He adds that Elan Polo’s biggest challenge is the dynamic retail landscape. “As both the model changes and there is a mass exodus of retailers as they struggle to keep up, there are less customers than ever before,” he explains. “Each customer has to be more cost minded and efficient.”
Elan Polo sees this as an opportunity to evolve as fast, or faster, than the market, according to Bethke. “Through better service, analytics and sourcing solutions we can be more flexible with assortments to cater to this new digital world,” he says, adding that technology has also played a critical role in its operations.
“It’s all about customer insight,” Bethke says. “New systems and analytics such as SPS Commerce, 3-D printing for sampling, MicroStrategy and online trend resources all give us timely and live crucial data to react to this new demand-based economy.”
The heart of any organization manifests itself in the spirit of its people, Bethke notes. That is why he attributes the company’s success to its more than 5,000 employees globally. “We’re employee-owned and because of that our people are invested in the overall success of our business,” Bethke says. “In turn, we are invested in them.”
As an employee-owned company, Elan Polo encourages “free-flowing” ideas. “We are very laterally structured,” Bethke says. “This really allows us to invest in our people and be very trade driven. Being employee-owned and operated, every employee is treated like and acts like a partner in the success of the business.”
Elan Polo’s culture is very collaborative, which allows its employees to have a voice and keeps its stakeholders engaged. “Their opinions are heard before any decision is made,” Bethke says. “The same executives on the board are also part of our operating committee. So they are actively engaged in the day-to-day operations.”
Bethke describes his personal management style as serving as team captain, noting that he is available to offer both guidance and encouragement. “I know I can’t be on the field all the time, so I rely on my team to be able to run with the ball so that we can succeed as an organization,” he explains. “I believe that by working together we can all achieve more. I lead when I need to lead, I empower as often as I can, and I listen all the time.”
In addition, employee retention is a key priority for Elan Polo. The average employee remains with the company for at least 10 years, which Bethke attributes not only to a strong culture, but also robust ongoing training and mentorship programs.
“We provide the ability for cross-department collaboration, have a competitive 401(k) matching program and excellent medical benefits,” he says. “As an ESOP the employees are awarded shares on an annual basis. So with greater length of service comes greater ownership in Elan Polo.”
As Elan Polo moves forward, it is focused on evolving and growing its men’s millennial fashion brand called CREVO. “We are also working on Tempur-Pedic branded slippers and a Dr. Scholl’s kid’s license,” Bethke says.
The company also recently opened a new 150,000-square-foot manufacturing facility in Hazelhurst, Ga., to take advantage of “speed to market and a renewed interest in American-made projects,” Bethke explains. The facility employs 250 people and has produced more than 7 million pairs of shoes.
Ultimately, Elan Polo aims to continue its success for another 42 years and beyond. “In this fast-paced, rapidly evolving environment, we need to constantly anticipate the needs of the future,” Bethke concludes. “We have to always look forward, always learn and always strive for greatness.”