Doing business in Metro Charleston

Barry Kalinsky owns and operates Bob Ellis Shoes in downtown Charleston.

In 1950, the late Morris Kalinsky bought a store called Bob Ellis Shoes, originally at 319 King St. in downtown Charleston. In 1973, a fire destroyed about half a block, including the shoe store, about where Copper Penny Shoes is now located. That same year, Morris Kalinsky bought the building at 332 King and moved the shoe store across the street where Bob Ellis still operates.

His son, Barry, started working at the shop when he was 13.

After high school, Barry attended George Washington University, majored in political science and went to law school at the University of South Carolina. Barry clerked for a while for a circuit judge in Charleston, worked in private practice with defense attorney Andy Savage and then served as staff counsel to the Senate Commerce Committee for former U.S. Sen. Fritz Hollings.

In 1989, he married and returned to Charleston and started working for his father in the shoe store.

Morris Kalinsky died in 2010, and Barry became president of the company.

Now, 55, he recently survived two years of cancer treatment and was declared cancer-free in August. Divorced, he has three children — Molly, Caroline and Jake — a brother, Jeffrey, who is the designer fashion director at the department store chain Nordstrom and founder of the Jeffrey boutiques in Atlanta and New York, and mother Sybil.

Q: Who is your favorite business leader and why?

A: As cliche as it sounds, I must say Steve Jobs. His vision and technology have truly changed the world.

Q: Who is your favorite leader of any kind and why?

A: I don’t know if they qualify as leaders to most, but I am inspired by Jim Valvano and Stuart Scott. The words they both spoke prior to their deaths still give me chills.

Q: What is the best leadership advice you’ve received?

A: The best leadership advice was to be able to receive advice and criticism as long as it’s intended constructively. Also create a family-type atmosphere in your business and show appreciation to your employees and clients.

Q: What is the best leadership advice you could give?

A: Pick your arguments and be accountable.

Q: What is the best book on business or leadership that you’ve read and why?

A: “Hug Your Customer,” by Jack Mitchell. It’s a great analysis of the art of customer service.

Q: What other business publications do you regularly read?

A: The Post and Courier, Charleston Regional Business Journal, Wall Street Journal and several industry publications.

Q: What are the most important decisions you make as a leader at your business?

A: The biggest decisions I make are the right assortment of product and inventory balance.

Q: What is the biggest challenge facing business leaders today?

A: In my business, the biggest challenge is to stay ahead of the technology curve. It is difficult for a small business to have the web presence of department stores and other large retailers.

Q: What was your biggest mistake as a leader and what did it teach you?

A: My biggest mistake was to open a business in a city in which I didn’t reside. It is virtually impossible to provide personalized service when you aren’t there very often. A lot of stores sell shoes, but we separate ourselves by the service we aim to provide. I learned that more is not necessarily better.

Q: What was your biggest success as a leader and what did it teach you?

A: My biggest success was also my biggest challenge. I had to run my business while undergoing cancer treatment in New York for the past two years. It was difficult as even when I wasn’t in New York, I didn’t always feel 100 percent. I learned how supportive my employees were and that you do the best you can with the circumstances presented.

Q: What are you doing to grow the next leader in your company?

A: Next leader is yet to be determined.

Q: How do you define a great business?

A: I define a great business when your employees love to come to work and your clients leave happy wanting to return again and again.

Q: What’s your favorite thing about doing business in this region?

A: My favorite thing, easily, are the relationships, both professional and personal, that I have established over the years. We have even had four generations of clients in the store together. When I was first diagnosed with my illness, it was gratifying to receive so many nice notes from clients of the store.

Q: What is your least favorite thing about doing business in this region?

A: My least favorite thing is that rents have risen so much on King Street that it keeps new locally owned businesses from sprouting on King Street. I would like to see more local “flavor” on the street.

Q: Name one thing government could do to help your business?

A: Government could help by making the process of importing goods from other countries less burdensome on the small business owner and by doing more to promote small businesses with incentives.

Q: Name one thing government could stop doing to help your business?

A: Government could stop over-regulating and interfering with small businesses.