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2012 Plus Awards Winners

Recognizing Excellence in Design and Retail for 2012

Recognizing Excellence in Design and Retail for 2012


Company of the year

wolverine worldwide

It’s little surprise that Wolverine Worldwide took home the Plus Award in the prestigious Company of the Year category for the second straight year. Coming off record growth in 2011, the conglomerate made even bigger waves with its $1 billion-plus acquisition of the Performance and Lifestyle Group, including Keds, Stride Rite, Saucony and Sperry Top-Sider brands. Overall, sales grew to a record $1.4 billion last year.

“This was a huge milestone,” says CEO Blake Krueger of the aquisition. “We’re now the third largest footwear company in the world, behind the two biggest athletic players.” He adds that these brands were a great fit for the company, as they help to cover unfulfilled markets, such as children’s, athletic and women’s. The PLG added key talent to Wolverine’s roster as well, including Stride Rite’s Sharon John and Sperry Top-Sider’s Craig Reingold, aiding Krueger in his quest to bring in multi-talented execs to the Wolverine Worldwide family.

In the last year, Wolverine Worldwide put an emphasis on developing relationships with key retail partners and also focused on product innovation. “We appreciate the fact that product is king in this industry, so we want to be out there with something that is new and fresh every season,” Krueger says. Merrell’s M-connect series helped to boost the company’s outdoor category while Keds’ collaborations with Taylor Swift and Kate Spade look to advance the women’s offerings, and he names Sperry Top-Sider as a star brand (winner of the Plus Award in the “Men’s Street” category) in 2012. “Five or six year ago they were pigeon-holed as a mid-priced, men’s boat shoe brand, and today the team there has done a great job extending that brand into adjacent categories, and focusing on women, making it the No. 1 footwear brand in America,” Krueger says. He also doesn’t count out the success of the Hush Puppies’ classic Americana styling and Wolverine’s heritage at the forefront of the 1000 Mile collection.

Krueger notes business was “good and steady” in the U.S., Asia Pacific and Latin America for 2012, but that Europe was a challenge due to its economic environment. In the coming year, however, he sees an uptick in international sales. “The world shops American, the world knows what the fashion trends are in America and what brands perform well,” he says. He adds that the company is looking to expand the PLG brands in the international market in 2013 while continuing their growth stateside.

With a 16-brand portfolio, more than a thousand years of brand equity, and a presence in 200 countries and territories around the world, Wolverine Worldwide shows no sign of slowing down. “We’re going to continue to focus on our people, developing the talent we have in the company and recruiting new talent, and maintain our focus on product and try to exceed the expectations of our retailers and our target consumers,” Krueger says. —Maria Bouselli


Brand of the Year; running

Nike

For Nike, 2012 was all about innovation, from a stitched-up shoe made from single thread (Flyknit) to a new take on a classic, garnering two Plus Awards in Brand of the Year and Excellence in Design in Running.

“Our passion for innovation along with our unique insights from working with the best athletes in the world enables us to deliver premium products and experiences for our consumers, whether they’re [professionals] or running in a local 5K race,” says Gavin Thomas, director of media relations.

Standouts in 2012 for Nike’s running category were the Flyknit, the Free Run+ 3 and the Lunarglide+ 4. With the Flyknit, Nike looked to fill a void in the market for a running shoe with a sock-like feel. After years of development, and searching for the best material that’s supportive, flexible and breathable, the Flyknit was born. This technology is used in the Flyknit Racer, a version for the marathon runner (seen at the past Olympics), and the Flyknit Trainer+ for everyday running.

The Nike Free Run+ 3 is an updated model of the original Nike Free shoe from 2004. Using their knowledge of the foot’s natural movement, designers engineered a Dynamic Fit construction, which offers arch support where the wearer most needs it, and a midsole that aids the runner’s natural motion and imitates barefoot running. The seamless mesh upper and the sock liner, which molds to the foot, guarantees both perfect fit and comfort. The shoe delivered on its performance, but it was the wild array of colors offered that turned the shoe into a runaway fashion statement last summer.

