This week's Retailer of the Week is a true retail legend in his home town Frankfurt am Main. Not only is Kami Hashemi the owner of the local Red Wing Shoes store which has once been the first of its kind in Europe and just celebrated its 35th anniversary, he is also running the heritage menswear store B74 in the neighbourhood. In our interview, Hashemi tells us why Red Wing sold their store to him in the first place, what has changed since that time and which styles and labels he sells best in his two stores. Interview by Anna Katharina Hupperth and Maria Hunstig

How did you first get to know Red Wing and what’s the story behind the store opening?
I used to work in my parents' store where we sold Red Wing shoes. We actually had more success in selling them than the Red Wing store itself, so one day they sold the store to us.

Inside the Red Wing store
Inside the Red Wing store

With 35 fruitful years to its name, what’s the secret behind the success of Frankfurt’s Red Wing store?
Our customers haven’t changed much but our base has broadened. We don’t sell to a certain target group, but to everyone. In the beginning, people who could afford Red Wings came again and again and then the word about our good quality shoes just spread.

Which is your recent bestselling Red Wing style?
The classic 875 with the white continuous crepe sole still sells well.

Do customers come looking for certain products or do they buy spontaneously?
From time to time they come spontaneously just to look for new stuff. But since we’re a traditional brand, there haven’t been many huge changes in our offer. Color is mainly the only thing that varies, and other than that we keep reintegrating old styles into our portfolio. Our customer demand hasn’t experienced a lot of change. Percentage-wise, I’d say that we have about 50% devoted patrons and 50% newcomers who often have friends who wear Red Wings that either attract their attention or who come on recommendation. One change that we’ve seen is that customers tend to buy new shoes much faster rather than wearing one pair until they break.

What role do fashion trends play within a brand that sells a timeless product?
Like I said before, we reinvent our classics instead of following trends. We do notice when fashion experiences a hype and that can have positive effects on our business as well, but only in terms of highs. Thanks to the history of Red Wing, we’re lucky to have solid business despite times of economic regression.

How do you stay in contact with your patrons?
Bargain-sales are rare at our store, but if we have one coming up we contact our 15,000+ customers via letter, not email. This kind of practice is one of our highlights.
A selection of Red Wing shoes
A selection of Red Wing shoes

What does your store have that others don’t?
We are the oldest Red Wing shop in Germany and the first monobrand store overseas besides the one in the US. Three years ago another monobrand store opened in Berlin as well, but when we started in 1998, there were only 10 traders apart from us. Because of our long history, other shops sell Red Wings quite easily. What is special about the shoe is that 99% of it can be repaired, a service we offer in our Frankfurt store. Nowadays customers tend to invest €100-120 in their old shoes instead of buying new ones. Before someone buys a shoe, we measure their feet and select 20 sizes from 36 to 54 and four different widths from our portfolio.

There is a story that I like about this one style that was called the “Frankfurter Shoe.” It had a red sole and we often heard that people all over the world were identified as Frankfurters, sparking conversations and interactions. That’s just one of many anecdotes that contributed to the reputation of the store here in Frankfurt.

Talking about your other store B74 - which are your bestselling labels there?
Currently, these are Filson, Dukes, Levi's Vintage Clothing, Nigel Cabourn, Jonson Motors Inc., Stetson and Merz Beim Schwanen.

And which styles do you sell best?
Dockers K1 pants - I have never experienced such a run on a new style of trousers. Moreover, bestsellers are Filson's medium Duffle Bag, rigid 1967 denims by Levi's Vintage Clothing and everything by Dukes. We also sold an extremely colorful checked shirt by Knowledge Cotton Apparel very well this past season.
In terms of denim, our most popular fits are tapered and in terms of washings, it's still the rigid look that works best.

Inside B74
Inside B74

What do you like about Frankfurt as the location for your store and customer base?
I was born in Frankfurt, so I’ve always had a connection to this city. What I especially like about the customer base is the variety of people. There’s the rich man who buys several pairs of shoes and there’s the one who works hard to afford one, knowing that Red Wing is worth it. We once had a man who, through various circumstances, had become homeless but still owed a pair of Red Wing shoes, the soles of which were almost gone with time. We repaired them for free.

In the B74 shop, we attract a different target group that at Red Wing. The store rather speaks to Europe-wide customer base aged around 30 - 45, than to the typical Frankfurt client. With our heritage appraoch, we fill a niche and not everyone understands that and why our brands and products are so expensive. You have to do a lot of explaining there, even to consumers who might already own a pair of Red Wings and therefore already know how their durability and hand-crafted quality makes up for their price.

Retailer Kami Hashemi
Retailer Kami Hashemi
Does buying behaviour lean toward classics or specialities?
Definitely toward classics. When H&M came to the market in the 90s, it was a hard time for quality and classics. Nowadays people tend to buy products with a strong history that proves that the product’s quality and tradition plays a great role in the decision-making process, as it suggests a certain kind of security. Thanks to these factors, we’re lucky to possess solid business worldwide despite the harsh economic climate. Shoes that are sold for fashion alone make up a very small part of our business; the working shoe that started Red Wing still dominates our business. In the US, for example, the model 875 is only available in one color, instead of ten.

How active are you in the Internet business?
We have an e-shop but no blog or Facebook so far. But that will soon change.

Is there a store that serves as inspiration for yours?
The only shop that has had inspiring effects on me was a small store in St. Tropez that has sold customised leather sandals for over 30 years. The number of straps where they are placed is up to the customer. The shop has very special atmosphere due to its long tradition as well as to its varied clientele.