shoe, joe, reebok, grandfather, business, foster, jeff, buy, book, shoemaker, america, world, daymond, running, people, point, athletes, paul, challenge, register
Damon Pistulka, Curt Anderson, Joe Foster
Damon Pistulka 00:06
All right, everyone, welcome once again to the manufacturing ecommerce success series. I’m your co host, Damon Pistulka. And man, do we have an exciting episode today? I can’t even hardly contain myself which is even more than normal. But my friend over here, Kurt Anderson, co hosts, brother from another mother is going to take it over from here, Kurt, let’s do this. Hey, thank you, Damon, what
Curt Anderson 00:30
an absolute honor privilege Daymond we are interviewing a true legend and entrepreneur entrepreneurial icon. And the thing is, when you introduce somebody and you like you know, usually like there’s a long list how you know, all the accomplishments, two words. We’ll introduce our guests today and describe our guest, Reebok founder, Reebok founder. That’s all that needs to be said. Joe Foster. Thank you for joining us today. What an honor. What a privilege. How are you my friend?
Joe Foster 01:00
Where I was like, I’m pretty well, yeah, we travel a lot, but I’m pretty good. And thank you for the invitation. And yes, ready to go when you are?
Curt Anderson 01:09
Well, let’s just I know we’re on a tight schedule. And you and your wife, Julie. Thank you, Julie for setting this up. What an honor privilege again for us to spend time with you today. In you just you left Norway yesterday. You’re in Iceland today. And so I know your boy, you just don’t know how to slow down. So let’s just take a dive right in Joe.
Yep. Well, Joe, your footwear goes back into your family for generations. You know, you and your brother Jeff founded Reebok in 1958. Now I know I’d like to go back in time. Granddad Joe J found a J. W Foster, I believe 1895 Phenomenal history of providing footwear for Olympic athletes. And there’s a little connection with the movie Chariots of Fire. Can you just let’s hear a little bit about granddad Joe.
Joe Foster 01:55
Well, Granddad Joe was born in 1880. And by the time he was 15, he added he would make himself proud of a spike running shoes. Why this? Some people say he invented this back running shoe, some silent while he developed it, whatever. But he got the idea from his grandfather, can you believe that his grandfather, but his father was a cobbler. And as a crumbly, he didn’t only repair street shoes, he repaired cricket boots, and cricket boots in those days, they had spikes in the bottom. And we’re pretty sure grant has said kind of why these got spikes in the bottom?
Well, it gives them grip. And, you know, when you play in your bowl in your bath, and you’re in the field, you need to have that grip. This obvious was nice that it was a lightbulb moment, my grandfather, because he was it was a runner, not a very good runner, but you know, middle of the field. And he thought, Whoa, if I put some spikes in the bottom of those shoes, maybe they’ll give me grip. And the other week did.
And he came a very unlikely second in his next race. And of course, your smaller bit like me, you know, 5657, whatever it was, and most of his teammates were a bit bigger than him. So I think there’s a choice between making shoes for his teammates or taking sight of the fact that he cheated. And I don’t think that would have gone down well, so that’s dad who has business 15 years old.
By the time we come to 1900 it actually established himself as a business owner, he was making running shoes. It was a cobbler as well. But he, you know is other business was running shoes. And that became the big business that over two, and soon he was now a couple of anymore. And by 1904 He had three world records in his shoes in your foster shoes. And that was shrub rock three world records in Glasgow, in one event, and then by 19 Oh, he had gold medals in London, he got gold medals. So he’s going places really going places.
But now the second decade of the 20th century we have World War Two. Yeah, no more running shoes, they don’t want run issues, army boots, and fosters were not really set up to make armor boots, but they could repair them. And my father used to give tell me the story that they would scrub the mud on the blood of Flanders of the boots before they could repair them. So they repaired boots during that time of World War One. However, we come to 1920 and the 20s was my grandfather’s belly Park. And we have a letterhead and on this letterhead it just say that genuine foster supplied all the athletes the Antwerp Olympic Games in 1920.
