Higher Education, Marketing, PR & Advertising, and Retail

Sneaker retailer partners with area schools

Mr. Alan’s teaches students at Lee and East Kentwood high schools how to open retail store, build business relationships.

June 2, 2017
| By Pat Evans |
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Mr. Alan's
The Mr. Alan’s store in Wyoming, which opens this week, already has partnerships with East Kentwood and Wyoming Lee high schools. Courtesy Mr. Alan's

Giving high school students a chance to participate in business is special to the leaders at Mr. Alan’s.

The Redford-based sneaker retailer was founded in 1974 but recently went through a significant brand revolution, said Kris Holowicki, marketing director.

“It’s evolved tremendously,” he said. “It’s not a rebranding, but from a customer experience perspective, there’s a lot to dive into in the community.”

Being from the metro Detroit area and participating in various grassroots revitalization efforts, Mr. Alan’s leadership saw similar opportunities in parts of Grand Rapids.

“There’s a lot of upswing,” Holowicki said. “There’s a lot happening in business and the community, and we like to think of ourselves as part of a wave or transformation.”

Mr. Alan’s opened a store in Kentwood, 2941 28th St. SE, more than a year ago, and has seen success.

Now, the company is opening a store in Wyoming, 1254 28th St. SW, with a grand opening celebration June 8-10. It will be the 16th Mr. Alan’s store in Michigan. This year, Mr. Alan’s is opening 12 stores, including its first outlet in Detroit and stores in Chicago. Mr. Alan’s will have 32 stores, with some under the brand names of Soles Inc. and POGO.

To celebrate the opening, Mr. Alan’s will partner with Lee High School and East Kentwood High School. Holowicki said Wyoming and Kentwood are communities going through evolutions.

“They are amazing pockets. Every store opening, we like to do something for the community,” Holowicki said. “We’re not one for writing a big check and taking a picture. We like to get our hands dirty.”

The idea to partner with high schools came from West Bloomfield, where one of the company’s co-presidents, Jacob Bishop, hails. The initial event was a lecture to high school students in an audience, but more of an entrepreneurial lesson and a blueprint. Now, students at West Bloomfield work with teachers and Mr. Alan’s staff to learn how to open a retail store and build business relationships.

One of the West Bloomfield students, Josh Cooper, will intern at the company before attending Michigan State University in the fall.

“We found students are really enticed by business,” Holowicki said. “You have people starting companies and nonprofits at 14 years old. When we met with West Bloomfield initially, it just kept snowballing and really turned into a whirlwind, grassroots business.

“We’re teaching these kids, they come from areas where there’s not a lot of support or drive to go into business.”

The Wyoming grand opening celebration will feature an inflatable cash booth manned by students at the high school, with all shoes donated by the company.

Students throughout the school year can earn points as currency, Mr. Alan’s Bucks, at Mr. Alan’s to buy sneakers. Holowicki said students can earn good grades, stand up to bullying, show leadership and engage in positive community deeds.

The schools were picked through relationship building, Holowicki said. Mr. Alan’s likely won’t stop at two stores in West Michigan, but the company definitely won’t settle down with its involvement in the community, he said.

“These are relationship oriented,” Holowicki said. “Every school is different, and it starts out slow and snowballs. We’ll wait and see, but we have some plans to do more with the community and shake things up from an experience standpoint.”

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