Northwest Business Magazine

Success Stories: Akerman Shoes

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This family-owned footwear store has endured through many industry changes, but one thing that hasn’t changed is its dedication to providing friendly customer service and knowledgeable salespeople.

To Gary Akerman, the shoe business is all about customer service and offering what people of all ages want and need.

To Gary Akerman, the shoe business is all about customer service and offering what people of all ages want and need.

For almost 60 years, Akerman Shoes, 1613 N. Alpine Road, has specialized in quality footwear, friendly customer service and experienced, qualified salespeople.

During that time, shoe styles have come and gone, new brands have arrived on the scene, technology has changed the way shoes look and feel, and shoe manufactures have heard customers’ pleas for quality shoes that are also fashionable.
Customer service has remained the highest priority for owner Gary Akerman and his four-person staff, three of whom were shoe store managers at one time, proving that good customer service is one thing that never goes out of style. The Akerman staff has a combined total of 120 years of experience in the shoe business.

Akerman says his main motivation for staying in the shoe business for more than 30 years is the daily satisfaction he gets from helping people.

“I like working with people and finding out what they need and watching them walk out with smiles on their faces,” he says.

Akerman took over the business from his father, Edgar, who founded it in 1960. Edgar was co-owner of a shoe store in Oskaloosa, Iowa, for 15 years, before moving to Rockford and opening his first store in the downtown Rockford Trust Building. From there, he moved to South Church Street, then East State Street, and finally to the current location in Edgebrook Center, where the store has been for 15 years.

Akerman just returned from one of two shoe trade shows that he attends annually to view new products, see what’s new in the brands he carries, and find shoes that are comfortable, supportive, and fashionable for all members of the family. The store specializes in what he calls “comfort casual” shoes in sizes up to 20, and widths ranging from AAAA to EEEEEE.

Some advances in quality footwear in recent years include more comfortable and cushioned insoles, such as the memory foam products, waterproof leathers and lightweight materials that are comfortable and supportive.

When buying shoes, it’s always a good idea to get measured and try on each pair of shoes to find the proper fit. A size in one brand doesn’t fit the same as the same size in another brand. Also, style and manufacturing changes in familiar brands can cause a shoe to fit differently, cautions Akerman.

The first thing Akerman wants to know from his customers is for what purpose they’re buying a shoe and how often they will wear it. Shopping for a dress shoe is not the same as buying a shoe for working, walking, running and everyday wear.

“I show them what I have and give them options,” he says. “Someone may like a shoe, but it may not be the best shoe for the occasion. For example, people in food service shouldn’t buy a shoe with a mesh top because it’s harder to clean than wiping off spills from a solid surface.”

Buyer Diane Cooling says 82 percent of adults have some kind of foot malady, largely caused by not wearing properly fitting shoes with adequate support.

Among the most common foot problems she sees when people come in looking for help are Plantar Fasciitis (heel pain), arch pain, bunions, hammer toes, tendinitis and heel spurs.

People may not realize, too, that their feet change as they age, lose or gain weight, or experience health problems. In time, the arch relaxes and the foot gets longer, she says.

If feet hurt, people walk differently to compensate for the pain, which can affect their knees and back and lead to other problems.

All brands have “grades” of quality, notes Cooling. So, the name brand you buy at Akerman’s is a better quality than the same brand of shoe you buy for half the price elsewhere.

Aetrex and Alegria are two of the newest brands of shoes, boots and sandals at Akerman’s. The store’s main shoe line is San Antonio Shoes (SAS), which is made in the U.S. There are also the popular Birkenstock, Dansko and New Balance brands, among many others.

Oofos is a sandal made with patented materials for comfort and support and is engineered to help painful feet recover quickly from a workout or long day at work. The shoe is designed to be 37 percent more shock absorbent than regular footwear, while cradling the arch and flexing with the foot when walking.

“People put on this shoe and have instant relief,” Cooling says. Over-the-counter orthotics is “huge” right now, she says, because by lifting the arch, people will get comfort and alleviate pain in the heel and at the ball of the foot.
Shoe technology has come a long way since Edgar Akerman founded his store in 1960. He passed away in 2003 at 88 years old.

“People still talk about what a nice guy he was,” says Akerman. “I still hear compliments about him being customer-oriented and that he really knew the shoe business. He was very positive, hard-working and dedicated. He’d bring out shoes for a customer to try on, and if they didn’t work, he’d bring out more shoes and more shoes. And, all the while, he was having a great time. He wanted to please the customer and would do whatever it took. We’ve tried to carry on that same tradition, doing business in the same way.”

Akerman fondly remembers how he wanted nothing more than to follow in his father’s business footsteps.

“I think he’d be proud of the way the business has evolved, and I’m sure he’d think we are doing a great job of meeting people’s needs.”

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