December 2014

P.W. Minor, a classic shoe company, gets new life

PWminorBy Shalmali Pal

When new management takes over an established business, the game plan is often “out with the old, in with the new.” When Andrew Young and Peter Zeliff acquired the P.W. Minor shoe company of Batavia, NY, they made a choice to keep the old along with introducing the new.

First, they retained the 54 employees who worked for the company, which has been in business since 1867. They also added 10 new employees in their US-based factory and headquarters. About 20% of P.W. Minor’s shoes are produced in Batavia with the rest outsourced to manufacturers overseas. Young said their long-term goal is to manufacture the majority of their shoes domestically.

Second, they brought in a new designer, Rita Tomaro, who has been tasked with giving a stylish edge to P.W. Minor’s line of what it calls “precision fit, Double Depth” footwear.

“The feedback we’ve gotten from our customers is that we make an excellent shoe from a structural perspective; the DNA of our shoes is excellent in terms of fit, function and, in many cases, clinical benefit,” explained Young, president of P.W. Minor. “But we also heard that the shoes could be more stylish. Today’s consumer wants a shoe that feels like a ‘medical shoe’ but looks like more like a fashion shoe. That’s our main goal right now—to marry both of those elements.”

It’s a bold plan, given that neither Young nor CEO Zeliff have experience in the shoe industry. But they are longtime businessmen of Batavia (Young in real estate; Zeliff in renewable energies) who are dedicated to the economic health of their community.

Young and Zeliff met as members of the Genesee County Economic Development Center in Batavia. The duo was in the market for a joint business venture when P.W. Minor, founded by brothers Peter (Wycoff) and Abrahm Minor after the Civil War, announced that it was in danger of shuttering its doors.

That was in early July 2014, so Young and Zeliff moved swiftly: They created Batavia Shoes LLC and by August had bought the company from the Minor family. While they kept on original employees, the duo wasted no time in revamping the company’s production schedule at the US factory.

Since August, they’ve reduced the time it takes for a pair of shoes to come out of the factory from 20 to 4.2 days, Young said. “Back orders are down from seven hundred to one hundred…if we don’t have a shoe in stock, it now takes us ten days to fill the order rather than ten weeks. Our percentage of in-stock import shoes has basically tripled.”

Young said they achieved this by investing in new equipment in the Batavia factory, which is part of an ongoing upgrade to the facility.

It’s not just about making more shoes and making them faster; it’s about meeting customer needs, Young stressed.

“A lot of our customers really need our product; they don’t have an alter­native because of their biomechanical issues,” he said. “We get some very passionate phone calls from our customers: ‘You’ve got to get me this shoe!’ Our goal was to do that in a reasonable amount of time.”

On the design front, P.W. Minor will unveil 16 new shoe styles in February 2015, including an expanded line of women’s shoes. Many of these shoes will be built around two new lasts (for use in their domestically made shoes) that they’ve created with Tomaro.

“I don’t want to go into too much detail on the new designs, but it’s really about the toe shape,” Young said. “Our look has historically been very boxy or a ‘sweet potato shape,’ as Rita called it. The shoes didn’t have much of a curve to them to get a sleeker look. It’s like a car; the lines in a car design can make a huge difference to how attractive the car is.”

Young and Zeliff are aware that they can’t go too far with the fashion element, as P.W. Minor shoes have to retain the quality biomechanical features that customers have come to expect. Features that will remain are stabilization, found in the Stable Walkers that provide support as the foot rolls through its natural gait, and the DX2 Double Depth line designed to accommodate orthoses.

Designer Tomaro has been key to helping the company find that balance between function and fashion, Young said. The veteran shoe designer has worked with many major players in the comfort shoe industry, including Hush Puppies, Wolverine, Munro, and Børn.

“Rita has an excellent background in the shoe industry and she’s helped companies similar to ours reinvent themselves,” Young said. “P.W. Minor has an amazing heritage. We have an awesome foundation and we are going to build on it in an innovative way.”

Shalmali Pal is a freelance medical editor and writer in Tucson, AZ.

Article sponsored by P.W. Minor.

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