Speculation grows that Payless Shoesource will open corporate office in west Lawrence with about 100 new jobs

photo by: Chad Lawhorn/Journal-World photo

Payless Shoesource appears poised to move into vacant space at the Wakarusa Corporate Centre at 4910 Corporate Centre Drive.

Lawrence is set to feel the pain from one beleaguered retailer: Kmart, which is closing its Lawrence distribution center. But the city might get an employment boost from another long-struggling retailer that seems poised to make a major job announcement in Lawrence. The company may surprise you: Payless Shoesource.

Two sources have confirmed to me that Payless has reached a deal to relocate virtually all of its remaining Topeka employees to a west Lawrence office building. The sources said the move would involve almost 100 office jobs, including some of the top-level vice president positions that remain in the company.

At this point, some of you may be confused. You perhaps thought Payless had gone the way of wingtips and big buckles on shoes. Indeed, the retailer has closed all of its U.S. stores. But the company and its franchisees continue to operate a little more than 700 brick-and-mortar stores in other parts of the world. Latin America is its biggest market.

An organization that size still needs a significant number of executives and back-office employees. Topeka had long been the corporate headquarters for the company, but during its most recent Chapter 11 bankruptcy filing, the company drastically reduced the size of its operations in Topeka while opening other offices in the Dallas and Miami areas.

The two sources told me the company now plans to relocate its remaining Topeka employees to the Wakarusa Corporate Centre at 4910 Corporate Centre Drive. I’ve reached out to Payless officials but have not yet heard back.

Employees, however, have been made aware of the pending move. They’ve been told it likely will happen in March. My understanding is the company plans to occupy the remaining vacant space in the building. It wasn’t immediately clear how many employees would initially be part of the move, but an individual with knowledge of the deal said the company was seeking office space for near 100 employees.

A separate individual with knowledge of Payless’ current Topeka workforce said the type of jobs slated to move to Lawrence included senior merchandising, franchising, financial and marketing positions, along with associated support positions.

It was unclear whether Payless intends to label Lawrence as its corporate headquarters. An individual with knowledge of the situation said the company’s CEO likely would not be based in Lawrence, but it is possible that the Lawrence office may end up being the company’s largest.

Payless in January did announce that it had emerged from a voluntary Chapter 11 bankruptcy case. The company announced that Jared Margolis would serve as the company’s CEO. He previously had served as president of CAA-GBG, the largest licensing agency in the world, according to a Payless press release. Payless also has appointed a separate CEO to lead Payless’ Latin America unit: Justo Fuentes, a former president of fellow shoe retailer BATA Latin America.

“I’m pleased to have the opportunity to lead this iconic retail brand into a new strategic phase with a strengthened balance sheet and clean financial outlook,” Margolis said in a press release. “We will implement a new comprehensive strategic plan to strengthen our relationship with our vendors and suppliers, support our global franchise partners and deepen the trust of our customers.”

The press release said the company planned to release additional details about its business strategy soon. Part of the company’s strategy will be to “collaborate with high-profile individuals and brands to ensure exclusive product offerings,” the release said.

The Payless news comes as the Lawrence market was hit with two large-scale layoff announcements in recent days. Kmart last week announced it was closing its distribution center near the Kansas Turnpike in the next 60 days. The company has said 111 Lawrence jobs would be lost with that closing.

Earlier this week, API Americas announced that it was closing its Lawrence plant in the East Hills Business Park in the next 60 days. The manufacturer of foils and other decorative items used in the packaging industry is going out of business. The company has said the plant has about 90 employees.

I am expecting Payless to make a formal announcement about its Lawrence plans. When it does, I’ll pass along the additional details.


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