Well, we’re talking track and field because there was nothing more than track and field in those days. Probably we’re probably talking about British athletes rather than the world. Although I know he had customers in America. So I know he supplied a lot of people. So he had that. He also has 96 football teams soccer teams that you would call him Oh Older Premier League that they all played in Foster’s boots and train in foster shoes 96 teams and he lists these down.
So if you buy the shoemaker book from us in the UK, we can send that with this as an extra this letterhead. We’ve now duplicate it and it’s amazing. But anyway, during the 20s, we had three athletes, one Eric Liddell, the other one was Harold, Abraham’s and Lord Burley. All three won gold medals during the 20s. And all three are immortalized now, in chariots of fire. And they were in Joel foster shoes. Unfortunately, my grandfather, he died in 1933. And I wasn’t born till 1935 50 months after he died, but I was born on his birthday.
So this is why I am called Joe as well. My grandmother said he’s brought his name with him. So that was a I became Joe faster, probably job faster. Number two, but I became job faster as well. And so that was grandfather, but you know, what a genius. How we sound. I know in his days, he said the world’s largest handsewn athletic shoe manufacturer. Because it was hands on in those days, though. It was. I think it was I said Foster’s famous running shoe. Those were the advertising straplines
Curt Anderson 06:27
Right. Wow. This is awesome. So Joe, let’s first off I want to get a you have a lot of the comments are coming here and we have a live audience here. So guys, give Joe a big hello. You want to connect with Joe here on LinkedIn. Most importantly, I dropped Joe’s book in the link. He has an amazing book called The shoemaker Daymond you got it right there. The shoemaker you guys you want to go please, you’ll thank me later.
Go I suppose book it is a powerful story. Enjoy it. I love what you’re sharing with your grandfather. And I want to lead up to two years, your situation. Your grandfather was so phenomenal. He really kind of like what we talked about, like influencers of today. Your grandfather was going after the influencers, you know, the running clubs, and so on and so forth. Just brilliant marketing. And he was 1520 years old. That is astounding that of what he accomplished.
Joe Foster 07:15
Just yeah, when he was he was young. But he obviously picks up on the fact that if he wanted to athlete, so wearing his shoes, and you know, we have a lot of the advertised Dude, we spent some time digging into this. And he used to put little bits in that saying that if you didn’t think that Jed would fasters are the best one is us you ever won, we’ll give you 1000 pounds or 100 pounds and 100 pounds in those days.
Might be worth 10,000 Yeah, it was outrageous that all the people that ran an issue. So it he used influencing, unfortunately for my grandfather, he can only influence people who performed now influence has performed street. So now sport, as now sport footwear, as now the fashion brands, fashion influence. We’re all fashion companies now. But in his day, he really made a name within the performance sports.
Curt Anderson 08:16
That’s fantastic. Well, John, in your book, your book is absolutely astounding. I have a quote here. You open up the book with this line. It’s absolutely hysterical. I have two confessions and make number one I don’t like running. And number two, I’m a lousy Shoemaker. So I appreciate your humility. I thought that was absolutely hysterical as you wrote that. Now, I will say you are a gifted storyteller your attention to detail from 56 years ago, and how you went back and discovered all these things on grandma. And granddad is absolutely astounding.
Now, I will say I think you’ve kind of figured out this business thing. So maybe you’re not good at running. And maybe you’re not at your lousy Shoemaker using your words. But I think you figured out this business thing. Daymond Did you know point, guys, you know, the odds of building a billion dollar company. Point 00006. Joe, how did you do it?
Joe Foster 09:11
Well, I think we did it by sheer bloody mindedness. And staying with it, it was just keeping going at times, it was necessary to just you just got to try again. Because, you know, to get to the success we do, then we became number one, to get you fail so many times, your family and you get so many problems, you know, yes, we started off in 1958. But we started as Mercury, Mercury sports footwear, and 18 months into our business, our accountant. So, you know, he’s probably doing very well and we should register that name.
We tried to register it but it was already pre registered. And I went to see the agent and he said well you can buy it because they’re not using it and this was pretty shoe Corporation. And as Abraham was 21 for it, I said 1000 pounds Oops, well, we just put a small factory together for 250 pounds. And that was a whole factory for us. In those days, we could buy a second and machinery very cheap.
