John: I am here with Robert Yeganeh who has been nominated as a Model Citizen for all you do in the philanthropic world and for paying it forward, congratulations!
Robert: Thank you John.
John: Can you tell everybody a little bit about yourself because you have an entrepreneurial history? I met you when we were filming a TV commercial for the “Love My Shoes” brand which has been a huge brand on Long Island for a long time. Tell us how did you get started with it all?
Robert: “Love My Shoes” came out of about 15 years of experience working in flea markets. I began as a 16-year-old working for a brother and a cousin who were partners in a shoe business in the flea markets. Soon after, I took it over and had four or five indoor and outdoor flea markets. I was working very hard for years until 1996 when “Love My Shoes” was born. “Love My Shoes” became a household name on Long Island. We were getting customers from all over Westchester, Connecticut even from New Jersey that would come and shop.
John: How many stores did you have?
Robert: We had seven stores and we were the fifth website in the shoe industry to ever launch on the internet.
John: the fifth to ever launch?
Robert: Yes, to ever launch. In 1999 lovemyshoes.com was operational, before Zappos, and I did very well because people just couldn’t believe they could buy shoes from across the country. We brought that to life, but then in 2010 and 2011, we hit some very tough years. We tried to withstand the storm and downsize a little bit. A lot of our customers were not happy that we had to close several stores. We went down to only two. It was very hard to handle all the competition with everybody stepping on each other, chasing the same dollar.
John: Of course. On Long Island particularly there was a depression, so people weren’t running out to buy shoes anymore.
Robert: Yes, it was really a tough time for me, for my whole family and also my staff. We had 90 employees at that point and had just spent a lot of money on logistics, warehousing, and trucks. We also revamped the webpage, but much of that went to waste.
Then, to make a long story short, in 2016 a very active professional in the financial world approached me and asked me to help him with a small portfolio of real estate. He said he thought I was the perfect person to expand it.
John: Haven’t you always dabbled in real estate?
Robert: I did. I wrote my own leases and negotiated all the contracts for the store.
John: Didn’t you buy a mansion at one point?
Robert: I did build a large house back in 2001, but I bought my first house when I was 17 years old. That is what really got me excited about real estate.
John: You did everything young. Didn’t you graduate from high school early and from college as well?
Robert: I came to this country at 14 years old and I started skipping grades. English was a second language, so it was not easy, but I managed. At the age of 19, I was an aeronautical engineer.
John: You say that like it’s a very matter-of-fact thing, but it is a pretty big deal.
Robert: It was just a hobby really while I was working and going to school.
John: Yes, but you are super smart.
Robert: I did pick it up, thank you, and the state gave me the scholarship to fly a plane, I didn’t have to pay a penny. I did all of that and got it out of my system. Then returned to the serious business of shoes and built the “Love My Shoes” brand from scratch, with a nickel in my pocket after leaving the flea markets. About three years ago I got involved in real estate, and now I help to manage my partners with their multiple businesses.
John: You do buy a lot of houses, don’t you?
Robert: We do a lot of good deeds out there with the houses that we buy. Basically, we buy houses from people who are falling behind on their mortgages and are about to lose their homes. We bail them out and rent it back to them with the opportunities to buy it back from us at a later date.
John: So, you guys are angels.
Robert: We helped probably fifteen or sixteen families avoid being homeless.
John: Wow, that’s incredible.
Robert: And you know when you do good, good things happen to you. I believe that definitively. My partner and I are a perfect example of that.
My passion for the shoe business kind of got me thinking about how I might be able to do good for a portion of clientele out there that really are struggling with a lack of the right footwear. With everything being “done already” in the world, I decided to do something that hasn’t been done.
John: Something new?
Robert: Right. That was creating a line of women’s fashion shoes designed and built around a man’s foot, or a large foot.
John: Is that for gender-fluid women?
Robert: This design is perfect for a gender-fluid woman, transgender, crossdresser, or drag queen and for people who really need footwear but have large feet.
John: And who wants to wear women’s shoes.
Robert: Exactly! This was the second wave of opportunity.
John: It’s a real niche market.
Robert: A very small niche market. It started out to be for a gender-fluid consumer but then it grew to be more because there are a lot of women from different countries and different backgrounds that just have large feet. Destina Way, which is our new brand, starts from a women’s size 9 and goes up to size 13. We may add a size 14 in the future This was an idea I had and approached a very close friend of mine who has been in the shoe business for 40 years, Frederick Levy. I asked Fred, who was in his semi-retirement in Florida, to look at this as a good idea and a good cause. I asked him to join me and do manufacturing and design because he comes from generations of expertise in the footwear business and I said I would do the sales and marketing. I knew we could launch this brand. A few focus groups later, a couple of surveys later, we launched Destina way in 2019.
John: Right before Covid.
Robert: Yes, right before Covid and it pretty much put a stop to everything. Even those successful established brands had to stop, let alone a new start-up. However, we still held on and finished everything that we had set out to do to become a legitimate brand. We got excepted by Amazon and got our trademark approved.
John: And I’m sure all kinds of organizations because I see Justina way everywhere.
Robert: We reached out to several different community leaders to set up endorsements and cross-promotions with each other. Our website looks great! It’s up and active. I have a great team to do our social media and the maintenance for the website and Amazon. We are ready for spring 2021!
John: That sounds great and that’s fantastic. Now I know you’re a father and a family man.
Robert: Yes, I have a 14-year-old son who is extremely intelligent and tall and good looking like his mom. He is in the world of Xbox and ninth grade. This is the time that we have to make a three-year and a five-year plan for goals and what to do.
I love what I’m doing. No two days are ever the same, no two hours are ever the same. I love all the accomplishments that I think about every Friday night when I am meditating and praying. I’d like to do this for another 15 or 20 years, for as long as I can take it because otherwise, I get mentally bored.
John: I have known you for probably 20 years now. I know you’re always full of energy and love and trying to help someone. You certainly came to visit me when I was in the hospital and it really meant a lot that you were there.
Robert: It was a very sad day. You kicked me out because we thought you were dying.
John: I did think I was dying. I was dying. I am very lucky to be here.
Robert: Absolutely! You missed a great box of chocolates. You told me to take the chocolates and get out.
John: I can’t even remember. I was on so many medications. It’s just a big blur.
Robert: I had to fight with the nurses just to come in to see you.
John: Well, I’m glad you did.
Robert: And I am glad you’re here.
John: And with that, I’d like to say congratulations again on being nominated as a Model Citizen and I look forward to sharing more of your story in the issues to come.
Robert: 100%. Thank you very much and Happy New Year.