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October 17, 2011 | last updated January 17, 2012 2:20 pm
The 2011 Next List

Shoe shine | Mike Rancourt and Kyle Rancourt, president and vice president of sales and marketing, Rancourt & Co. Shoecrafters, Lewiston

Amber Waterman
Amber Waterman
Mike Rancourt, left, and his son, Kyle, have seen business quadruple in two years

VIEW: Next Awards: Kyle Rancourt

VIEW: Next Awards: Mike Rancourt

Mike Rancourt remembers sitting in an Allen-Edmonds board meeting as the shoe company announced the closing of its Lewiston factory, leaving 80 people without a job. As a second-generation shoemaker, and the founder of the original factory that Allen-Edmonds was set to close, the proposal to shutter the shop hit him hard. "It was shocking. From my standpoint, they were out in Minnesota, they didn't know the people in Lewiston, people who had worked for my father, and for me — second- and third-generation shoemakers. It didn't feel right."

But it wasn't just a desire to save jobs that drove Mike, along with his son, Kyle, to launch Rancourt & Co. Shoecrafters, the third shoe manufacturer he has owned. "I had to maintain this. I couldn't throw this away and say, 'Too bad, life changes.' I still felt the product we were making was relevant, and that if marketed correctly, if the story was properly told, we could maintain, if not grow, what we were doing."

So far, his hunch has proven true. In its two-year existence, Rancourt & Co. has grown from 20 employees to 54, and upped the number of high-end men's shoes it makes from 250 a week to 1,000. It moved in mid-December from the former Allen-Edmonds space to a former woodworking facility on Bridge Street. Business has quadrupled, with revenues on track to hit between $3 million and $3.7 million this year, giving the company a comfortable spot in a niche that's been left nearly vacant as more shoe manufacturers ship their work overseas. "We're unique, but some would say we're not just unique, we're absolutely crazy," says Mike. "But I know the business and it's not as crazy as some may think. It's challenging, but I understand the challenges."

From a 25,000-square-foot space in Lewiston, Rancourt & Co. cuts, assembles, hand-sews and packages men's dress and casual shoes, made to order and costing anywhere from $200 to $500 a pair. The company ships around the globe, to places like Hong Kong, India and even the United Arab Emirates, though its biggest market is still the United States. About 75% of its business is private label, meaning the shoes are made and labeled for eight other companies including Ralph Lauren and Timberland. Recently, the company secured a wholesale account with Brooks Brothers, and the shoes are stamped with the Rancourt & Co. name. That business has grown from an initial order of 125 pairs to orders now of 2,500 pairs. A Japanese retailer this summer also began carrying Rancourt & Co. shoes.

The father-son team has found quick success in reviving a traditional industry they refuse to see as dying, in part because of growing consumer demand for domestically made products and high-quality service. "People want to buy products from people they know and trust," says Kyle, who personally responds to each customer's inquiry.

Growing Rancourt & Co.'s brand recognition is his chief responsibility. As newly named VP of sales and marketing, Kyle handles the company's new online store, which opened in July and has seen strong success, in part thanks to a promotion through Urban Daddy, a lifestyle website, that proved so popular it crashed the Rancourt site. The website used to bring in about $2,000 in sales a week; now, it nets $8,000-$10,000 in weekly sales. With more promotion, including attending trade shows beginning next year, the Rancourts hope to triple the online business in 12 months. "Our biggest problem right now is that a lot of people don't know who we are," says Kyle.

And while the business of selling shoes may be drastically different than it was 60 years ago, the product's appeal has remained largely the same. "[Shoemaking] is intrinsic to Maine," says Kyle. "It's part of what we've been doing from the beginning. You don't have to develop it, you just have to nurture it."

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