Jeff Hobson

The third generation usually puts the family out of business. 

That’s the belief of Washington Shoe Company’s third-generation owner, Rob Moehring, who, fortunately for himself and his customers, hasn’t been affected by his theory. 

In fact, the Moehrings’ family-owned, Kent-based business is now well into its fourth generation, and doesn’t seem to be slowing down anytime soon. 

“My father and uncle kind of acted like the third generation, in a way,” Moehring said. “They gave me a break so that didn’t happen with us.”

Here’s how Moehring sees it: A company’s founder works tooth and nail to keep their new business afloat. His children see their hard work, then make frugal business decisions on that parents’ behalf. This financial success, however, often results in private schools, privilege, and poor foresight for the grandchildren, or “the silver spoons,” in Moehring’s words.

Washington Shoe Company expertly avoided this fate through the family’s sheer determination to keep the legacy alive. It all started with a close eye on the market and entrepreneurial expertise.

Courtesy Washington Shoe Company

In 1891, a couple of entrepreneurs set up shop in downtown Seattle’s Pioneer Square, where the original building still stands today. The factory simply had to be in Seattle, Moehring said, because that was the only place they could access the materials they needed to keep the business up and running.

In its early days, Washington Shoe Company served many patrons passing through Seattle on their way to the Alaska Gold Rush. Traveling through the rugged Northwest terrain called for a sturdy pair of boots.

However, even in the early 1900s, the company produced hundreds of styles of shoes, ranging from heavy-duty work boots to women’s dress shoes. 

Moehring credits his grandfather’s “master merchant” abilities for the business’ initial success. When his grandfather would go on a purchasing trip, he planned out the company’s production far in advance, purchasing everything he needed to make six months’ worth of hundreds of different styles of shoes.

The company has been central to Rob Moehring his entire life. He started working in the warehouse as a kid, his father paying him in ham radio equipment.

“I’ve always had a passion for the shoe business,” Moehring said. “I’ve loved fashion; I’ve loved looking for demand and then
filling it.”

Today, the company owns and operates three different brands, and employs 65 people. Its most popular styles among its brands include cutesy rubber rain boots for kids, cozy moccasins, and strappy sandals. It’s safe to say that Washington Shoe Company has switched up its style over the years. 

“For a company to be strong, buoyant, and growing, it needs to be responsive to the changes in the world,” Moehring said. “Ignoring what’s going on with the market and the demand is just a recipe for disaster.”

Market savviness alone can’t keep a family business intact for four generations. Some 128 years into the company’s existence, many people ask the Moehring family how it remains so cohesive, both at work and at home.

“Two things,” Moehring answered. “Communication and respect. I respect my sons, and they’re each utilizing the unique skillsets that they have for the benefit of our business. Respect is so important.”