For the Lunarglide+4 (part of the Nike Lunarlon Collection), the design team concentrated on support, fit and stability. They used Flywire technology (also implemented in the Zoom Superfly R4 and Zoom Victory Elite), which employs cables that reposition with every move, and molds to properly fit the wearer. Lunarlon foam lines the midsole in the Dynamic Support platform to help cushion the foot and a firmer carrier foam adds to the runner’s stability. A report by industry sales tracking firm SportsOneSource states overall running sales for Nike grew in the high single digits in the $6.6 billion category. The brand upped its market share in running as well, from 50 percent in 2011 to 54 percent in 2012. The Nike Free made up about 4 percent of overall running sales last year alone. “Nike understands that we are in a ‘Technology as Fashion’ cycle right now, and is creating appropriate concepts,” says analyst at SportsOneSource Matt Powell.

Along those lines, Nike’s training category sales shot up almost 40 percent, had an increase in sales in its cleated footwear with a 60 percent share in the category, and a 40 percent sales gain in sandals. And the entire brand itself had a mid-teen sales increase in the overall athletic category, with a 41.5 percent share in sales. Of the top 250 athletic styles sold in 2012, 119 of them were Nike.

As for what the future holds, Thomas promises more innovation: “We challenge ourselves to purposefully and actively solve problems with the potential to make the biggest difference.” —M.B.


lifetime achievement

Kevin Mancuso

Some people know what they want to be when they grow up from as young as age 5. Others discover their calling in high school or their college years. And then there are those who really don’t know what it is they were meant to do until it falls in their lap.

Consider Kevin Mancuso, CEO of White Mountain Footwear, makers of White Mountain, Cliffs and Rialto brands, in the latter group. Going strong at 40-plus years in the footwear industry, it is quite obvious Mancuso has a talent for what it takes to survive in this business. But that was never really the master plan. The story goes: if Mancuso didn’t just need any job after bumming around Europe for a year post college on the verge of being flat broke, his footwear career never would have gotten past day one.

“I came home with $10 in my pocket and I had to get a job,” Mancuso recalls. “I went for an interview, answering a classified ad about selling shoe lasts. I didn’t know what the heck a shoe last was.” As fate would have it, the last line of Mancuso’s resume noted he had taught piano while in college. It just so happens the person conducting the interview at the Vulcan Corporation (at the time it was one of the largest shoe component manufacturers in the country) was a piano bar buff. “He kept on talking to me about my piano playing and I kept wanting to ask him about the job,” Mancuso says. “Anyway, he hired me because I could play the piano, and that’s how I got introduced to the shoe business.”

During the ensuing five years Mancuso sold lasts and unit soles to nearby New England shoe manufacturers until one day he received a call from Ted Poland, head of Bennett Footwear and makers of Main Woods. Poland must have had an eye for footwear talent as he asked Mancuso to assist him in line building as well as to be his national sales manager—both skills that have since served Mancuso well in helping lead White Mountain into a successful branded and private label conglomerate. However, at the time, Mancuso had zero experience in either ability. “I said, ‘Mr. Poland, I’ve never sold or built a shoe in my entire life.’ And he just said, ‘Kevin, I’ve been in the business for 50 years and you’ve got what it takes—I want you.’ So that’s how I got on the other side of the fence building and selling shoes.”

Mancuso spent the next eight years doing just that for Bennett until his next career twist of fate. It was back in 1989 and Mancuso and his business partner Peter Fong (now a partner at White Mountain) were negotiating to buy Maine Woods as Poland was looking to retire. One day while most of the industry was at the shoe show in Las Vegas, two of Mancuso’s industry friends Gerri Dameshek and Nick Connors, partners for White Mountain, had a cancellation in their golf game and asked him to join. Right on the golf course the White Mountain job offer was made. While Mancuso said he would love to join, he mentioned how he couldn’t just drop his partner, Fong. Their response was memorable: “They said, ‘Kevin, if he’s associated with you then we’d gladly take him on as a partner too.’” Mancuso says it didn’t take much selling to convince Fong to join him at White Mountain. “I’d known these guys for years and told him they’re the most honest people he’ll ever meet,” he notes. And it’s probably a reason they are still partners 24 years later.

