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The Globe and Mail

Shoe designer Ron White’s top tips for success

ANTHONY JENKINS/The Globe and Mail

To get rich, forget about money

My childhood was pretty lean and mean in terms of material wealth, and I knew that I wanted to upgrade my circumstances. When I was in Grade 12, I went to New York to visit my cousin who was a big money manager and by the far the most successful person that I knew. I was obsessed over what I should do after high school – how much money should I make at my first job? What industries were the most profitable? My cousin told me to forget about all of that and just pick something that I loved to do. The idea was that if you love your work, not only will you enjoy it, but you will also be motivated to work hard even when it gets tough, which should lead to success. He also said that rather than worrying about being in a high-paying industry, I should just strive to be in the top 10 per cent of whatever industry I wanted to be in. Even if I wanted to be a garbage collector – the top 10 per cent of people in waste collection do very well.

Set the schedule for success

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Growing up, I was a competitive figure skater, which taught me a lot of strategies in terms of setting and working toward goals. One of the tricks I learned was visualization. If you want something to happen, whether it's landing an axel or getting picked up by a certain store, you have to see it happening. I am also big on creating a timeline for success. So if I have a goal that I want to achieve in four months time, I will make note of the date and then create a work-back schedule. I set deadlines, do weekly check-ins, and usually share my goal with either my partner, Brad, if it's personal or someone at work. It seems obvious, but when we keep our goals to ourselves it is that much easier to come up with excuses and put them off. Having someone to be accountable to is key.

The customer is sometimes wrong

I know what the conventional wisdom is, but the customer is not always right. Particularly when you work in retail, you will often end up on the wrong end of a lot of abusive behaviour and I tell my team that it's not their job to be abused. Someone will come into the store and say, "I bought these shoes eight years ago and they are not comfortable any more. I want a full refund." And people will start screaming and making a scene. I tell my staff to very calmly point out that eight years is actually a great lifespan for a pair of shoes, and perhaps it's time to replace them.

Know your customer

A lot of world-famous shoe designers get inspired by sitting under a tree and looking up at the clouds, but my system is a little different. Before I create a new collection, I spend a lot of time talking to the consumer and listening to what she wants more of or what she can't find. That's how I came up with the All Day Heel, my first major success. Wearable is probably the most important word. Yes, I look at trends and incorporate what's going on in the fashion world, but I will always go back to my core customer who is not a 22-year-old fashion plate. I'm selling to that person's older sister who is a professional. She cares about fashion, but isn't interested in the seven-inch heels she sees in magazines because she actually has to live in her shoes. Having this idea of a core customer to come back to will always steer you in the right direction. It doesn't mean I'm designing the same shoe over and over. After this woman has her basic day-in-day-out shoe, she might also want some wedges for the weekend, boots for the winter and so on.

Trainee see, trainee do

At Ron White, we expect a lot from our sales staff. The manual is huge and you have to pass three tests just to work on the floor. One of the best ways to ensure that employees actually retain what you are teaching them is a method we call reverse training, which means that a new employee will be trained and then he or she will have to turn around and train the trainer. It can be anything. Something as simple as showing someone how to set the alarm, and then you get them to show it back to you. If they can't show it back, they haven't learned it.

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This interview has been condensed and edited by Courtney Shea

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