Payless Shoes expands southward

? From humble beginnings 47 years ago in Topeka, Payless ShoeSource is on a quest to become the most successful shoe retailer in the world.

On its way to that mark, the company has reached a milestone by entering the South American market.

Grand opening ceremonies are scheduled for June in two cities in Ecuador Quito, the capital, and Guayaquil, the largest city.

Under chairman and chief executive officer Steven Douglass, Payless ShoeSource has been expanding abroad since 1997, when it entered the Canadian market. Two years ago, Payless ShoeSource began opening stores in Central America, starting in Costa Rica.

The company now has 264 stores in Canada and 86 stores in Central America and the Caribbean, Douglass said Friday at the annual meeting of shareholders at the company’s world headquarters in Topeka.

“We intend to have more than 130 stores in Central America and approximately 60 stores in South America by year end,” Douglass said.

Besides Ecuador, the South American stores are to be located in Peru and Chile.

Founded by in 1956 by cousins Louis Pozez and Shaol Pozez, Payless ShoeSource is now the largest shoe retailer in the United States and expects to open its 5,000th store in August. Payless was a pioneer of the self-service sales approach now used by other discount retailers.

The company is now focusing on making its brand more distinctive and fashionable in 2002, said Duane Cantrell, Payless president.

Douglass said the company’s marketing will focus on the theme, “Look Smart. Payless,” and is using television personalities Star Jones and Ana Maria Canseco to get out the message.