Waiting for the other shoe to drop

Let me just say, up front, that I’m all for democracy. Especially in shoes.

And according to the 2006 annual report of Payless Shoe Source Inc., so is CEO and President Matthew E. Rubel.

“Our vision is to democratize fashion and design in footwear and accessories to the world,” he writes in the report’s opening pages.

This is an admirable goal. I’m not poking fun; it’s nearly impossible to find more than two pairs of size 5 women’s shoes in any other store in America, and I’ve long felt the lack of democracy in this state of affairs. The fact that I’m such a loyal and grateful Payless customer only makes reading the company’s annual report hurt that much more.

I’ve never read anything this filled with business jargon in my life. In fact, I thought it was a joke. I kept waiting for the punch line.

“As an organization, we refocused ourselves around the marketplace and the customer. We crafted a strategy that leveraged our strengths and clarified our opportunities. … We executed. The results were solid 3.5% comparable store sales growth, record sales for the Payless store brand, gross margin expansion to a historically high level, operating profit from continuing operations up 41%, and realizing a value creating ROIC.”

Growth comparable to what? And where did the grammatical ground shift to in the middle of that sentence?

The company’s vision “… is simple, focused and inclusive. In an elevated manner (does that mean from the vantage point of platform heels?), our mission is to become the first choice for style and value in footwear and accessories.”

The letter goes on for several more pages. Scanning it, I saw that the company has “injected over 30 new senior executives” into the organization (with steroids so often in today’s news, “injected” might not be the best word choice), strengthened its “people development initiatives” and created “a dynamic yet well-grounded organization.”

Mr. Rubel, you have a great company. In between all that jargon, you once or twice let slip that you seem to care about the people who work for you and who shop in your stores. Why make it so difficult to figure that out?

I know what you’ll say. “You just don’t understand the business world, little lady.” And you just don’t understand how to communicate, mister. Not even the big shots around your board table will enjoy reading that letter. Aren’t they your bosses? Shouldn’t you be telling them clearly how successful you’ve been, rather than how many Business 101 words you can cram into a paragraph?

The next time you write for your annual report, Mr. Rubel, let a little more of your humanity show. Put on a pair of Payless sandals instead of those Oxfords. Let your toes breathe.

Bring your pad and pencil into one of your stores for the afternoon and watch a happy woman discover she has a choice of styles in a size 5.

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