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On the Job with Bob Mulford

Photo by Barry Levine

Photo by Barry Levine

"On the Job with..." is a weekly Sunday Inc. series, spotlighting area business owners and executives. Today's interview is with Bob Mulford, president of The Shoe Box.

Q. If you were a young adult fresh out of college, what would you do first in searching for a job?

A. Be willing to start at the bottom and work my way up. Be patient, prompt and a good listener. Take advice from experienced people in the field you are seeking. In any interview I would make sure that whoever was interviewing me knew that I would be a valuable choice for their company.

Q. What was the first thing you spent money on when you received your first ever paycheck?

A. I had an 8-track tape player installed in my car.

Q. What's the single most effective technique you found over the past two years for keeping employees motivated?

A. Communication. I have always tried to include my employees when making decisions. Also, being open to their ideas. These two things make for good working relations for all of us.

Q. What was your first job?

A. Delivering newspapers for The Albany Herald.

Q. What led you to your current position? Why did you want to operate your own business?

A. After marrying Debbie, her parents, Buddy and Terese Cohen, invited me to join the family shoe business. After many years of learning all the aspects of operating a retail business, Debbie and I became majority owners and began running the business. I wanted to operate our family business to allow our children the opportunity to continue if they shared the same passion.

Q. Do you have a role model or mentor in your career?

A. My role model in my career would be my father-in-law, Buddy Cohen. He was a very good teacher, had years of experience and was willing to turn over responsibility to those of us showing a sincere interest in the business.

Q. What is the biggest lesson you as a business leader learned from the recent recession?

A. Being organized. Paying attention to small details, cutting out waste, maximize everyone's abilities and understanding that customer service is still of utmost importance.

Q. If you could turn the clock back on one aspect of technology - examples e-mail, automated phone systems, cell phones, PDAs, etc. - what would you most like to see go away?

A. I would like to see automated phone systems go away because they are impersonal. Automated phone systems are annoying and a waste of valuable time to navigate through a machine when you need to be speaking to a person.

Q. What is your favorite work-related gadget?

A. This answer is going to be old fashioned, it's a foot measuring device. You can not believe how many people come into our store and work shoe mobile and they are wearing the wrong size shoes. And have been for years. Some of them are really shocked when we measure their feet and put them in a totally different size.

Q. What was the last book you read? Do you have things you read daily or regularly?

A. The last book I read was "The Testament" by John Grisham. I read The Albany Herald on a daily basis.

Q. I'm up and going by?

A. I am up and going by 6:30 a.m. My morning routine is to get my coffee and sit down and read The Herald, then go through my planner and prioritize my day.

Q. Favorite hobbies or activity outside work?

A. Debbie and I enjoy traveling but really can not get away for very long so we take trips that last for three or four days. We try to get away at least four times a year. We also enjoy working in the yard. And, of course, playing with our grandchildren.

Q. If you could take back one business decision you made in your career, what would it be?

A. The worst decision I made was trying to open two stores at the same time, one store out of town and the other was a new concept. I found out that our main store was suffering through this and eventually we closed the other two locations. This was a very expensive lesson.

Q. Best thing about your job?

A. The best thing about my job is working with my family -- my wife and two of our children, Jason and Michael, who are preparing to take over our business when Debbie and I retire.

Q. Worst thing about your job?

A. The worst thing about operating your own business is how confining it is. The hours are long, open seven days a week, and your presence is always important. When you go home it is hard to mentally get away from your business.

Q. The most beneficial course I took in school was?

A. Math. I am always using numbers for projections, budgets, percentages.

Q. What would be your dream job if you were able to pick a position outside your current career path?

A. Storm chaser. For some reason I am intrigued by bad weather.

Q. Finish this thought; "on the first anniversary of my retirement, I see myself...

A. I would like to be on an airplane to somewhere we have never been.

Q. What is the one trait a strong business leader cannot afford to be without?

A. Honesty, integrity and setting good examples. My father told me many times to be honest because you can always remember the truth.

Q. Crystal ball time: What's your call on when the economic recovery for our area will be in full swing?

A. This recession is still having a negative impact on our area. Too many jobs have been lost and for some reason the South is usually the last to feel a slow down and the last to recover. I think it will take at least two years before we begin to see a positive turnaround.

Q. What kind of music might I find on your list of most played on your iPod?

A. Country music

Q. What do you think is the biggest change Albany will see in the next 10 years?

A. Hopefully it will be in the education community. Dougherty County must address the issues with the Board of Education to assure our children are educated well enough to attract jobs to our area. Education is the key to economic development.

Q. What was the best vacation you've ever taken? Why

A. Debbie and I spent several days at Lake Tahoe, Nev. When people say something takes their breath away, that is what happened when we first got a glimpse of Lake Tahoe. The beauty of that area is unforgettable.

Q. What are the biggest changes you have seen in your specific line of business over the past few years?

A. The biggest change I have seen in the retail shoe business is the lack of customer service and product knowledge. Also, the ability, through vendor favoritism, for the big chains to dominate. It is no longer a level playing field. Whoever has the largest buying power usually wins without any other considerations.