So we didn’t have 1000 pounds. And we did, we couldn’t convince our bank was worth 1000 pounds. So, so the, the agent said, Well, you don’t have to bring me in, you know, just to change the name. So but don’t bring me one. Anytime. And I’m stunned. I said, Look, you know, we’ve got to be in love with this name. It’s got to be our passion.
You know, we’ve got to be behind it. This world can’t help that. Bring the 10 because I got to put them all through the register. And you don’t want to do these one at a time. It might take you 12 months at one at a time to answer get one. So bring the 10 and he pointed to his window. And he pointed to Kodak, and I’m saying once with Kodak. And he said they made up the name. And if you make a name up, it’s yours. That’s easy. Just in one from anywhere you’ve got to the register. So we go back and we’re sitting down and I’m saying I went Falken sport. Falcon.
Yeah, that’s a good name. Yeah, okay. Put that on the list. Cheater. Cheater. Okay, put that on the list. Okay, but you know, let me take you back to 1943. I’m eight years old. And you know, like COVID would stopped everything. Well, World War Two, this was the middle of World War Two, we couldn’t do anything. But we only have some local events. And I was entered into a 60 yard local event race and our secret weapon. I lost his place. But I’m on and I got to collect my price. And what do I get? A dictionary? I don’t think I’m saying guys. What’s the football? Yeah. What can I do with a dictionary? No. More than that. It was an American Dictionary at the time.
But it was a Webster’s American Dictionary. And since Mecca spell is slightly different than English values on something you must have when America but half. So anyway, fast forward no 1960 We’re looking for a new name. And I’d love the letter R. And my dictionary is sat there next to me. My Webster’s American Dictionary. So I opened it at the letter R. And that’s come through very soon. I come across our web. Okay. Weibo. WhatsApp is a small South African gazelle. Wow, we’re not running company. Gazelle. It’s got to be it. That’s got to be it. I put that top of the list. Took it to the agent, the agents or lawyer? You know, he’s not impressed. Okay, so you want that? Right.
Yes, please. It took him a week to check all these things through and he camp said, you’ve got your wish. Yeah. Reebok is around. It’s clear as to anything. The register the registrar, he’d made a comment that if anybody is making shoes from Reebok skin, you can’t stop them. Well, Jeff, and I looked at each other and said, Never gonna happen. Yeah. Yeah, we’re gonna with Reebok. However, because of that, the Register said, No, you have to go into Part B of the register.
We didn’t care. We didn’t know what part B we’ve done implement via the register was 10 years later, the registrar came back and said we moved as part A. Oh, okay, that’s fine that way. Well, everybody now knows that Reebok is a sport shoe. And the animal is not is come second. We got our first real challenge. Yeah. Look what we learned from that. Was that, okay, you know, if you if you take these problems and the worry about it, that’s the, you know, good. What you got to do is to think, How can we, how can we improve Can we take a challenge as an opportunity.
And so we thought that at the end Merkin was a nice name for us. But we bought, we thought Reebok was much stronger, much better. And we all need to go to four years into our business. When we got a letter from Adidas. And the editors lawyers said we our silhouette was to two bars, the T bar so two stripes, a T bar added to the course is three stripes. And the added us lawyers said that they thought that infringed the three stripes. Well, maybe five minutes we just stood and scratched our heads and oh my god, I missed it. Just a minute. Added us. No, we’re here. We’re a small company. But Ajit is written as a letter. Well, that’s great. What do we do?
Just change our silhouette. Let’s Yeah, we don’t want to fight them not So we change to the vector, which we see today. And which we again saw Well, this is a better a better silhouette than the previous one. So it was from that, when you set it up, how do you do it? Well, we learned, we learned that you, you take a problem. In fact, you almost expect problems and anticipate them. Because this is, this means you’ve got an opportunity, and an opportunity to do better do something better. So we did we, we thought that the name was better now. Now the silhouette is better. And we pin that, that letter on the wall, and it stood there for a long, long time that I met. Well, that’s
Curt Anderson 15:40
absolutely phenomenal. So guys, I just I want to unpack a couple of things that you just said, Joe. So put this in perspective. Joe’s 2223 years old, you know, two years out of the service, you served your country proudly, Joe, and you and your brother Jeff decide to break away from the family business, you start your own company at 22 or 23. You immediately go through this a name challenge. Now, Damon, I have to Joe, I have a little secret to tell you guys. Joe, do you recognize this right here?
