In 1889, Vincent Schuler came to Minneapolis from Austria and opened a little shoe repair shop called V. Schuler Boots & Shoes. One hundred and twenty-five years later, Vincent’s great-nephew, John Schuler, is running the business we know as Schuler Shoes.
Above: Vincent Schuler in his original shop (photo courtesy of the Schuler family).
Headquartered in Maple Grove, the company marked its anniversary last August, and the festivities are continuing for 12 months, with promotions and events. This is the ultimate family business in its fourth generation, as John Schuler’s wife, Nancy, and their four children, Scott, Jennifer, Michael and Marie, are all involved in the company.
The current generation started with John Schuler, who was just a kid when he started helping out. “I just naturally got involved at a very young age in various parts of the business,” Schuler says. He started by cleaning—dusting, sweeping—and was given more advanced tasks as he grew. By high school it was a regular job, and after working his way up from salesperson to manager, he bought the business from his father in 1974.
By 1976, Schuler had reduced the number of stores from six down to four. Today, there are ten stores; the most recent location opened in St. Paul. With the growth came a need for change, and in 2000 the company moved its headquarters from Robbinsdale to Maple Grove’s Main Street, which Schuler says seemed “more us.” “Maple Grove is a nice community,” he adds, saying it will be great for an established yet still-growing business that will someday be passed on to the next generation.
Marie Vidger, Schuler’s youngest daughter and a buyer in the merchandising department, was, like the rest of the Schuler family, introduced to the business at a young age. “I remember growing up just hanging out in the back room,” she says. After selling shoes part time in high school, college approached and she had to think about whether she wanted to officially join the family business. “My dad never said, ‘You have to do this.’ All the kids explored,” Vidger says. After a brief dabble in the psychology department at college, she realized she wanted to be a part of the business.
At just 29 years old, Vidger is very aware of the rarity of a 125-year-old family business. “I know that a lot of hard work has gone into getting it to where it’s at,” she says. That sentiment is also shared by her father, who knows it’s not always easy, but it’s worth it.
“There are tough times in a family business, but I remember my dad encouraged me back when I started [by saying], ‘There’s nothing better than owning your own business,’” John Schuler says. Independent businesses have a hard time to begin with, and keeping an independent business in the family is even more challenging, as not all families want to be involved or keep the business going. But Schuler has the ultimate team, with four kids, their spouses, and nieces and nephews involved in the business full-time. It might sound complicated, but “we’ve all got different roles, so we don’t really step on each other’s toes,” Schuler says.
Vidger says the business “has its moments and challenges like any other family,” but the most important part of the business is the family. “You’re part of a family first, then you’re business owners, then you’re an employee,” she says.
“It’s the American dream,” Schuler says.