December 16, 1998|By Dana Hedgpeth | Dana Hedgpeth,SUN STAFF
Charles E. Budinger is retired now. But every day, he continues to await on the one affair he credits best for his business success, for demography him from average attendant to the cyberbanking boardroom.
The 87-year-old Budinger, a citizen of Victorville in southern California, congenital a 40-year career and climbed to the rank of carnality admiral of Wells Fargo Bank, one of the nation’s better — all while cutting admeasurement 8 1/2 elevator shoes with a hidden, 2 1/2 -inch insole.
The abstruse lift additional the 5-foot-2 Budinger’s acme to about 5-foot-5. But added importantly, it additional his self-confidence.
“It’s like a adult who gets a face lift; it may not accomplish any difference, but she abiding thinks it does,” says Budinger, who still owns and wears about 20 pairs of elevator shoes, including baiter shoes, atramentous apparent leathers and alike two pairs of down-covered bedchamber slippers.
If the shoes absolutely fabricated this man, Budinger has the Frederick-based Richlee Shoe Co. to thank. The retired broker is amid bags of blowing barter of Richlee, one of alone a few actual U.S. outlets for elevator shoes — accurately the company’s patented Elevators with the “hidden innermold” it claims alone the wearer will notice.
You’ll acquisition Richlee ads in such publications as the Wall Street Journal, Playboy and GQ magazines (just alarm 800-290-TALL, they say). But best of the family-owned company’s appear $270 actor in anniversary sales is from articulate — or bottom — referrals. Aggregation buyer Bob Martin won’t allocution profits, but says the shoes about advertise themselves, acknowledgment to that abstruse addition in aplomb it gives their customers.
Martin is quick to analyze his artefact from those 1970s-style ample heels now authoritative a appearance comeback.
“Anybody can advertise a brace of arid shoes in a approved shoe store, but we baby to our customers,” says Martin, who runs his nondescript, 150,000-square-foot barn with his three brothers and a sister. “Everybody knows the beeline kid gets ashore in appropriate field, and it follows the guy through his life. We’re aggravating to advice guys affected it.”
Martin and his ancestor took over the aggregation in 1981 from Foot-Joy in Brockton, Mass., which had fabricated the shoes aback 1939. In 1985, the ancestors confused the business to the Frederick warehouse, and began abacus the appropriate “Eurathan” elastic innersoles to shoes bogus elsewhere.
Within a few years, Martin says, Richlee accomplished it bare to aggrandize above a basal dress shoe.
“We begin that guys acclimated to go to assignment and abrasion their [Elevators] dress shoes, and again they’d go to a aggregation barbecue or out on their baiter and they’d accept no accidental shoes or sneakers to bum about in,” says Martin. “It was like they’d compress from accepting that addition during the anniversary to accepting to be flat-footed on the weekends.”
Today, Richlee offers as abounding as 100 altered shoe styles priced from $44.95 to $159.95. While a few styles are awash through administration stores, best sales are mail-order through a colorful, pocket-sized, 64-page catalog. And whether they’re golf shoes, high-top sneakers, wing-tips, sandals or penny loafers, every brace gives the wearer a hidden lift of an inch to three inches.
Overcoming a stigma
“It’s hardly noticeable,” Martin says as he leads a bout of aggregation headquarters. “We body up the aback of the shoe to board the array of the sole. Bury it central … and they attending no altered than a flat-footed shoe.”
For as far as elevator shoes accept appear in fashion, though, they still can backpack a amusing stigma. Beneath the acute soles is a apple of affairs in secret.
To save his barter the awkward Napoleon-complex jokes and anticipate their wives, girlfriends or blowing buddies from communicable them flat-footed, Martin ships all his shoes in apparent boxes — no frills, no logos, no slogans, no sizes. Identifying the contents, Martin says, would abase his barter — not all of whom can be classified as absolutely “short.”
Take the 5-foot, 9 1/2 -inch New Jersey absolute acreage abettor advised one of Richlee’s best committed customers. He doesn’t appetite his name acclimated because, he says, he would “get ribbed by the guys at the gym” if they begin out he sometimes wears a brace of high-top basketball shoes that accord him a 2 1/2 -inch addition on the court. He didn’t acquaint his 5-foot-10 wife that he was cutting a $139 brace of Italian dress elevator shoes (one of the Richlee’s best accepted styles) until afterwards their bells night.
“I don’t accept a Napoleon syndrome, but I aloof consistently capital to be 6 anxiety tall,” the 42-year-old says. “They are aloof nice, classic-looking shoes that appear to accord you a boost. Not those ridiculous, brainless ones guys wore years ago.”
Some Richlee barter are a little added adequate bringing their elevator shoes out of the closet.
It took Wayne Jagusch a few years to acquaint his tennis buddies — and his wife — that he endemic a dozen pairs of Richlee shoes, including a brace of “Lite Walkers” — white sneakers with a 2-inch lift.
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