Joe Foster 16:06
Right? Yes, that’s one of the fastest. I knew that right
Curt Anderson 16:11
there. Damon. I may be Joe, I may be the worst rugby player that’s ever played in American rugby. I just I just want to make that claim. If anybody is worse than me, I feel sorry for him. But these are these are from 30 years ago. And they’re still going strong. And so just wanted to show those to you. So that reback brand has been going on forever. But in 1958, you and your brother at a young age you start your company and he’s just started meeting facing challenges. You’re living in a factory, you’re starting a family.
I mean, you’re facing all sorts of challenges. Let’s fast forward a little bit 1968 You’re 32 years old. You decide to come to America. You felt that boy, I need to get over the pond and crack the door to the American market. Can you talk about like what was going on in 1968? At now you’re at 32 years old, still extremely young fighting tenaciously. What was that like? And that trajectory of coming here to the States?
Joe Foster 17:06
When I was very, I was very well aware that in the States, you have college universities, and Coach culture is very important. This is almost God. And so every college wanted product, even Jade was in the in the 50s. They had an agreement with Yale. It was Bob G and Jack and Frank Ryan, they were the coaches. And they were buying 200 pair of foster shoes every month. And they of course, unload them onto other people. But so I knew that there was a big market there. And you look at the UK, and we used to compare America with the UK and America.
If you put America as 100, the UK came in something like 15, Germany came about 25. and Japan was about to save 25 Maybe 30. So the size of the market was like and the problem that we have soccer, but at the time Jeff and myself set up our company leaders had come into the UK, and they had taken soccer. So as a real estate guy as a soccer, which was the big market for us to do that would have cost so much. Oh, we just couldn’t have gotten in. That’s why we concentrated on athletics. And we also did rugby, but rugby was the north of England game.
So we still have that we brand new athletics and running in America was big. Okay, so I talked to the family. No, that couldn’t cost too much money to go to America. We can’t do that again. Okay, we can’t do it. Because Jeff and I had come to an agreement. Jeff loved the factory. As I said, I’m a lousy shoe maker, but cheffy loved the factory. And so he said, your cash to the factory, you do everything else. Okay? Don’t do everything else. What does that mean? Well, it’s everything else.
I take up this challenge, which is like market because we’d pretested to work father and uncle that you need to market the brand, you need to do something more you need to new designs. And so I saw, okay, that’s challenged now. And I’ve challenged them. They didn’t do it. So I had to go and do it. So I go out in the car, and I’m calling up on both sports shops in those days of all small sports shops. I’m calling in. And I said I’m Reebok and they say who? Reebok. And then they’re saying okay, that’s why I show the product. Love your product.
But why? Why do I need your product? I’ve got added us and I’ve got Dunlop, why don’t you Reba? That was an important question for me. And that challenged me in different ways. And so we built our UK business by going direct to athletes. Now that we’ve got to a certain size and we need in America, and in 1968 I’m reading a magazine and the government are saying we want you to export and export to America in particular, and we’ll pay a standard The NSGA show in Chicago, February in Chicago will pay for the stand will pay for your return airfare as well.
And 50% of your expenses. So your hotel bill and your meals. Wow, I didn’t get any objection from the family at that point. You can go because it was almost cheaper for me to be out there than it was to be back in the UK. So yes, then the January of 68. I went to America. And the guys love the shoes. And the guys are saying, we get them when I’m saying England, and they’re saying is our New England. And then No, no, no, no, no New England, always near London.
It’s near London. Yes, across. I realized at that point. Nobody was going to import my shoes. I needed to have my there ready to buy. So I pushed I failed. I pushed and I bet I had at least six failures with people. I got the context that we were trying where we couldn’t get in. But running, running was becoming big. And Runner’s World runs. Well, Bob Anderson, he was publisher of run as well, by 1965, grown from just a single sheet. And now it was a 50 page full color. And he decided to tell everybody, which was the number one shoe of Nike.
