of Michael B Shoes. Boiano’s presentation focused on the challenges of successfully operating a family business, what it takes to compete against much larger national chains, and the importance of succession planning if a family business is going to survive from one generation to the next. 

Michael Boiano Speaks to Dr. Lipinski's ClassBoiano led the class through his experience in the shoe business. He joked that he is 35 years old and has 33 years of industry experience, going back to his involvement as a two-year-old posing in an ad for his father’s shoe store and interacting with the employees on a daily basis. He got deeply involved in the business during his high school years when he was assigned every job that nobody else wanted, from sweeping the sidewalk to breaking down cardboard to changing light bulbs—basically anything but customer service (which he views as the fun side of the business).

During his college years, the entrepreneurship bug bit Boiano hard. In addition to licensing ATM machines to small regional campuses, he started his own business in his dorm room which grew to become Campus Corner and operated retail distribution at a number of college bookstores. After college he was offered a corporate job with Stride Rite Shoes out of Boston, but, after a heart to heart with his father, he decided to go into the family business.

Michael BoianoAs the economy has fluctuated and consumer tastes have changed, Boiano and his father have had to evolve along with the evolution in order to survive. It is very difficult for an independent retailer to compete on price with mid- to low-end products. As such, Boiano chose to pursue two upscale niches: high-end European comfort brands like Birkenstock and NAOT, and pedorthist certification, which allowed him to offer orthotic footwear for individuals with medically challenging foot ailments. He commented that, without making these changes, his business would not have survived the challenges of the past decade. However, with the changes in place, he operates in a rather successful niche and draws clients to his shop in Indiana from as far away as Ohio.

Lipinski commented that Boiano’s talk was an excellent example of the challenges faced on a day-to-day basis by a successful small business owner. Further, Lipinski noted that the niche strategy pursued by Boiano is a textbook example of how a small business owner can succeed by going places that a large competitor would never consider due to the relatively small volume and high level of service required. However, it is obviously a sweet spot for Michael B’s shoes.