Woodward knows the feeling. A couple years ago, a custom-ordered pair didn’t turn out to his liking, so Woodward called the company. Not long after, his cellphone rang. It was Grangaard.
“He said, ‘This is Paul Grangaard from Allen Edmonds’ — he didn’t say CEO or anything like that,” Woodward recalls. “He asked what was wrong with them. I said I wanted them to look more sleek.”

Grangaard talked with Woodward for some time, sent him a replacement pair, and called again weeks later to ensure that the new shoes met Woodward’s standards. At that point, Woodward urged Grangaard to make a shoe above the typical model, which generally costs between $300 and $350 and is made by a small group of workers, each trained on every aspect of shoemaking. Soon after, Allen Edmonds introduced the Independence Collection — bearing names like Jefferson, Hancock and Adams — which sell for about $450 a pair. Woodward is convinced that his input made a difference.

“I know it sounds corny, but I’m proud of that company,” he says. “And I don’t even work for them.”

Direct communication with customers is important, says Grangaard, who is prone to posting on Internet sites devoted to men’s fashion. And he welcomes suggestions from customers for new models. To a company whose 1970s-made shoes are regularly sent in by their owners for recrafting, fresh ideas are as important as durability.

“If we’re waiting for a guy to wear out his shoes, we could be waiting a long time,” Grangaard says. “Innovation is how American manufacturing is going to succeed. We’re building a culture of innovation.”