Famous Footwear: make today famous

August 2, 2020

Famous Footwear is a chain of retail shoe stores in the United States. It is currently a division of the St. Louis-based Caleres, with 913 U.S. store locations.

In 1960, 29-year-old Neil Moldenhauer launched Neil’s Factory Shoe Outlet as Neil’s Shoes in Madison, Wisconsin. The store was financed by a $10,000 loan.

The store that started them all: Neil’s Shoes in Madison, Wisconsin.

In 1963, Neil hired a college student named Brian Cook to work as a stock boy. Neither of them knew, then, that Brian Cook would one day become President of Famous Footwear.

Famous Footwear’s 913 U.S. Retail Store Locations

During the 1960s, shoes were typically purchased at department stores or mom-and-pop shops. But, the prices were high, making it difficult for average-income families to outfit the entire family with quality footwear. The country needed discount stores, and Neil’s Shoes was ready to fill the bill as one of the first factory outlets in the mid-west United States. Neil’s began a rapid store expansion program by buying up all closeouts.

In 1964, Moldfenhauer promoted Brian Cook to the position of manager and opened a second store in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, naming it Famous Footwear. Over the next six years, he launched seven more Famous Footwear stores and enjoyed annual revenues of close to $1 million.

 By 1974, fifteen Famous Footwear stores were in operation. Longtime employee, Dave Orfan, Cook and a group of outside investors purchased 90 percent of the chain. Orfan became the company’s president and Cook was named Executive Vice President. In 1979, Cook was promoted to President.

In 1980, with sales totaling $30 million and 36 Famous Footwear store locations in nine states, the company was acquired by St. Louis-based Brown Group Inc. A southern division was launched, which grew to 80 stores. By 1986, there were 230 Famous Footwear stores.

 With sales at $268 million in 1990,
a 740,000-sq.-ft. distribution center was opened in Sun Prairie, Wisconsin, virtually doubling Famous Footwear’s distribution capacity.

Continuing their expansion, Famous Footwear acquired 63 additional locations from Wohl Shoe Co. in 1992 and opened 105 new stores, bringing the total number of units to 477.

1992: Famous Footwear becomes the nation’s largest chain of shoe stores
selling brand name footwear.

In 1995, with 885 employees in 814 locations, Famous Footwear broke ground for an 800,000-sq.-ft. distribution center in Lebanon, Tennessee. That same year, 58 new stores were opened in the greater Los Angeles area.


By mid-January of 2001, Famous Footwear
had reached the $1 billion sales mark.

Following Cook’s retirement in 1991, Joseph Wood became the company’s new president in 1992. A total of 924 stores were operating in the U.S. Guam and Puerto Rico.

In 2010, Wood retired, leaving the position to be filled by Rick Ausick, the company’s Senior Vice President and chief merchandising officer.

Famous Footwear is definitely one of those good news stories. And, that’s good news for shoe shoppers.

Gloria Sauvé
Communications and Marketing

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