Hometown: Williamstown, Vermont
Family: Partner, Trevor Rabideau, two dogs and a cat
Occupation: Co-owner, Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel
Community Involvement: 2018 Chair of the United Way Annual Campaign and service to its Board of Directors
Todd McCarthy grew up in a retail family. His father, Leonard “Lenny” McCarthy spent much of his career working for a large privately-owned department store in central Vermont. In the late 1980’s, the family decided to open its own clothing and shoe store, and the first Lenny’s was born in Barre, Vermont. The McCarthy boys grew up surrounded by the family business, but Todd McCarthy was initially uncertain that he wanted to make a career in retail. After spending a few years exploring career options in both Vermont and Long Island, McCarthy returned to Vermont in 1995 to join the family business. “At that time, we had stores in Barre and St. Albans,” McCarthy recalled. He and his brother Mark collaborated to open a store in Williston soon after.
Lenny’s finally crossed the lake after McCarthy spent a few years commuting between New York and Vermont to spend time with his Plattsburgh-based partner. McCarthy summarized, “I was getting tired of driving back and forth, so I decided to build a store over here in Plattsburgh.” He was instrumental in the location and building design for the store, including a unique lofted office space overlooking the sales floor. Lenny’s Shoe and Apparel opened on Tom Miller Road in Plattsburgh in 2013. As the second-generation coowner of a family retail business, McCarthy spoke to Strictly Business to share some of his insights.
SB: What was it like growing up in a family business?
TM: It was the best. During the first few years that we had a store, my brothers and I were teenagers. We all worked there except for my older brother who owns his own construction company. We were at the store all the time. My dad and mom were on the floor. No matter when you walked into our store in Barre, there was always one of us there. We’d lock the doors after closing on Saturdays, and it was pretty much a given that we’d all go out and have dinner together. Those were the days.
SB: How does the Lenny’s franchise run its business?
TM: We have store managers in the chain of command. We encourage them to run the business as if it was their own, and to look to us more for guidance. I buy women’s footwear for all the stores. My brother buys men’s footwear. We have a clothing buyer and then we’ve got managers who step in and shop for us. We use everybody in a group effort.
SB: How would you describe the culture of your company?
TM: I think it’s a culture where we all want to succeed — both personally and professionally. We are family-oriented and close knit. It’s the best compliment when I have someone who previously worked in retail in a larger organizations come to us and tell us how much they really like working here. When they explain why, they’ll give lots of different reasons. One of them is because it’s not ‘corporate’ here. We are understanding when people have challenges, and we are flexible. I can take any situation an employee comes in with and work around it or work with it.
SB: What is your approach to management and leadership?
TM: If I haven’t done it myself, I won’t ask somebody to do it. I also prefer to work as part of a team. When it comes to making decisions, I would rather have input from others than make the decision myself. I try to involve our staff as much as I can in decisions — especially in management decisions.
SB: What qualities do you believe are necessary for success?
TM: I think you need to be honest, forthright, community conscious, and socially aware. Community involvement is a big part of what we’ve tried to accomplish with our family business, especially during the last 10 years.
SB: What qualities make an employee successful in your business?
TM: Someone who is outgoing and who engages with others easily. Successful employees need to be vocal. We are not a high-pressure sales place, but what I do need is somebody who can take in and absorb information about the products they are representing and that we are selling.
SB: What is one thing you really enjoy about your work?
TM: One of my favorite things is to hire a new employee at the high school level who really has never worked before and see them stay with us and grow over the years. It is something special when I have the opportunity to train them and then to have them work with us, and then stay local, working through college with us. I’ve had some people like that and I still see them. I have been at their weddings and now they have children and great careers. That’s pretty impressive. It is rewarding to think that maybe I had a little bit to do with that.
SB: What are you most proud of professionally?
TM: I am proud that we have managed to grow our business over the past 27 years. I’m glad that we were able to stay competitive in an online market. Today it’s just so easy to stay home and buy pretty much every product in this store online. I’m also proud of our community involvement, and I am especially proud of our 75+ employees. I am proud to have had long relationships with some of our sales associates and vendors. Vendors come and go just as well as retail locations come and go, but I’ve had some good relationships that have lasted.
SB: What is something that no one would guess about you?
TM: In large groups i am introverted socially. At a large networking event, I am not that person who likes to go up to a stranger and introduce myself. In a smaller group of about 30 people I know, I would try and keep them laughing and keep conversations going.
SB: If you could start your career over again, what would you do differently?
TM: I probably would have gone on to school. Back in those days I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I thought that going on to a secondary school would be a waste of money since I had no idea what I wanted to do. Today, I know. I can honestly say that I would have gone to culinary school. I love to cook, and I could have applied that to a career.
SB: What advice would you give to the next generation of business leaders?
TM: I’d tell them to go out and do something that they are passionate about. Pick something they’re good at and enjoy doing. Always be true to yourself and your values.
SB: What do you think the North Country community should do today to continue to grow in the future?
TM: I think the path we’re on right now is fantastic. The area is very lucky to have a lot of hard working individuals and groups here who work daily to see this area survive. We need to capitalize and market the beautiful area that we live in. We’re really lucky to have this location. We are located two and a half hours from Albany, and an hour from Montreal, and you can drive to Boston or New York City. It’s really a great place to live. We also have to make sure we have enough jobs and housing here though. There needs to be housing, and it needs to be affordable for people.