By Logan C. Ritchie | firstname.lastname@example.org
Bennie’s Shoes, snuggled into a busy Buckhead shopping center at Sidney Marcus Boulevard and Piedmont Avenue, is known for legendary customer service. In fact, hotels and top-notch restaurants across Atlanta recommends Bennie’s for shoe repair, shoeshines and a spanking-new pair of leather-soled shoes.
Since 1909, Bennie’s has fit Atlanta men for shoes one foot at a time.
Two suburban outposts, in Marietta and Norcross, served customers for 33 years. In 2008, the stock market tanked, and the economy changed, said cousin-owners Mark and Brian Shemaria. The retail business changed, and Bennie’s took advantage of getting out of those suburban leases without penalty.
Bennie’s consolidated merchandise and machinery at the Buckhead store.
Customers continue to drive into Atlanta from Roswell, Marietta and Duluth to have shoes repaired.
“This store is an institution. Just like everyone knows The Varsity downtown, everyone knows we are in this Buckhead location. They want to come to the (original) store,” Brian said. (The store has moved a few times over more than a century but has stayed in Atlanta.)
Bennie’s biggest business challenge today is the constant battle against manufacturers that sell their shoes in stores, in outlets and online. Years ago, Mark said, competition was limited to other shoe stores like Nordstrom.
For example, Bennie’s lists a pair of shoes on the Amazon.com marketplace. If another retailer is selling the same product for a lower price, Amazon alerts Brian. He can choose whether to drop the price.
Occasionally Brian receives a call from a manufacturer to remove a product from Amazon. “Mark and I have good relationships with manufacturers,” Brian said. “We worked for those relationships. If we are told to get offline, we do it.”
Relationships make this company. “Mark is my partner, first cousin, brother,” Brian said. “You cannot find any two partners in business together that care about each other like we do.”
Shoemaker Bennie Shemaria, grandfather to Mark and Brian, arrived in the United States from the island of Rhodes in 1909. He helped start Sephardic Congregation Or VeShalom in Brookhaven and opened his shop, initially focusing on shoe repairs.
The full-service shoe business was handed down to his sons, then to their sons.
Mark started working at the store in the 1970s before he could drive a car, and he joined in ownership with his father in 1986. Brian became his partner is 2009.
Stephanie Rosenberg, the office manager for more than 20 years, is Brian’s sister. One store manager, Golden “Goldie” Thornton, has been around for 37 years; the other, Matthew Green, is a cousin-in-law of the Shemarias and holds a 33-year record at Bennie’s. Sales guy “Rob From Cobb” Cali has been with Bennie’s for 20 years.
And don’t forget Gary Campbell, a 42-year employee who is the “best shine man in Atlanta,” according to Brian.
Shoe repair drives the business these days, helping Bennie’s attract politicians such as Gov. Nathan Deal and Congressman John Lewis, who is practically a member of the family.
Mark said: “Shoe repair is what we do best of any shop in Atlanta. It means everything to us.”
With the movie and television industry booming in Atlanta, Bennie’s is reaping the rewards. Alterations, shoe repair, stretching and building (for actors short in stature) are among the recent jobs for such performers as Ben Stiller, Justin Timberlake, Michael Douglas, Tom Cruise, Russell Crowe and the cast of “The Walking Dead.”
As for advice for new entrepreneurs, Brian and Mark agree: Customer relations is everything. Roll up your sleeves and give good service.