It’s all hands on deck for Two Ten’s 80th anniversary celebration.
On Wednesday, Dec. 4, the charitable foundation will host its annual industry-wide gala, this time held at the historic Intrepid Sea, Air & Space Museum on New York’s West Side.
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Cliff Sifford, vice chairman and CEO of Shoe Carnival, is serving as the head of the 2019 fundraiser. He told FN, “It is truly an honor to do it and we are very excited about it. But I would be lying if I said we weren’t nervous. The entire industry is going to be looking at us and how we do, especially compared to all the great people who have done it in the past. So we have to give it everything we have.”
The gala kicks off at 6 p.m. with a VIP dinner that will highlight many of the organization’s accomplishments during the past year — as well as over the last eight decades. Meanwhile, ticketholders from all corners of the shoe business will be invited to party on the legendary aircraft carrier from 7 to 10 p.m. as part of a larger cocktail gathering.
Shoe Carnival’s senior director of creative and store experience, Todd Beurman, has been helping to plan the anniversary celebration. He noted that entertainment at the cocktail party will be provided by DJ Questlove of The Roots.
Additionally, the retailer will station four of its signature Spin & Win wheels around the ship to give guests a chance to score prizes big and small — though only if they pony up a donation, pointed out Beurman. Plus, Shoe Carnival is bringing in some of its most talented wheel operators to man the stations. “They’ll each have a microphone to get people excited about spinning the wheel, to donate and win a prize,” said Beurman.
The theme of this year’s event is “One Team, One Mission,” which emphasizes both the unifying character of Two Ten, as well as its lofty fundraising ambitions. The goal is to raise $4 million to support the nonprofit’s numerous services, including disaster relief, financial support and educational scholarships.
As of mid-November, the organization had reached three-quarters of its goal, though Sifford said a major push is under way to close the gap and efforts will continue at the gala.
“I’m pleased with where we are, but I would really like to say the goal is in. We’re not quite there yet,” he said.
The retail executive also noted that 2019 has been a particularly tough one for the shoe business, with the closures of major retailers and some brand consolidation. In fact, Coresight estimates that more than 9,000 retail stores in the U.S. have closed so far this year — well over the 5,500 stores that shuttered in all of 2018.
Those drastic changes across the business landscape have slowed this year’s fundraising efforts, but also accentuated the importance of Two Ten and its role in the industry, according to Sifford.
“When you think about Two Ten’s mission, it is to help those people in need,” he said. “You think about all the things that have happened this year — with Payless going away and other stores that are closing, and there are wholesale businesses that are going away — and every time that
happens, that creates more need for Two Ten. That’s what we’re trying to fuel.”
He also emphasized that footwear’s top executives remain committed to the cause. “There’s no other organization like Two Ten,” said Sifford. “I can’t imagine that not continuing because it’s so important. And all the leaders that I speak with that lead the large shoe companies, they all understand the need.”
Man of the Hour
One person who has been a dedicated supporter of the shoe nonprofit is Joe Ouaknine, co-founder and chairman of Titan Industries.
He will be recognized at the December gala with the Bob Campbell Lifetime Achievement Award, a special honor that is handed out every five years to an individual whose leadership and philanthropic accomplishments have made a lasting difference to Two Ten and the footwear community. (The two previous recipients have been Bob Campbell of BBC International and Tim O’Donovan of Wolverine Worldwide.)
Ouaknine told FN that he was surprised when he got the call (from Campbell himself) that he would be the special honoree.
“I’m one of the main guys who usually decides who the award is going to go to, so I was shocked,” he said. “I never considered myself to be the one to get it. I was overwhelmed.”
And the award is all the more special, he added, because it is named after one of his close friends. “I’m getting this from a guy that I love so deeply. The honor is multiplied by infinity,” said Ouaknine. “To have my name next to Bob’s is the deepest honor.”
Campbell was equally complimentary of the 2019 lifetime honoree: “Seeing this award and all that it stands for being given to someone that is so deserving — and is a person that I respect in business and as a friend — makes it all the more special.”
Ouaknine recalled that he first became involved with Two Ten 20 years ago when Carol Baiocchi (then a top merchant with Macy’s), invited him to the annual gala. There, he bid $25,000 for a private jet ride to London and caught the attention of Two Ten’s leaders, who asked him to join the board. Over the years, he has been instrumental in the nonprofit’s fundraising efforts, and even recruited new members to the board, including Joel Oblonsky and Katie Butler.
But Ouaknine admits his motives weren’t always selfless.
“[That first donation], I didn’t do it for the love of Two Ten; I did it for my own enjoyment of going on a jet ride,” he said. “And at first, I didn’t like being on the board because it was boring. But then I got to know people and saw how everyone was trying hard to raise money for all the people involved in the business.”
Now, he says that he’s “tattooed up” for Two Ten and he solicits donations from everyone he meets to support the organization’s vital mission.
“We have a lot of unfortunate people [in the industry] and we want to help all of them for all of the years that they contributed to this
business,” he said.
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