Winnipeg shoe company taking steps in the right direction
BRENLEE COATES, SMART Biz
Most of the decisions made at Whiskey Dix wouldn’t ring true the next day after a glass of water and Advil to clear your head.
But for the owner of Whiskey Dix, Wade Salchert, listening to his former security guard Cesar Baez’s big idea worked out.
The pair met at Whiskey Dix when Baez was new to Canada, and after brushing up on his English, Baez quickly charmed his way up the ladder to managing the nightclub.
“Cesar came five years ago with no money and just kind of a good heart and a good work ethic,” says Salchert.
He also came with one more thing: an idea to manufacture shoes.
Baez knew about leather manufacturing from back home; his grandfather owned a factory in Mexico. Drawing on his own frustrations to find a “really sick, money pair of shoes” in Winnipeg, Salchert’s interest was piqued. He invited David Lewis to come on board and together the three founded the brand Jose & Markham.
The opportunity to control the designs and quality of a shoe line also appealed to Salchert as a former dentist, who loved cosmetic dentistry or “making things beautiful,” so the fast friends soon set off on a number of excursions to check out potential manufacturing plants for their original designs in China, India and Mexico. They ended up making deals in Mexico and India where they were able to arrange a more startup production scale.
Salchert knew the beginning wouldn’t be all that glamorous.
“We invest everything back into the product,” says Wade. “Cesar works for food and I work for free,” he jokes.
The shoes themselves are Goodyear welded; “sort of a gold standard for men’s shoe manufacturing across the world,” says Wade – and, in true Winnipeg fashion, they don’t break the bank.
You can nab many of the trio’s original designs for about $200, and end-of-season sales sometimes let you walk away with the shoes feeling like a thief. Shoes have been marked down to as low as $35.
Since following through on an idea born from discussions at a bar, business has been good for Jose & Markham in its flagship store in the Exchange District and online.
Its shoes are sold on Shoeme.ca set at the same price you’d find them at the store, and Jose & Markham’s footwear can also be picked up at its downtown neighbours’, EPH Apparel (a youth-owned custom suit retailer on Garry Street), and the Lennard Taylor store in Portage Place mall.
EPH Apparel works very similarly to Jose & Markham; fabrics and styles are chosen (this time by the customers) and then the suit is ordered from an international tailor.
“Every person walking in there for a suit should probably be looking for shoes,” says Salchert, of EPH.
Jose & Markham’s stylish, elegant, and sometimes flashy shoes are covering the feet of many of the better dressed Winnipeggers – and discerning men from around the world, due to its online sales.
“We’re already at the point where we’re doing more production, we’ve increased our MOQ (minimum order quantity),” says Salchert. “We’re looking at launching other boutiques like (the one in Winnipeg) and other locations to wholesale.”
Since opening their flagship store at 73 Princess St., the partners could wager they were onto something when the shoes caught on in Winnipeg’s tough test market.
Knowing the constraints of Winnipeggers’ budgets and some people’s continued reluctance to go downtown, they knew the venture could be a risk.
“Because I live downtown, I love it,” says Salchert. But “We knew ‘if it works downtown in this location, this brand is going to be successful.’”
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