At first, Mancuso headed sales for White Mountain while Dameshek was the line builder. After he retired about five years ago, the company hired a couple of line builders that didn’t pan out. Mancuso offered to take over the role, which was met with apprehension at first as his partners knew that he had done the job—but it was years ago—and the sales team didn’t know he had ever done it. Fortunately, Mancuso’s first boots collection was well received and, you might say, the rest is history. The company has since introduced the Rialto and Cliffs by White Mountain brands to very successful receptions. In fact, Rialto sales were up 50 percent last year and Cliffs was up about 48 percent.

Today, the company cranks out 40,000 to 50,000 pairs a day between its three brands and extensive private label operation. When Mancuso first joined, the company was making just 3,000 pairs daily in its New England factories. Along the way, White Mountain was the first to import leather shoes from China, thanks largely to its shoemaking capabilities back home. “We did all the R&D in our plant in New Hampshire, bought rubber soles in from Italy, leather in from the U.S. and China became the labor force,” he explains, adding it wasn’t an easy sell at first. “A lot of people were suspect, but because of our relationships we were able to sell some very large accounts—Famous Footwear being one of the first that gave us a shot—and the rest is history.”

All of this success over the past two decades and one might think: It’s gotta be the shoes, right? At least, some people might want to take credit for it. But not Mancuso. He attributes the success in part to the company being privately owned and the flexibility that offers. “We’re able to zig and zag as well as anybody,” he says, adding integrity plays a significant role as well. “Our customers enjoy doing business with us. We make it easy for them.” Lastly, Mancuso gives credits to his employees: “I can’t overemphasize that none of our success would have ever occurred without the personnel we have to have made it happen.”

That’s not to say White Mountain never faced adversity. In 1995, Mancuso says the partners feared it was all over. “We kept open a domestic factory probably a few years longer than we should have. We felt obligated to our workforce and it almost cost us our business,” he recalls. And then Monica came along, specifically the Monica clog. “We were really up against a wall and that clog saved us,” he says. Imported out of Italy, it was just a basic clog, but for whatever reason it took off. “It was the right fashion at the right time and we were one of the first people to catch on to the trend,” he says. “We began selling millions and millions of pairs.”

For a person whose piano skills landed him a job in the footwear industry, Mancuso says shoes have long since became a labor of love and he sees no reason to stop any time soon. “I guess I could retire, but that’s the furthest thought from my mind,” he says. “I love what I do. Fashion is always changing and the adrenaline flows with each new season.” It’s a love affair driven by a true entrepreneurial spirit that has taken Mancuso and his partners from New England to Italy, Brazil, China, Chile, Mexico and India making shoes. “Looking back, I never thought this would have happened to me,” Mancuso says. But he is sure glad it has. —Greg Dutter


men’s dress

JOhnston & Murphy

In the great fashion Ferris wheel that is revisiting past decades, your granddad’s shoes are back, and storied dress shoe brand Johnston & Murphy is embracing that revival by fresh takes on classic styles and offering cool tips for spicing up a man’s wardrobe. Think monk straps with trousers and a sports coat or even jeans, or a sporty splash of color on the outsole to liven up a traditional wingtip.

“What we’re hearing from the millennials who are now entering the workforce is that there’s a recognized need to fit into the environment and to not look and act like they don’t belong there,” says Jon Caplan, CEO, Johnston & Murphy, a division of Genesco. “We’re seeing [dress shoes] worn with not just business clothes, but across casual attire as well.”