But you know, Phil Knight, what could he do? All of a sudden, there’s about three and a half million people want his shoe. And he’s buying them from Japan. Could he get the probe? Could he get? No. By the time the supply was coming? Bob I understand decided to put another shoe was number one, I forget which he was it could have been new balance could have been Brooks could have been Scotland. But he put another shoe it certainly wasn’t reborn.
And somebody told him because this failed again, submit on, you can’t keep you in the retail trade. The retailers are absolutely wild, because everybody’s wanted the shoe they can’t get when they can get it. You got to change it. So we change this to star ratings. And for Ashutosh shoe, that would be the best, but it could be three, four, maybe more shoes, the game five stars. Yeah, I knew at that point, we’re not going to number one, because that was a lottery.
But we could make a five star shoe. I knew we could buy star shoe. And so I got Jeff and we designed this. And we got Aztec. And so in 1979, I’m at the NSGA show again. And Ronnie was so big that Kmart came along, and they wanted 25,000 purse. And that was about six months work for our factory. But I knew that if we did get a five star shoe, we’d need to get somebody to help. And batter I don’t know if you know about they used to be the biggest shoe makers in the world. They said they’d help.
Whoever came up said we want a better price. Well, that meant we had to take production to South Korea. And at all. I’ve already got connections in South Korea. So I’ve got that covered. But the biggest problem I had with Kmart was if we didn’t satisfy the demand that they had financially for that square footage, they would give us 25,000 might be my first but also might be my last order they were playing. But then I met Paul fireman, Paul Farmer came on he was running a small outdoor company in Boston camping. And he was a bit tired of it.
They had been doing this for 10 years. And I don’t think there was any opportunity to grow. So I can own well with Paul, but this is February. The shoe addition when we’re expecting five stars will come out in August. And Paul said, you’re going to five star shoe. And I’m your man. And I said look this is going to be it. Yeah, but yeah, we have to wait don’t wait. We have to wait. Oh, we got back. I made a visit to both came out poor during that period in between. But I’m back in the UK and it’s the last week in July.
And this is when the magazine is out and I phone Paul. Paul, can you go and have a look and see. See if the Runner’s World is out. An hour later we came back john astex got five stars. That was a that was if there’s a moment when you think right there’s one that was a moment that’s it. But he said not only five styles with asset also incur which is a spank rulemaking that got five stars and then said Midas road races. You know, I got a five. Yeah, so you had three of them. And we got to America, we’d know. We’d know landed and we got into America. Yeah,
Curt Anderson 24:48
that is absolutely fantastic. How did you I guys, I know we’re tight on time. I’m gonna give a shout out John Dan Nicole. Thank you for joining us today. Please connect with Joe here today. You want to get his book but I’m telling you, it’s phenomenal. Joe, how did you know that Paul fireman was the one was there you know you there’s great quotes in your book about networking and Daniel love his book, how important that networking and you just were so relentless. How did you know Paul fireman was the one.
Joe Foster 25:17
Number one, he was on my level. We could talk. We could talk together. He wasn’t just talking business. He was talking life. He was talking to need, he was hungry. Yeah. Anyway, he said, You know, it wrinkles in the belly that make the difference. And so he was what he wanted to change. There was that desire in him, and I can, with one person with a big company that came out, that was too much. So it was Paul and Paul did a fantastic job. But as you probably know, read the book. It was on mountainous really, really hit that gold us. Really?
Yeah. I suppose the story is LA when his wife was coming back from enrollment classes. Yeah, she was coming back. And he said, What do you do with because she was farming? And she said aerobics is what’s that? And she said, Well, it’s such an exercise into music. And we love that just lit up. And we went down to have a look at what was going on. saw the instructor and a pair of sneakers.
So half of the class in this prestigious, the other is not wearing anything. But why hit him? And what we came up with was, why don’t we make a shoe for this? For women, on a woman’s last in woman’s sizes in nice soft leather, just like a glove? Oh, no, just sort of sex that just somebody did. And did it. And when Jane Fonda bought a pair to wear in our videos, read. Yeah, that just took off from a $9 million business, we became almost a $1 billion business over five years, that growth was this. So
Damon Pistulka 27:01
sad to say just that just the challenges alone of scaling a business that fast in that shorter timeframe had to be just monumental, but fun, because you’re doing so many great things.
