The Sajdaks have been keeping Milwaukeeans well-shod for over 65 years.
Year founded: 1950
Locations: Brookfield, Glendale and Greenfield
Family Members on Staff: Six
Who is Stan? Father of Jim Sajdak, current president of the company. Stan and his wife, Emerence, opened their first shop, Stan’s Bootery, on 27th Street and Oklahoma Avenue.
But wait, there’s more: Stan’s father, Michael, operated Sajdak’s Shoe Store on Brady Street.
What’s the best thing about working in a family business?
Jim: “Your successes and failures are all your responsibility. And I get to work with my adult children every day.”
David: “You can be polishing a pair of shoes one minute and negotiating with a vendor the next.”
Ben: “Being the youngest of the four siblings, it gave me a chance to see what the others were doing before I jumped in.”
What are the challenges?
Andy: “We work with people and supervise people who knew us when we were first born. We have to earn their respect.”
Megan: “We’re wearing so many hats and are pulled in many different directions.”
Jim: “Not letting business get in the way of being a cohesive family.”
Do you like shoes?
Megan: “It’s in our blood. When someone joins the family, we insist that they have new shoes.”
Ben: “I come home smelling like shoes, so I better like them.”
Andy: “It’s something we are all very passionate about. We’re always looking at what people are wearing.”
What’s it like dealing with people’s feet every day?
David: “We’ve seen a lot. On some Saturday evenings at the Sadjak house when we were kids our dad would flip through slides of diabetic ulcers and bunions.”
Andy: “So it takes a lot to surprise us. Some people may not want you to touch their feet. Some might insist that they be the first person to try on a new shoe. Some have never had their shoes tied for them.”
Megan: “I have had customers tell me their entire life stories just by me taking off their shoes.”
Jim: “When a customer’s shoes are off, they are a little vulnerable.”
What are some of the strangest shoe-related experiences you’ve had?
David: “We had to stretch a pair of thigh-high, white go-go boots for a customer. We didn’t ask what they were for and we hadn’t sold her the boots, but we gave it our best effort.”
Jim: “I remember watching a big guy walking barefoot across the parking lot. It wasn’t because he was economically challenged. It’s just that his feet were so large that he couldn’t find any shoes that would fit. We were able to fit him.”
Andy: “A woman over the age of 70 actually invited me on a cruise so I could take her shoes on and off for her. We’ve had people put on a pair of shoes and jump up and down because they didn’t realize something could feel like that. Some have even cried.”
Who is the hardest worker?
Andy: “Each of us has become an expert in certain things. Other employees are also watching us, so if there’s any inkling that we aren’t working as hard as everybody else, or even harder, then there’s a problem.”
Jim: “We’re all in there pounding away every day. There are some nice perks, but you also have to pay your dues.”
What keeps Stan’s competitive?
Andy: “We offer customers a full-service shoe experience. Measuring their feet. Putting their shoes on for them to see if they fit. That can be a foreign concept.”
Megan: “We have individuals come into the store that think it’s normal that their feet hurt, so we educate the customer and hopefully they leave with happy feet. But we are not just your grandma’s shoe store. We serve the individual who wants to travel and have cute shoes, the person who is looking for a shoe for their kid’s wedding, and those looking for the cute Birkenstock for the trendy teen-ager or college kid. We also import brands.”
Ben: “My customers know they have a regular shoe guy they can rely on. On occasion, they even enter my number into their phones.”
You are all of you certified pedorthists. Why?
Andy: “I may be at my desk working and a foot specialist suddenly needs my help, or someone comes in with a prescription from a doctor for a certain kind of shoe. We work directly with our fitters. There’s also the whole education piece, either at the fitting stool or out at a diabetes support group, a hospital, at a corporate wellness level, or a mom’s group where I’m talking about baby’s first shoes.”
Jim: “Because we work very closely with the medical community. A lot of doctors will refer patients to us.”
What are some of your charitable endeavors?
Megan: “We fit individuals at Repairers of the Breach, a homeless day shelter. We fit about 700 people in one day. I fit this one man with shoes and he cried and said he could now get a job. One pair of shoes can really change a life.”
Ben: “Megan and I traveled to Guatemala to fit mostly children, but there was a woman who was in her 70s or 80s and blind. She walked several miles, down a pretty steep mountain and barefoot, just to get a pair of shoes from us.”
Has there ever been any discussion about selling the business?
David: “No. We love it too much.”
Jim: “Sometimes, if you don’t have another generation that is interested, you end up selling the business or going out of business altogether. But we plan on continuing to be vibrant and grow and add more stores.”
Megan: “I feel like there is so much more work to be done. We in the next generation are just getting started in our careers.”
What are some of the shoe fads that have stood out over the years?
Jim: “I’ve been around so long that I’ve seen fads come back a second or third time.”
David: “The goldfish in the platform shoe hasn’t come back yet.”
Andy: “Everything is new for each generation. Right now Birkenstocks are incredibly hot. You also have women wearing athletic shoes with dresses and skirts and it’s not just putting on tennis shoes to go walking on your lunch break. It’s what they are wearing for the day.”
Megan: “Heel types and toe shapes for women change the most, as well as the height of boots.”
Have shoe-buying habits affected customer loyalty?
Megan: “Our customers are very educated and that can lead to the challenge of ‘showrooming,’ as we call it. That’s where customers will shop for, or even buy a shoe, right in front of us on their phone. I’m thinking, ‘How rude are you?’”
Andy: “But there have been people who have stuck with us forever. I was working at the Glendale store and a 95-year-old woman who my great-grandfather [Michael Sajdak] had helped at the old Brady Street store came in. She has shopped with us for much of her life.”
David: “Sometimes when you make customers happy, they bring you really special gifts. I had a customer with a very thick Eastern European accent come in and she pulls out of her purse, on a very hot day, a wrapped cellophane package filled with hot dogs. I was very touched, but I didn’t eat the wieners.”