Since the venerable Johnston & Murphy was founded in 1850 in Newark, NJ, its name has become synonymous with a commitment to quality. Now based in Nashville, TN, the brand is gaining market share, recording a 6 percent increase in sales in the third quarter of 2012. “The magnitude outpaced our expectations. We knew that wingtips were coming back into fashion again, but perhaps we underestimated to what degree,” Caplan says. Jason Jones, vice president of design and development, agrees. “[Wingtips] did well across all age groups, selling particularly well among men under the age of 30 due to the coloration and styling,” he notes.

The brand has sewn together vintage roots with contemporary cool for added snap, with styles spanning saddle shoes and cap toes to driving mocs and deck shoes. “We concentrated heavily on our own archives and looked internally versus externally,” Jones says. “We really wanted to go back to those better days of shoemaking and offer an heirloom quality.” Adds Caplan, “It’s such a wonderful challenge, but what you’re seeing right now is younger consumers responding to the classics and what our team does particularly well is figure out a way to keep it relevant. When you’re a great heritage brand you just don’t survive unless you figure out how to reinvent.” —Lyndsay McGregor


rain

chooka

This just in: Rob Moehring is a psychic. Last year Chooka, a division of Washington Shoe Company, stretched beyond its rubber rain boot roots to introduce some fashion skimmer styles, and the U.S. witnessed its driest year in more than half a century. Coincidence? We think not. “At this past Outdoor Retailer show there was a lot of grumbling because that’s really a weather-related show and two non-severe weather years has really taken its toll,” the CEO says. “But our strategy of creating lightweight, functional footwear makes us less weather dependent.” Moehring adds, “Incorporating all these new ideas has really generated an increase in sales.”

Long gone are the days of basic galoshes and clunky wellies—these waterproof shoes look exactly like regular fashion styles. “We’re moving away from the flash and fun and dramatic prints to reflect what’s going on in fashion leather boots,” he says. Skimmers and smoking shoe silhouettes do double-duty, looking cute enough to kick around in even when skies are sunny. “In New York and some other urban areas women don’t always require that big, full-height rubber boot. They find they can get by with a mid height or a bootie or even a skimmer,” Moehring notes and is quick to point out the success of the latter. “They keep you out of the water and are lightweight and functional.” He has the neoprene to thank for that. Incorporating the material into the lining of Chooka’s rubber-based constructions was nothing short of a technical breakthrough.

But that’s not to say the brand abandoned its roots completely. “In the standard boot construction we’ve created a slimmer, feminine last and added straps and a new finish, which is not shiny and not a plain flat matte,” he notes. “We’ve spent some time developing a finish that’s more fashionable, a nice textured feel,” Moehring reveals. “And we’ve increased the quality of the rubber so it’s more supple.” —L.M.


national chain

Nordstrom

Luxury retailer Nordstrom ended 2012 with a bang, exceeding $2 billion in total sales for shoes, and taking home the Plus Award recognizing Excellence in Retail in the National Chain category for the second year in a row. With fourth quarter same-store sales jumping 7.3 percent compared with the year-ago period in fiscal 2011, Scott Meden, executive vice president and GMM, shoe division, says the company ended the year at an all-time high. “We follow a customer strategy at Nordstrom—not a brand, price, channel or any other corporate strategy,” he explains. “We’ve found over the years that we’re most successful when we do a good job of putting the customer first.”

The Seattle-based department store chain weathered the recession better than most retailers, handily increasing sales since 2009. And so far so good for 2013—Nordstrom reports its January sales climbed 11.4 percent, topping the 6 percent rise that analysts expected.

Its success has come through a series of smart investments and strategies to entice younger shoppers—all key to sustaining growth. And after scouring the market for two decades, Nordstrom is set to add to its 200-plus stores nationwide by opening a 285,000-square-foot space in Manhattan in 2018. “We try to stay focused on the customer and serving them on their terms; that all starts with great fashion and delivering compelling product,” Meden offers. “At the same time, it’s also about the strength of our team and how, together with new capabilities and technology, we’ve been able to further personalize the service experience regardless of how the customer chooses to shop with us.” —L.M.


made in u.s.a.

new balance

Currently the only athletic shoe company that manufactures such shoes in the United States, New Balance ramped up production on its home turf in 2012. Why, you ask? Because, company officials believe it’s the right thing to do on many levels.

