Mike Packer is on his phone. The voice on the other end belongs to a KICKS writer and it happens to be 3 p.m. West Coast time on a breezy Oakland Sunday in June, but it could be anyone, anytime, anywhere and the same would be true of the fast-talking, fast-typing resident of New Jersey. He’s always texting, emailing or talking on his jack—and for good reason.
If you haven’t heard of Packer, that’s by design. The Generation X-er prefers to work in the shadows. That doesn’t mean, though, that your favorite player or rapper or sneaker brand staffer doesn’t know who the sneaker industry behemoth is. After all, who do you think he’s chopping with? Look at his contacts or stop by his eponymous Jersey-based boutiques, Packer Shoes, and the answer immediately becomes obvious.
“Whether it’s NBA players, NFL players, you have a web of people that gets built up over time,” Packer says. He’s worked on collaborations with many of the above but counts even more big-timers as frequent shoppers. “And if you’re treating these people like normal people, it’s something that just comes back to you. We’re able to not just have them as customers but as friends.”
If it’s not a well-known entertainer texting, it’s likely a known VP. He won’t drop names just to turn heads, but, well, we will. Packer has nurtured and developed meaningful relationships with everyone from Jon Epstein, who as President of FILA, resurrected the brand, to Todd Krinsky of Reebok fame, to Jon Wexler, the man credited with bringing Yeezy to adidas.
“He knows his customers,” Epstein told another #SLAMFam writer in a Tablet magazine piece. “He really understands the brands, their histories and what made or makes them great.”
Packer is a lot more than just a boutique owner, and along those lines, Packer Shoes is more than just retail spots, an e-commerce business and social media accounts.
The stores, if not the e-com site and @packershoes on IG, trace their history to 1907, when Packer’s grandfather and great uncle opened Packer Bros. in Yonkers, NY. And while the locations, brands and stores look different, the OG ethos and rare legacy seep through to the business, which Packer relocated, refreshed and refurbished in 2003.
“That part of Yonkers, it wasn’t the nicest, but it was still the best education I could have gotten,” he says of his years grinding under his father’s watch at the store. “I got to go to business school every day, and the key was that I got to deal with people—real people—on a daily basis.”
Very few, if any, industry insiders have Packer’s history. None can couple that with his years as a lawyer and assistant district attorney. It is just that books-and-BK combo that allowed the family man to transcend the role of store owner.
Even if you subtract the day-to-day management of Packer Shoes, Packer’s sneaker résumé is unmatched. He’s helped concept and organize successful collabs with ASICS, FILA, Mitchell & Ness, New Balance, Reebok, Saucony and Starter.
Packer also quietly partook in the reintroduction of Ewing Athletics in 2012, offering advice to Patrick Ewing and president David Goldberg. There are more LLCs and silent partnerships on his docket, but Packer doesn’t openly talk about them. Nor, as we found out after some OD research, does he talk about the fact that some pro athletes have asked him—in vain—to manage their careers.
“I definitely see what he’s creating in the sneaker and sports world,” says one NBA agent. “It’s not every day you meet someone with the knowledge of our business that Packer has, with all the sneaker connects.”
No wonder the orthodox Jew—who manages to pull all this off while not working from sundown Friday night until sundown-plus on Saturday—has been named one of the most influential people in the industry by the likes of Complex and Hypebeast.
How? An ear to the streets, an eye for detail and the acumen to successfully pitch a billion-dollar sneaker brand on the importance of a 100-piece collaborative pack. And…
“You need to have a good team, and thankfully, I do,” he says. “The one thing I can say is if you are going from online to physical, it’s important to have everybody on the same page.”
And, just like that, Mike Packer is back on the phone.
Top photo: Stan Stills, Store photos: Johnny Utah