Wolf and Shepherd CEO on the “New Normal,” and Making Quick Decisions to Survive During COVID-19

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I caught up with Justin Schneider, founder of Wolf and Shepherd, to ask him about the impact of COVID-19 on his supply chain, retail stores and employees, and how he’s planning for the new normal.

About Wolf and Shepherd

Wolf and Shepherd makes the most unique shoes I’ve ever seen.

Justin Schneider founded Wolf and Shepherd with a goal of making the world’s most comfortable dress shoes. The company started life producing traditional (yet good looking) dress shoes with hidden sneaker comforts, like these Closer cap-toe lace-up Oxford dress shoes, which I’ve worn for years now.

Since then, Wolf and Shepherd has developed the super-interesting, one-of-a-kind Longwing Crossover, a hybrid dress shoe-sneaker that looks like a little of both.

The company is a perfect example of the kind of direct-to-consumer e-commerce brand transforming the way men dress, and one of a number of companies selling fabulous dress shoes for men. (They also make cool driving shoes and minimalist low-top leather sneakers for men.)

Impact of COVID-19 on Wolf and Shepherd’s business

I asked Justin about the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on his business.

He told me that, “the COVID crisis initially caught everybody by surprise.”

Just prior to the outbreak, Wolf and Shepherd’s sales were up over 125% from the prior year.

Justin said he felt like the company had really transitioned into a true mid-sized business with a staff of 44 employees.

Then, over a 5 day period, sales went down to 10-20% of their normal volume.

“Our immediate response was to move from planning for supply chain and hiring and marketing to react fluidly over the following week to make changes.”

They closed their retail stores, following local ordinances, and were forced to furlough team members.

He added, “we acted quickly in response to the crisis, making strategic decisions to ensure we maintained a successful operation.”

Justin felt it was important to act quickly to conserve resources and not allow the business to burn through a lot of cash as the bottom fell out of retail sales.

Within 5 days, if you were an e-commerce business, revenue likely went down 40-50%, Justin observed. “Retail and wholesale went to zero,” he added.

Wolf and Shepherd also moved quickly to apply for a disaster relief loan and the Paycheck Protection Program to cushion their cash burn.

“One thing that has been important is to stay in close communication with our employees,” Justin said.

Through the shutdown, he has strived to connect with each of Wolf and Shepherd’s employees weekly, including those that have been furloughed.

Supply chain impacts from COVID-19

I also asked Justin about the impact on Wolf and Shepherd’s supply chain.

“We were lucky that we spent the last 6-8 months to create a more global supply chain,” he said.

Wolf & Shepherd has invested in building out their supply chain over the last 6 months, which has enabled them to have multiple manufacturers to turn to when others shut down.

Justin added that all their leathers are still imported from the same tanneries in Italy.

Support independent businesses like Wolf and Shepherd

I asked Justin for his thoughts about supporting small and independent businesses.

He suggested finding brands that are taking their message and authentically finding ways to help with the crisis. In a way you have the opportunity to help two causes at one time.

Nate Checketts, one of the founders of Rhône Clothing, one of a number of brands making professional performance wear made from technical fabrics, helped spearhead the Brands for Better initiative, in which Wolf and Shepherd participates.

The coalition includes a constellation of innovative brands committed to helping a COVID-19 causes and offering additional value to their customers.

Justin noted that Wolf and Shepherd is supporting Kidango, a local bay-area foundation that they came to know through the Steve Nash Foundation. Kidango is an early learning nonprofit that is focused on giving kids a chance to thrive during the first part of their lives.

Justin added that now is not the time to hold off on a purchase from your favorite brand, hoping for a better discount. Brands are giving serious discounts right now to encourage people to spend at a really tough time.

Companies are looking to sell their products and offering impressive deals now, and whatever revenue coming in is going into sustaining their businesses.

The best way to ensure that the brands you care about stay around after the crisis is to invest in them now and buy their products, he added.

Adjusting to the new normal

“Normal is a-ways away but the new normal is probably going to emerge this fall,” said Justin.

Wolf and Shepherd has a four-stage plan to adapt during the COVID-19 pandemic: conserve, maintain, build and scale:

  1. They have already moved to conserve resources and talent.
  2. Stage two is to attempt to maintain a level of business health.
  3. Stage three is to build back up the foundations to scale.
  4. Stage four is to begin scaling once again.

Some projects are on hold for the time being. (Before the pandemic, word was the company would be looking to open a new retail store in Washington, DC.)

In the meantime, Wolf and Shepherd is still moving forward with new launches.

They debuted two wingtip versions of their cool Longwing crossover shoe a few weeks back in black and brown (excuse me: onyx and honey). And they are on track to release a 3D-printed knit upper version of their hybrid dress shoe towards the end of summer at an affordable price point.

While I’m itching to wear my new Longwing hybrid dress shoes around town, for now I’m glad to have them for my work-from-home walks.

About Jake

Jake is an expert on men’s style and fashion based in Washington, DC. He founded Modern Fellows in 2012 to get to know the entrepreneurs and innovative clothing and lifestyle brands helping men dress sharp in the digital age. He has published hundreds of articles on style and apparel, and regularly interviews small business CEOs and startup founders about industry trends. Jake has written about entrepreneurship, international business and fashion for outlets including Business Week, Forbes, Inc., Details Style Syndicate and Primer Magazine.

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