“Our history of domestic manufacturing in the U.S. sets us apart from our competitors and our ability to draw inspiration from our own history and our surroundings makes our product unique in the marketplace,” says Jennifer Lynch, senior product manager, New Balance Lifestyle. “This authenticity, coupled with strong seasonal stories and executions, resonates with consumers globally.”

With two plants in Massachusetts and three in Maine, its U.S. workforce continues to produce 25 percent of its shoes sold in North America, focusing its domestic production on making what the customer wants—and quickly. For Spring 2012 the Boston-based shoemaker released a mini collection featuring three iconic models—the 998, the 1300 and the 991—all sporting a Made-in-the-U.S.A. build and manufactured with premium suede, canvas and mesh. “The 1300 has always done very well in the U.S. and internationally, but I’ve been very happy to see the 998, which is a different profile from our other made-in-the-U.S.A. product, really connect with consumers on a global scale,” Lynch declares. After years of being available only in Japan, the 998’s stateside re-release was a cause célèbre among sneaker connoisseurs.

Last year New Balance also celebrated its homegrown capabilities with an extensive “Craftsmanship Redefined” marketing campaign backing the 30th anniversary of its iconic 990 running shoe. The effort involved TV, social media, print and in-store POP. “Our Made-in-the-U.S.A. collection for 2012 highlighted designs that were authentic to our brand and iconic to the U.S.A. We focused on seasonal stories, inspiration and material and color executions on our heritage made-in-the-U.S.A. styles,” Lynch notes. “Besides looking at our own history, we looked at American folklore and menswear, everything from denim to suiting, which worked so well in terms of color and material richness with our heritage styles.” —L.M.


men’s street

sperry

This year Sperry Top-Sider sailed the high seas in fashion with premium leathers, fresh colors and a new crop of non-boat footwear collections that attracted consumers with an appreciation for original designs and style. As the company’s Senior Marketing Manager David Mesicek puts it, “Sperry Top-Sider’s authenticity is key to becoming a trusted brand in our consumers’ wardrobe, regardless of the particular style.” To keep the heritage brand relevant, the exec says, “Each season we dive deeper into what a ‘Passion for the Sea’ means to our consumers and create seasonal themes based on trends and the time of year.”

In 2012 that meant growing core products such as the classic A/O, Billfish and vulcanized styles and expanding the Gold Cup collection—a range Mesicek describes as “our pinnacle men’s footwear line.” He attributes the success of the collection to its trend-right styling coupled with premium materials and construction. More traditional streetwear silhouettes including oxfords, sandals, chukkas and Sperry’s Cold Bay boots helped buoy the brand’s success, too. For Sperry, the Plus Award honor recognizes its investment in furthering design and product creation efforts. Be it wave-siping, nautical detailing or other elements of the original boat shoe, Mesicek says consumers see a level of functional integrity that relates back to the brand’s nautical roots. “We celebrate our authenticity of being the world’s first boat shoe and incorporate our Sperry DNA in every product that we create, and that’s what makes us unique,” Mesicek explains.

The company, recently acquired by Wolverine Worldwide, expects the momentum to carry into 2013 with new product classifications and expanding distributions to new territories. —Angela Velasquez


Online Retailer

Zappos

By touting one of the widest selections of footwear imaginable, offering free next-day delivery and a very forgiving return policy, not to mention top notch customer service that even tests endurance—in December, Zappos broke its personal record for the longest customer service call that clocked in at 10 hours and 29 minutes and ended in an Ugg boot sale—the e-giant has set one of the highest standards for service and expectations. And it shows no signs of backing off in this pursuit of excellence.

“What we focus on day in and day out is to offer the right product and the right quantity at the right time,” says Zappos Downtown Director Jeanne Markel. “To be honest, a lot of what attributes to our success is just a continuation of what we do well.”

