Just For Feet

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Just For Feet was a publicly-traded athletic shoe and sportswear retail chain headquartered at 7400 Cahaba Valley Road in Birmingham. It was founded by entrepreneur Harold Ruttenberg as a follow-up to his Hang Ten store. Through acquisitions the chain grew into one of the largest athletic shoe retailers in the world, but after several missteps was forced into bankruptcy. The business was acquired out of bankruptcy in 2000 by Footstar Inc. The last stores operating under the Just For Feet name closed in 2004.

Ruttenberg started his first sportswear store as "Hang Ten Sports World" (also known as Two Feet Ahead) in Century Plaza in 1977. Irritated by rent increases, he closed that store in 1986 and began working on the idea of opening a large, freestanding store dedicated primarily to athletic footwear.

The result was the first "Just For Feet Superstore", a 13,000 square-foot freestanding retail store on the perimeter of the Riverchase Galleria. A ribbon-cutting for the new store on May 7, 1988 featured appearances by rapper L. L. Cool J, NFL quarterback Jeff Rutledge, basketball coach Wimp Sanderson, professional skateboarder Rodney Mullen, and juggler "Crazy George".

Latching onto the trend of "category killer" big box stores, the company generated interest from consumers as well as investors. Just For Feet went public in 1994 and opened as many as 140 superstores in 25 U.S. states and Puerto Rico by 1999. Most of the Just For Feet stores were located on outparcels adjoining major malls in cities, primarily in the Southeast, Midwest and Southwest.

Just For Feet superstore

Several features helped to distinguish Just for Feet from its competitors, including:

  • A small basketball court, either inside the store or in a fenced courtyard outside.
  • A large bank of video monitors located near the front of the store, where customers could watch live sporting events
  • Loud rock and dance music pumped into the store
  • A repeat customer program which enabled customers to receive a free pair of shoes after the purchase of 12 pairs
  • An in-store fast-food snack bar featuring Chicago-style hot dogs and popcorn
  • An in-store "nursery" to "care for infants while parents shop".
  • A complete selection of footwear styles from virtually every major athletic shoe supplier, as well as casual footwear from companies such as Rockport, Keds, Tretorn and Timberland
  • A large selection of clearance footwear, called the "Combat Zone" and located at the front of the store, where value-oriented customers could purchase discontinued styles of shoes, often as low as $9.99 or $19.99
  • Vendor concept shops, where customers could examine the complete footwear line of vendors such as Nike, Reebok, New Balance and Adidas. In many cases, the concept shops also featured active wear such as shorts, t-shirts and warm-up suits from those vendors
  • "Moonlight Madness" sales, usually conducted around Christmas, where the store would be open extended hours and offer customers outstanding bargains

Growth in the 1990s

In 1992 a store was opened at The Forum Shops at Caesars in Las Vegas, Nevada. Prior to becoming a publicly traded company in 1994, other company-owned stores were opened near Nashville, Tennessee and in Kansas City, Missouri. Franchises were granted for stores that opened in San Antonio, Texas, suburban Atlanta, Georgia and Columbus, Ohio; the Texas and Georgia stores subsequently became company-owned locations. By the end of 1996, Just For Feet operated superstores in eleven states.

In 1997, Just For Feet bought Florida-based Athletic Attic and Michigan-based Imperial Sports, enabling the company to enter numerous markets (and several states) where it previously had no presence. The 1998 acquisition of New Jersey-based Sneaker Stadium, and the subsequent conversion of those stores to the Just For Feet nameplate, enabled the company to expand into the metropolitan areas of New York, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.

These acquisitions boosted annual revenues $478.6 million and led the chain to proclaim itself as, "The World's Largest Athletic Footwear Store".

Super Bowl ad controversy

Just For Feet ran an ad during the 1999 Super Bowl in which a group of white men in a Humvee pursue a Kenyan runner. The men offer the runner a cup of water spiked with a sedative. The runner collapses and the men force a pair of Nike sneakers onto his feet. The runner wakes up, screams, and runs away, attempting to shake the shoes off.

The spot generated an immediate backlash. Stuart Elliot, advertising columnist for the New York Times, called it "appallingly insensitive" while others accused it of racism. Just For Feet later sued its ad agency, Saatchi & Saatchi, for $10 million, alleging that they had relied on the expertise of the advertising agency against their initial negative reactions to the spot. Just For Feet later dropped the lawsuit.

Bankruptcy and acquisition

With the company's stock price in free fall, Ruttenberg turned to Helen Rockey to succeed him as president and CEO.

Her leadership wasn't enough to keep the company from missing a $12 million interest payment to creditors holding $200 million in debt. In November 1999, Just For Feet filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, and in February 2000, the company was forced into Chapter 7 liquidation.

Footstar, Inc. purchased the Just For Feet name, and the leases of over 70 of its stores, from liquidators in February 2000. Those stores that remained opened continued to do business under the Just For Feet name until Footstar itself went bankrupt in 2003. By 2004, the last of the Just For Feet stores closed.

Meanwhile in December 1996 Ruttenberg and Rogers Advertising conspired to falsify Just For Feet's assets and earnings by overpaying for services and then claiming a "rebate" as a receivable from the previous year. This scheme was continued after Adam Gilburne was promoted to president of the company in 1997. Gilburne pleaded guilty before Judge U. W. Clemon in 2003.

Birmingham locations

This list is incomplete.