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Entrepreneur Boots Corporate Life for Old-World Shoe Biz


Two years ago, David Binns quit a corporate engineering career with Georgia Pacific in Plattsburgh, N.Y., to move home and run a shoe company. That company, the Aurora Shoe Co., is located just south of Aurora at Kings Ferry in the heart of New York's Finger Lakes region. Aurora produces handmade leather shoes.

Binns had lived less than a mile from its then-eight-person factory for most of his life and has been wearing Aurora shoes for a good half of that life.

"I bought my first pair when I was 13," Binns told BusinessNewsDaily.

Ever since, he said, he's always owned at least one pair of Aurora shoes. Today, he owns the company.

The life of an operations manager with a large corporation in upstate New York was not the life that Binns and his wife, Andrea, had signed on for. He was working 24/7, was always on call and under pressure, and they were expecting their first child.

"We wanted to move back to where we were from," Binns said. "Working for myself was a safer bet than working for a large corporation."

Timing was right

The timing was right. Mary Jane Dann, who founded Aurora in 1991 when Binns was still in elementary school, had put the company up for sale.

"I always thought they had great potential," Binns said. "I always liked working with my hands."

Dann and her eight employees agreed to stay on board to help with the transition. She and seven of the eight original employees are still there.

When Binns bought the company it was largely a wholesale operation with no direct-to-customer sales; most of its production went to Japan.

"They did very little marketing," he said. "It was all word of mouth . There was no website."

Strategic about-face

Binns instituted a strategic about-face for the company and launched direct-to-customer sales both from the factory and through Aurora's new website. He's also taken Aurora into social media, with a 2-year-old presence on Facebook and a corporate blog. They've also started advertising on a few select blogs.

"It really helps get a personal feel with our customers," he said. "Part of our appeal is that we're a small, independently owned company."

Today the company produces 10,000 pairs of shoes annually. The shoes, Binns said, are made in batches that take three weeks from start to completion with craftsmen working the leather by hand to form the basic shape of the shoe. There are more than 50 steps involved in making a pair of Aurora shoes. The employee roster has now crept up to 10.

Aurora takes pride in using only American leather, glue and thread, Binns said. The leather comes from a tannery in Chicago that's been in business for 100 years. Only the buckles are imported.

Work-life balance

Binns still spends long hours at work, but he now has more control over his work-life balance.

"There are a lot of hours, but I get to choose them so I can be around my family," he said. "Family still comes first. That was part of the reason I wanted to be my own boss."

Now the head of a family of four, Binns makes sure this cobbler's children do not go unshod.

"I've made two custom pairs, one for each daughter," he said.

Aurora shoes are available in four styles for men and women, including Middle English, West Indian, New Chinese and New Mexican. Binns says they have a timeless element that continues to make them attractive. They are priced from $140 to $165 a pair.

"We are in a good niche," he said. "We do well in the Pacific Northwest and Northern California. We also have a lot of buyers in New England."

Some might call them "down-to-earth" styles.

You're not going to see Aurora shoes vamping down the runway during Fashion Week in New York City. Forget images of heels from Jimmy Choo and Manalo Blahnik or loafers from Gucci. Aurora shoes look more like the love child of a liaison between Birkenstock and the Whole Earth Catalog. They're solid, stolid, last-a-lifetime footwear far removed from fickle fashion trends.

And that fits Aurora wearers just fine.

Reach BusinessNewsDaily senior writer Ned Smith at nsmith@techmedianetwork.com. Follow him on Twitter @nedbsmith.


Ned Smith

Ned was senior writer at Sweeney Vesty, an international consulting firm, and was Vice President of communications for iQuest Analytics. Before that, he has been a web editor and managed the Internet and intranet sites for Citizens Communications. He began his journalism career as a police reporter with the Roanoke (Va.) Times, and was managing editor of American Way magazine and senior editor of Us. He was a Captain in the U.S. Air Force and has a masters in journalism from the University of Arizona.