That’s not to say visitors to the site won’t see newness and innovation. Markel maintains that Zappos aims to improve upon the shopping experience by making it as easy and customer friendly as possible. “Along with the product page enhancements made last year, we have more on the roadmap for this year that will make it easier to navigate and search on the site along with continued updates to our mobile apps,” she reports. Additionally, the site is taking successful cues from the brick-and-mortar by incorporating shop-in-shops. “We plan to expand brand boutique pages for top brands to provide an enhanced experience with lots of lifestyle imagery directly from the brands,” the exec explains.

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then consider Zappos brick-and-mortars’ biggest fan. As department stores and independents test new categories, diversify merchandise and reconsider ways to convey brands’ stories, the e-tailer has sought ways to recreate those fresh experiences online. “Ultimately we strive to provide our customers as close to brick-and-mortar experience as we can possibly deliver,” Markel states.

Ironically, in 2012 the footwear behemoth saw the most growth in its apparel category, which has taken off thanks in part to targeted marketing and social media strategies. A conglomerate of blogs focused on everything from couture to weddings dish out quick and relevant advice that keep visitors engaged, while Zappos stylists cull together complete shop-able looks. “Now you can see head-to-toe outfits with accessories and shoes,” Markel adds.

Fully aware that consumers typically think of the site as a source of footwear, Markel says the key to growing the other categories is to capture viewers’ attention and let them discover what else the site has to offer. Just as word of mouth helped the online store reach name recognition status, she believes communicating with the consumers directly will give the niche categories the boost it needs. Markel says, “Consumers are very engaged in the shopping experience. It’s all organic communication and interestingly enough, we’re not paying for this.” —A.V.


BOOTS

UGG

“We like to create collections that are both familiar and unexpected, in addition to unexpected and familiar,” offers Leah Lawson, Ugg vice president and creative director. For 2012, that meant spring and fall boot collections that contrasted the allure and relaxed glamour of Southern California’s classic beach communities (complete with a spring marketing campaign shot at the world-renown Hotel Del in Coronado) with a fall homage to New York, home to two new Ugg stores in 2012, and as Lawson notes the inspiration to “showcase fashion products that can live on cosmopolitan streets.”

The fact that a boot brand can take style cues from the sunny West Coast and the bustling East Coast all in the same breath says a lot about Ugg’s diversity. In 2012, highlights ranged from the Heirloom lace-up boot with grosgrain ribbon and the Bailey Bow that soften the classic silhouette with playful details to the short Mini Bailey and Tularosa Detachable cable knit cuff boot, both of which toed the line comfortably between spring and fall. Ugg’s utilitarian head reared in the Belcloud, a durable waterproof leather duck boot, while it made a fashion-forward statement in the same season with the pebbled leather Channing stacked wood heel boot finished off with an antiqued-metal stirrup that beckoned the city pavement.

“The products that resonate with our consumers continue to be those that embody that Ugg DNA and fit their personal style or an occasion in their life,” Lawson says. But the exec points out that in each collection the brand strives to give an “element of surprise.” For instance, in the Downtown Collection, an edgy motoboot silhouette made a tough and rugged statement, but once the consumer pulled it on there was the unmistakable Ugg comfort. Lawson credits those visual and tactile clues that let consumers know it’s an Ugg product, be it sheepskin in the heel counter or buttery soft materials, as the keys to the brand’s ongoing success. —A.V.

launch of the year

ugg men’s

Ugg knows where the men are looking. When the brand decided to make a concerted effort to reconnect with its male roots, it launched what Vice President of Marketing Nancy Mamann describes as “highly targeted, multiplatform integrated campaigns” that were staged during two timely phases—the opening week of the NFL season and the holidays—with one of the most recognizable American athletes.

Just in time for football season, Ugg hit its stride with digital, print, mobile and social media advertising, and a national TV spot called “Invisible Game” featuring New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady as a leader on and off the field. Around the same time, a 240-foot wall featuring the quarterback went up in Manhattan, attracting media attention from the likes of ESPN.

