Once upon a time...
Over 60 years ago, the married couple Roger and Simone Decremer-Persoons began producing luxury slippers in Tildonk. In the 1970s, they changed their course, moving into shoe wholesale and opening up their first small shoe shop next to their home – the foundations of what was later to become Carmi. The company is now run by their eldest son, Michel Decremer and his wife Marie-Claire Martens, who have transformed Carmi into a flourishing full-concept business for shoes and clothes for the whole family.
The start of a flourishing business
The whole story began in 1954, when Roger Decremer and his wife Simone Persoons decided to set up their own business. A cousin put them in contact with a supplier of rubber soles, giving them the idea of making slippers. Being an engineer, Roger developed the machines and patterns, while Simone chose the materials and created the designs. The Perro brand – from the first letters of Persoons and Roger – was born. Some slippers were real luxury items made from haute-couture materials, almost small pieces of art. Some years later they were even invited to supply them to Bally, a renowned chain of Swiss shoe stores. At the time, they had around sixty people working with them. The entire production took place in Tildonk, in a new building right next door to the family home. This is still the company’s headquarters even today, where an enthusiastic team takes care of the accounting, HR administration, purchasing, marketing, web sales and the warehouse.
From Perro to Shoe Center
The slipper production came to an end in 1979 due to the exorbitant cost of wages. The Perro company, which in the meantime was already a shoe wholesaler, then became an agent for other shoe brands, including Primigi, Bellamy, Gallus, Arima and Arriva. Twice a year, local people were invited into the old stitching factory above the office to buy any remaining slippers and wholesale stock. An early form of Carmi today, you might say. Not long after, Roger and Simone opened their first shoe store, the Shoe Center. In addition to their own Perro slippers, customers were also able to choose from a variety of men’s, women’s and children’s shoe collections.
Carmi kicks off
Inspired by their oldest son Michel, the Decremer family once again went looking for novelty and growth. In 1985, they were able to acquire a spacious and well-positioned building in Zemst. The building, just outside the city centre and accompanied by a spacious car park, used to belong to Carpetland. This is where Carmi took its first steps towards what it has now become: the ultimate store in the region with over 300 top brands in shoes, handbags, clothing and accessories all under one roof. The opening was an overwhelming success. Michel: “In our press campaign, we announced that the first five hundred visitors would receive a free barbecue. Early morning, the day of the opening, people had been queueing up before the entrance of the store. It was a great success.”
The range is expanded
About five years later, Werner joined the business, and the two brothers worked together to build on Zemst’s success. In 1988, the store in Tildonk was closed and moved to Korbeek-Lo: the second Carmi was born. A third branch was opened in 2002 in Aubel in the region of Wallonia. To start with, Carmi only sold children’s, women’s and men’s shoes, plus a small amount of leisure wear. Almost fifteen years after the opening of the first Carmi store, steps were taken to offer a complete clothing range.
A real family business
In the 1990s, the Decremer family opened four Mephisto stores in Brussels, Antwerp, Hasselt and Knokke. There is also the childrens’ shoe store, Kid, in Leuven, plus the Gabor shops in Ghent and Knokke. The Carmi stores in Zemst and Korbeek-Lo have been repeatedly renovated and enlarged, in order to accomodate an expanding offer.
At the end of 2016 Werner and his wife Kathy, who managed the marketing department during the past ten years, decided to take their careers into a different direction. In the meanwhile also Elke and Jan, Michel and Marie-Claire's children, have started their careers in the family business.
It all starts with the customer
Plenty of thought goes into training sales staff in service and a customer-friendly attitude. “Whatever you buy at Carmi, you can be sure to enjoy personal service. Our experienced sales staff is always on hand to offer the right advice. Recently we notice that customers are increasingly coming to us for help. Our sales staff regularly receives extra training from the various brands. This means that they become even better at helping the customer with their purchase,” claims Michel. “The role of the Carmi team is really key. We try to employ the best people, in our stores and our administration department, not to mention in our warehouse in Tildonk. Moreover, our after-sales service is supported by two experienced master shoemakers, which is of enormous benefit to the customer.”
Finger on the pulse
Marie-Claire, Michel, Elke and Jan also work in the stores regularly themselves, in order to stay close to the customer. Michel knows: “We are able to exist thanks to our customers and you need to deserve them on a daily basis”. “That’s why at Carmi, we offer such a wide range of over 300 top brands for ladies, men and children, not to mention the largest possible range within each brand. The customer needs to find absolutely everything in our store. This is what makes a visit to a Carmi store really worth the effort. In the webhop, we also sell a selection of shoes, slippers, handbags, bags and accessories. We take great care to keep our finger on the pulse when it comes to fashion. Brands come and go, and we need to stay alert to offer just the right range at just the right time. After all, our customers come to us to buy their favourite brands. It’s our job to make sure that we have it in stock.”
From the very beginning, Carmi is emphasising on social engagement. For many years Carmi funded an orphanage called Senden Home on the Philippines. Every year 2% of the total turnover of children shoes was donated to this cause. Since 1997 Carmi has made an ongoing social commitment with its permanent partnership with environmental group Natuurpunt East Brabant. Since 2012, we have also been supporting the Kenyan Ilkujuka in Loita Hills. Carmi is delighted that this initiative is being emulated in the industry: the more we see this kind of initiative, the better.”
Carmi throughout the years
Carmi started 32 years ago. Let us take you on a brief journey throughout the history of our company.