PHOTOS BY JODIE BRIM CREATIVE
Keith and Emily Davis are the owners of Fleet Feet and New Balance. As a family-owned business, they’ve invested much in our community and have become recognized leaders for their commitment to excellence and service. However, the road hasn’t been easy.
Keith shared that, “Most people look at us today and think we’ve figured out this whole ‘working with your spouse’ thing. It’s not perfect, but it’s a whole lot better than it used to be! At one time – it was a real struggle. We shared a common goal and vision, but we approached things so differently. In many ways, since we both felt equally equipped to lead the business, we were competing with one another for the business’s success. We were fighting to win, and not in the good way.”
Emily agreed. “We started the business in 2006, and we were starting a family at the same time. Our first seven years in business were so challenging. We were trying to find the balance between home and work…. Marriage and business partnership…. Parenting…. Faith…. And self-care. Everything was overwhelming, and many times, we felt like we might lose our balance entirely.”
So how did the Davises do it? How did they find their balance?
“It started with a foundation of faith,” shared Emily. “We knew the balance couldn’t come from us. We needed something stronger than us. Our faith today is very different from what it was when we started the business. Over the years, we have learned to trust God to lead and guide us as we navigate our business, decisions, and staff. It’s as the Bible says – the house built on the rock can weather the storm. When we started, we were trying to build on sand. Things were constantly shifting through the winds of discord and the storms of mistrust. So when we decided to prioritize our faith, we moved the foundation of our business to Jesus and it made all the difference.
As part of their commitment to building their business on faith, the Davises knew they needed some wise Christian counseling. “We decided to seek help from a Christian counselor who helped us navigate the challenges and battles that we were dealing with,” said Emily. “Mostly – we learned to fight in a productive way. And we learned how to relate to one another in a more positive way.”
“Trusting in God for our business was one thing,” Keith said, “But trusting each other in business decisions, especially when we disagreed with each other, was another. I had to learn that just because Emily did something different than I would – different didn’t mean she was wrong. And she had to learn the same lesson about me. We had to trust that we both have the best interest of the business and employees in mind, and in order to grow, we had to talk about things, not argue about them.”
Emily chimed in, “For instance, I had to learn that I was not responsible for Keith’s relationships with other people. If he handled a situation differently than me – I did not need to be frustrated, irritated, or embarrassed. It was his situation to manage, not mine. Learning this helped me to stop internalizing situations that weren’t mine to fix or change.”
At Home Together
“One of the other things we had to learn to do is balance work life and home life,” said Keith. “This was a real source of contention for us. As soon as we started the business, there was an instant blur between home and work. I would try to ask Emily questions at night while she was trying to get our kids to bed, and that never went well.”
Emily laughed, “I would get so irritated. We were business partners, and it was so consuming that home often felt like work. We desperately needed some boundaries. Thankfully, our counselor helped us establish some balance and framework for when it was time to wear work hats and when it was time to wear the family hats. It enabled us to be at home when we were at home…. And at work when we were at work. That doesn’t mean work doesn’t often show up. When you own two stores – it’s bound to happen. But that doesn’t mean that work gets to monopolize family time anymore. We are able to be a couple in addition to being business partners.”
“Learning how to balance family life and home life has been vitally important for our girls,” said Emily. “We didn’t want our children to think the business was our #1 priority. Keith and I have worked hard to make sure our children know that faith is first. Family is second. And then, there’s work. Our girls hear about business, of course, but they know that first and foremost, we’re Mom and Dad.”
Keith shared, “That has been so freeing for me. This balance has allowed me to be a husband to Emily and a dad to our daughters. Priorities are such a key ingredient to finding balance.”
“Over the years, as we’ve built the business on our faith, our business has evolved to be far more than shoes and athleticwear,” said Keith. “We’ve become a ministry. It started in 2010 when we started Mission: Feet First. We thought we might be able to occasionally provide a pair of shoes to someone in need…. Maybe occasionally help a family. But as we’ve learned through our foundation of faith – you can’t underestimate or outgive God.”
Emily shared, “Since we started Mission: Feet First, God has opened the door for us to fit thousands of people in the local homeless community and elementary schools over the years.
Keith said, “I remember participating in a triathlon that really shaped that decision to be bold about our faith in business. I got to the finish line to hear praise and worship music playing, and I called Emily and told her – we need to do this at the store. I thought it was amazing.
“At the time,” Emily continued, “I wasn’t ready to be bold in our faith. I was concerned that it would hurt our business. But God got me over that and just the opposite happened. We hear all the time from customers who appreciate us for being strong in our faith and refusing to shy away from it.”
“We often play Christian music in our store,” Keith continued. “Plus, Emily designs a line of faith-based shirts that we sell at our Fleet Feet store. We call it the Eternal Apparel line, and it’s one of the fastest turning brands in the store.”
Emily said, “We even hosted a Bible study at Fleet Feet. God has really worked on our hearts and convinced us that He will honor us for honoring Him. And even if He didn’t – we’ve learned to praise Him in the ups as well as the downs.”
Continuing to Learn, Grow, and Hope
Keith and Emily’s story is still being written, and they continue to grow. “We’ve been working together for over 15 years. For a while it was really rough – there were times I didn’t think our marriage would be able to withstand working together, ” said Emily. “Keith and I are both imperfect people, but our lives, marriage, and business is a testimony to the grace and goodness of God. We are still learning and growing every day. We’ve learned that our hope isn’t based on profit margins or how many customers we have, but solely on the hope we have in Jesus Christ.”
“Of course,” said Keith, “We have customers who disagree with us. Just as our Christian counselor helped us understand that we are not responsible for each other’s decisions and reactions – similarly, we have learned that each person is responsible for their own relationship with God. We don’t need to worry about offending people. The only approval we need to care about is God’s. He is in control of my life, Emily’s life, our marriage, our family, and our business.”
Fleet Feet is located at 278 Harvey Street in Winston-Salem. Visit the store online at FleetFeetWS.com or call 336.722.8477. Be sure to like Fleet Feet Winston-Salem on Facebook and follow them on Instagram.
New Balance Winston-Salem is located in Thruway at 202 S. Stratford Road in Winston-Salem. Visit the store online at Stores.NewBalance.com/shop/Winston-Salem or call 336.893.7908.