February 10, 2007

Kinney

And the man behind the brand is...
George Kinney

For a man who had the burden of responsibility constantly thrust upon him in his personal life it is ironic that George Romanta Kinney made his fortune by abdicating responsibility. Kinney was one of America’s first franchisers - the managers of his stores made all day-to-day decisions while the “home office” was responsible only for purchasing.

Kinney was born to a Candor, New York merchant whose store failed shortly thereafter. His father died in 1875 when Kinney was nine. He raised money for the family working around town until the age of 17 when he left for the big city of Binghamton and a position with the Lester Shoe Company. In 1888 Kinney was promoted to manager of a store in Waverly, New York, providing enough of a stake to marry. But his wife died in childbirth in 1890 and the Lester Shoe Company went bankrupt.

Left alone to start over Kinney bought the failing Lester’s inventory for $1500. He opened another store in Waverly with one employee, cobbler Milner Kemp. He sold shoes to the entire family at discount prices, at a time when few retailers sold mens, womens, boys and girls shoes under one roof. Moreover Kinney hung his shoes on wallboards outside his shop and posted prices on the boards.

The innovations worked as Kinney was able to open a second store in Corning, New York within the year. By 1899 he was operating eight stores. Every new manager Kinney brought into the business was regarded as a partner. The partner invested in the store and ran the daily operations. Kinney retreated from the retail floor to the Woolworth Building in New York City where he concentrated on buying shoes and shoe factories.

George Kinney’s empire building was ended by his death in 1919 from complications stemming from a circulatory attack in 1907. At the time the 53-year old Kinney had more than four dozen shoe stores in 13 states.

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