Joe Foster 27:17
Well, we had a lot of good people as well. And Steven became Steve Rubin was a source he was sourcing the product from South Korea. So that was a great help, because he gave Paul a credit line. And that’s where the money came from it. Steven was a bit worried at some point when things went up to $20 million.
Or and Paul just said, so what you know, you give us a credit line, we’ve got it, we’re going to use it. And yeah, the whole thing was brilliant, a lot of nice little good people. You know, we had such a sort of a winning culture. Everybody wanted to be part of that winning culture. So a lot of people worked very hard. And we didn’t have to sell much in those days, because it was a matter of how do you keep up with the demand. And that was the biggest problem.
Get into the manual. We went up one point from 300 million to 900 million in revenue. We were lucky. Lucky. Because unfortunately for Nike, they just hit a wall at that point. You know, most brands go fat, and then they sort of dip off. And Nike did that. Gave us I think it was three extra factories in in South Korea. Oh, yeah. Talking about luck times. These things, these things happen. Okay. We all worked hard. But you know, if you don’t get that bit of luck, it can be difficult. And we got some. So yeah, it was a great time.
And I think everybody enjoyed that growth. It was wonderful. And I was the reason I left the company at the end was we now become corporate. Once you become corporate. It’s like what am I doing? I’m traveling. I’m traveling, we’re three times every year. And I’m calling it places and be picked up now by a limousine going to the best hotels, dining at the best restaurants. So you know, that challenge had gone for me, but you know, love your brand. But the challenge was time. You bring the right people into the company and that was it. We had the right people. And that was a and I could step back and say job done.
Curt Anderson 29:30
Yeah, it’s awesome. Joanna I know I want to be mindful of your time. I know you and your wonderful wife Julie. Julie. Thank you. God bless you for setting this up. I know you’re so out
Damon Pistulka 29:38
and by the shoemaker Shoemaker.
Curt Anderson 29:43
This was just a sliver of what the excitement in the book and Val Yuichi jobs that she still lacks from the robic deal
Damon Pistulka 29:50
got her high atop Reebok anaerobic she
Curt Anderson 29:53
know Mick Jagger and Jane Fonda and Sigourney Weaver and aliens were Reebok so One last question. If I could just ask you this real quick. What was it? Like? When did you sit back at that time? You know, when it was becoming corporate and Mick Jagger and all these folks are like, what was it like that your dream became a global brand? Did you ever think when you and Jeff to scrappy 20 Somethings started this business from scratch? Did you ever dream that you would be one of the most recognized brands in the world?
Joe Foster 30:25
Well, I think your dream that it would be lovely to be there. But you know, the, the reality was we, we need to be in business, we need to be doing something. Yeah, we need to earn a living. And then you go step by step, you take another, you take another step, you get a bit lucky. It took me 11 years to get into America from that first step. And that means you’ve got to have that tenacity. You’ve got to be willing to keep going back and some people say, Why didn’t Why didn’t you give up? In fact, my wife used to say, look, you know, why don’t you go and get a proper job. Well first of all, I have not Julie.
Curt Anderson 31:04
We got Julie, we got it. Yeah. Well, hey, I again, I know you’re super tight schedule. Joe. I first off our gratitude everybody here Jeff. Dan, Val. Nicole. Thank you guys for joining us. Yes, Joe. You are truly a gift. You know my 78 year old mother. So where’s her Reeboks I still have my rugby boots right here.
So thank you for everything you’ve done. Thank you for spending your time your energy with us. Truly an icon. You’re an entrepreneurial legend. You’re just an inspiration. We admire what you and Jeff did to build your business from scratch so we salute you. God bless you and Julie boy keep firing on all cylinders. Man you are just you’re inspiring all of us everywhere guys. Go out and connect with Joe. Buy his book. Damon take it away maker
Damon Pistulka 31:53
the shoemaker. Yes. Thanks so much, Kurt. Thanks so much, Joe. Thanks, Julie for helping get this set up. Thank you, Joey not traveling today. If you haven’t gotten it get the shoemaker Joe foster founder Reebok man, thanks so much for being here today. Thanks everyone else we’re gonna broadcast for now and appreciate you all