by Amy Schmidt
Hanig’s Footwear is a family business started in Chicago in the 1940’s that has spanned three generations of the Hanig family. They provide their customers high end style and comfort, carrying brands from Italy, Austria, Spain, and other European cities. Over the years, Hanig’s has evolved from being a conventional family business, selling shoes in Chicago’s Palmer House Hotel, to having multiple brick and mortar locations in the Chicago area, an online shopping business, and more recently designing and producing their own shoes locally in Chicago under the brand Hanig & Co. Their commitment to both the community of Chicago and their customer’s satisfaction has helped the business thrive for over 65 years.
Peter Hanig attributes their long term success to keeping the business interesting for customers. “There is a real pleasure in understanding our customers. What they wear, their age, what they do, what their lifestyle is, and what they might find interesting”, Hanig says. Hanig likes to stay ahead of what customers might want, working with vendors to help create product specifically for Hanig’s customers. Hanig describes their customers as “anyone who wants to dress well, but still have comfort”, which is highly motivated by the city of Chicago where it’s common for people to walk and use public transportation. Many of the styles come from and reflect Northern European styles, where walking is also a way of life.
The family is leveraging their artistic side in one of their newest ventures, designing an original style of shoes. The sole design for their first Chicago made shoe, a woman’s sandal, comes from a design from the 50’s and is aimed at anyone who is looking for a comfortable shoe that is still unique and different than the standard walking shoe. Chicago tannery Horween Leather Company, known over the world for their outstanding leathers, produces the leather for the Hanig & Co. sandals.
In addition to making shoes in Chicago, which Peter says he hopes will create more jobs in the city, the Hanig’s family ties to the community of Chicago run deep. Peter Hanig enjoys being involved in the art community in small ways, has been on the board of a number of social action groups that help create affordable housing in the city, and most notably organized the Cows on Parade in Chicago in the 90’s. After seeing the parade in Zurich, Hanig convinced the city of Chicago to host 330 cow statues around the city as part of a city-wide art exhibition. The exhibit ended up bringing in roughly one million visitors to the city and raised over five million dollars for a variety of charities.
Looking to the future, Peter Hanig says the business will be continually changing. “Of course there are [online retailers] Amazon and Zappos, which we knew would change our business”, Hanig says. He advises, “one way to counteract the competition is to have unique product, experienced sales people, and great relationships.” Peter himself can list off a number of longstanding customers he’s made relationships with over the years from all around the world. He believes there is still a role for brick and mortar because there will always be customers who want to touch and learn about products, especially when you provide a unique selection. Although there are always challenges with any business, Hanig is optimistic. “If you’re flexible and you have an idea of who your customer is, there’s a chance of surviving in the future”.