Focus takes a look at the history of one of the most successful business families in the Manning Great Lakes – the Saad family.
Over 70 years ago, a young man from Lebanon moved to Australia and shortly made his way to Taree with his wife Mary, to start a new life. With a strong streak of business savvy, hard work and family involvement, a local retail shoe empire was born.
Bill Saad was born in Lebanon in 1907 and in 1928 travelled to Australia with his sister. Initially they lived in Windsor, where they tried many lines of work. In 1936 Bill married Mary and moved to Hillston, where he ran a shoe repair business for 12 months.
In 1938 they moved to Taree, where they rented a small cake shop. However, after realising there was no money in cakes, Bill borrowed 300 pounds to start a wholesale and retail fruit and vegetable business. He named the business Doumanys after the village he was born in, and by 1959 Bill expanded the business and added a milk bar and café. Having had a very traditional and religious upbringing, Bill encouraged his five children to work in the family business, both before and after school.
Still maintaining a passion for shoes, Bill opened his first shoe store in 1953 in Victoria St, Taree, and even though he opened against some strong local operators, the business soon prospered.
With his two eldest children John and Noreen in control, the Manning Shoes that we know was born.
Slowly but surely, the business continued to grow, and in 1971 they believed there was an opportunity to open a shoe store in Forster. The shop was located in Parsons Arcade, and two members of the family moved to Forster to run this store.
The new store provided the opportunity for a totally new perspective on the business, and as the Forster store was fine tuned to suit the local demands, they were able to improve their buying power. When an opportunity came to purchase an existing Taree footwear store, the family jumped at it.
The family was rapidly developing the experience required to operate multiple stores, and in 1986 were asked to open another store in Forster to service the new shopping centre – Forster Shopping Village (now Stockland Forster). The family now had a four-store strong operation, which at that time made them one of the strongest retailers on the North Coast within the footwear industry.
With this growth came challenges. They became computerised to provide stock control and survey performance of different areas within their business, to plan for further expansion. The family explored new ways of selling footwear to the mass market, and in 1994 opened a franchise called Speed Shoes at Settlement City in Port Macquarie.
As they learned more about the market, it gave them more confidence to open a Manning Shoe Store in Port Central Port Macquarie in 1998. They then sold the Speeds operation in 1999.
The two shops in Forster are some of the most successful retail businesses in the local area and are run by John Mansour, grandson of the business founder. With a strong family presence in all the stores, Manning Shoes have managed to retain the family value of service and common courtesy across their business.
They are a significant employer in the local region, and have a strong commitment to training and retaining their staff. They contribute significantly to the local community through involvement with many sporting clubs and charity events.
In December last year, Manning Shoe Store were awarded the Great Lakes FM Outstanding Contribution to Local Business at the 2010 Business Excellence Awards held by the Forster Tuncurry and District Chamber of Commerce.
Heading into the future, Manning Shoes has just launched their website with online shopping, well and truly bringing the business into line with new technologies available to retailers.
Of course, the family business still aims to maintain community spirit and job security for staff, while continuing the family business tradition with the coming generations.
> With thanks to the Saad, Mansour and Ambour families.