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How Jacob Bishop re-energized the Mr. Alan's brand

Despite having grown up in and around his father's shoe stores, Jacob Bishop showed little interest in joining his dad's company once graduating from Michigan State University. 
 
He wanted to strike out and build something of his own—an understandable impulse for a 22-year-old. So Jacob and his brother Adam did just that, opening Soles Inc., a small high-end sneaker boutique in Miami's South Beach that grew to five locations throughout Florida.

But Bishop would eventually move back north and take over the family business, re-branding and re-energizing the decades-old company by drastically shaking up the business model. And it seems to be working. Mr. Alan's is now Elite Mr. Alan's, a place for finding the latest trends in shoes and clothing, not just the best bargains.

It's a quality over quantity approach. Some told him it wouldn't fly. Michigan is not Florida, they said. Keep it simple and don't get too colorful. But as incremental changes proved successful, Jacob was emboldened. It was time for change.

"If you're either not growing or evolving, you're dying," Bishop says.

Jacob is the son of Alan Bishop, founder of the Mr. Alan's chain of shoe and clothing stores. Like his son, Alan also split off from the family business at an early age. In 1974, Alan opened his first shoe store when he was 18 years old. Alan's father, Robert, had his own stores, specializing in women's shoes. So as not to compete with his dad, Alan opened a shoe store that carried men's shoes.

As with any successful business, Mr. Alan's changed with the times. Starting out in men's dress shoes, the company eventually began carrying men's casual shoes and even a few sneakers. Clothing was later introduced. As the decades wore on, Mr. Alan's shifted to a price-point-driven model offering good products at good prices, nothing too fancy. Sneakers became the focus. This shift is best identified by one of the catchiest slogans to be transmitted across Metro Detroit's broadcast airwaves—Mr. Alan's: $29 or two for $50.

Somewhere around 2012, the brothers Bishop merged their Soles Inc. brand with their father's Mr. Alan's chain of stores. Soon, Jacob would be making the trek up north to help with the strategic merging of companies. What he thought would last one month turned into three and then six. Following his father's departure from day-to-day duties, Jacob did something he never thought he'd do. Along with his brother, he became co-CEO and co-president of Mr. Alan's.

"The company was doing fine; they were doing great—everything was pretty much consistent," Jacob says. "We weren't necessarily growing, we weren't necessarily declining, but we were not, for a good chunk of time, evolving as a company. Which, I think, leaves you very vulnerable. So even though we were flat, we were a sitting target."

To change that, Jacob took what he learned in Florida and applied it to the Mr. Alan's stores here in Michigan. Though some told him it wouldn't work, Jacob started small. He introduced higher end and better quality products into one section of the store and waited to see how customers would respond. 
 
"If I only mess up 20 percent of the store, I only mess up 20 percent of sales, right?"

Sales, in fact, only grew. Soon the higher end concept took up half of Mr. Alan's stores and eventually would come to take over the whole store. Drastic updates and improvements were made to the furniture, displays, and overall designs of each store. To reflect that evolution, Jacob changed the name from Mr. Alan's to Elite Mr. Alan's.

The company is now in expansion mode. The older Mr. Alan's stores have been re-designed and re-branded as Elite Mr. Alan's. New stores have been popping up throughout Metro Detroit, including the latest at McNichols and Grand River, near the new Meijer development. It's the thirteenth Elite Mr. Alan's store. The company plans to open six more over the next 18 months and 24 more over the next three years.

Like his father before him, Jacob Bishop is proving that in business, evolution is key.

Name and title: Jacob Bishop, co-president and co-CEO of Elite Mr. Alan’s

Year Mr. Alan's opened: 1974

Year Elite Mr. Alan's opened/began: Evolution into Elite began in 2012

One interesting job he had before running Mr. Alan's: Jacob started his own car detailing business in high school. His niche was that he would pick up the cars from his customers (wherever they were), detailed the cars at his house and then returned the cars to his customers.

Your favorite shoe of all time: White-on-white Nike Air Force 1

Biggest lessons you learned from his dad about running a business: To treat your brands with the same respect used to treat the customers
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