Browns Shoes, a family-owned business established in Montreal in 1940, is synonymous with top international designer collections, luxurious leather goods, and exclusive street savvy fashion for ladies, men and children....
One of the secrets to the success of the chain is the retail philosophy of late chairman Morton Brownstein, who explains, "I want every customer to say, ‘I need to go to Browns,’ not ‘I need to buy a pair of shoes.’ If we accomplish this, then we have succeeded in equating shoes with Browns in a customer’s mind, so that for her or him, the only place to purchase shoes is Browns."
A third generation now leads the business, and the company has expanded with each successive generation’s strengths. The founder, Benjamin Brownstein, had the foresight in 1940 to open a family shoe store with products in a wide range of prices, on St. Catherine Street, the central shopping district of that era.
After a fire gutted the location in 1954, Morton Brownstein, who had taken over the business from his father, gave the company a new direction, focusing on exclusive designer and fashion footwear
In 1959, Morton Brownstein was the first North American retailer to travel to Italy and to bring Italian designer shoes to Canada. He worked directly with the legendary Salvatore Ferragamo at his original store on Via Tornabuoni in Florence, where Signor Ferragamo himself wrote the Browns’ order for shoes and handbags. Browns was the first Canadian retailer to carry Charles Jourdan, Bruno Magli, and Rossi Moda (which now produces collections for Marc Jacobs, Calvin Klein and Pucci.)
Today, Morton’s son, Michael Brownstein, is the president of the company, and has successfully expanded the chain to nearly 60 locations throughout Canada. He is the first retailer outside of Italy to win the prestigious Micam award in Bologna, for his fashion interpretation, his knowledge of craftsmanship, and his success in promoting the Italian shoe industry.
Michael has brought the company to the forefront of the 21st century by creating a new chain of stores, B2, that focuses on the edgy, street fashion that appeals to a younger generation as well as to trend-conscious consumers. Michael has also continued the company’s tradition of creating personal relationships with the leading shoe designers of today, who provide Browns with many exclusive styles
The dynamic of a family culture is quite evident in the company. Not only has a fourth generation of Brownsteins started to work at Browns today, but there are many other families who work at the head office, and in the stores in Montreal, Toronto and Vancouver. Morton Brownstein feels, "there is no greater compliment to a business than when staff members invite their family and friends to join."
The head office and warehouse in Montreal is a trilingual operation, where many staff members are fluent in English, French and Italian.
Browns is one of the few companies that donates 10% of its pre-tax profits to charities. Mr. Morton Brownstein was recognized for his extraordinary fundraising work when he was appointed to the Order of Canada in July 2004. The citation reads as follows:
"A highly respected entrepreneur, Morton Brownstein is also a remarkable volunteer and philanthropist. Chairman of Browns Shoe Shops Inc., he took a one-store family business and helped it grow to national prominence, positioning it at the top of the industry. His generosity with time, energy and money is legendary. He has been particularly active in fundraising activities for the Jewish General Hospital and the Montreal Association for the Blind, among others. In addition, his company regularly donates an exceptionally generous percentage of its profits to various community organizations."
Additionally, Browns has for many years supported the Club des Petits Dejeuners in Montreal, a charitable organization that provides a hot breakfast for students at schools in underprivileged areas.
As a committed believer in developing future Canadian fashion designers. Browns also sponsors an annual $3000 scholarship for students in Montreal fashion schools.
Browns is enthusiastic about its role as the leading retailer of fashion footwear in Canada. The company has plans to open new locations and to renovate several stores, as well as to expand designer collections and introduce new exclusive lines.
Michael Brownstein strongly believes, "There is no other retail shoe operation that can compete with our team of buyers and sales associates. Each season brings excitement and increased success, and our company has a strong future ahead. Over the past 60 years, we have been dedicated to providing our clientele with the best possible selection and customer service, and we look forward to carrying on our tradition."