But the Ugg Men’s launch was just warming up. The second act hit the market during the holiday shopping season, when Mamann notes men are watching football on Thanksgiving. In a TV spot called “Pink Slip” Brady welcomes a rookie on the team with a pair of Ugg slippers—a storyline based on a vignette that Brady shared with the brand. “Before Tom started working with us, he had a tradition of giving his teammates Ugg Australia slippers as a way of saying ‘thank you.’ We loved the authenticity of this story and felt it would resonate with our male consumer—especially around the holiday gift-giving time,” Mamann states.

Mamann notes one point of differentiation for the men’s product is a line the company uses to describe that sector of business: “Ugg inside. Man outside.” The result was a range of handsome styles that ranged from the Branton urban work boot with brogue details to the burnished chukka Kaldwell.

The Brady effect has treated the company well. Mamann reports that since the launch of his campaign, the men’s business has grown significantly. She adds, “Awareness of Ugg for men has increased—it’s now a bona fide search term.” The success has lead to the opening of the very first Ugg for Men store in New York and there are plans in the pipeline to expand the business domestically and internationally. —A.V.


work boots

wolverine

Imagine slipping on a work boot that adjusts to your specific comfort requirements. Wolverine made that vision a reality with the introduction of its Individual Comfort System (ICS) in 2012. “It lets you adjust the cushioning of the boot to your own particular needs,” says Roger Huard, vice president of product development.

The gel disc located in the boot’s heel allows the wearer to choose one of four settings to ensure maximum comfort by reducing pressure on the heel and increasing shock absorption. The brand also introduced an anti-fatigue technology, the PeakFlex, engineered with flexibility and impact in mind to give its wearer all-day comfort. “One of the things we like to do is not only introduce technology that claims it’s comfortable, but that actually is comfortable and works,” Huard says. “We pride ourselves on testing—lab, biomechanical and wear testing.” Josh Lizotte, vice president of sales, notes that retailers and consumers look to Wolverine for advances in comfort technology in its top-quality work footwear. “When they see a new comfort story from us or a new technology that pertains to work shoes, they trust us and they adopt it,” he says.

A standout style from 2012 is the Gear Boot in 6- and 8-inch and Wellington styles. Versatile and lightweight, it employs ICS technology and features waterproof full-grain leather, a wave-mesh lining to reduce moisture, an OrthoLite footbed for arch support and an oil-, abrasion- and slip-resistant outsole, and customers receive a 30-day comfort guarantee. “That’s something we’ve been doing on our premium comfort boots for 20 years, and it’s been successful,” Huard says, with Lizotte adding that the boot is proving itself at retail.

After a record year in sales, Lizotte and Huard are looking ahead to further their success this year. Huard notes that there are five fundamental research projects in the works and that the brand plans on offering a new anti-fatigue technology, which will be available later this year and officially launch in 2014, that will further Wolverine’s mission to offer its customers the most comfortable work boots possible. “We’re an authentic work brand since 1883 and we hold on to that authenticity and tradition by creating new products that are giving the consumer a value, and that value in a work shoe is being comfortable and being able to be on your feet 12 to 15 hours a day and not realize it,” Huard says. —M.B.


Retail Customer Service

Hawley Lane Shoes

Paying close attention to customers’ needs and wants has always been something Hawley Lane Shoes has focused on, and after a tough 2012, customer service is more important than ever. The Connecticut-based footwear retailer took a wallop from Hurricane Sandy, and suffered again in December as one of its four stores is down the street from Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, the scene of one of the worst mass shootings in U.S. history. “We dropped almost $1 million in the fourth quarter,” admits owner Dave Levy.

But the four-store chain’s commitment to offering top-notch customer service never wavered. With more than 100 employees on staff between all stores—and the omnipresent threat of the Internet—Levy stresses the importance of providing exceptional customer service and making sure the stores are stocked with various sizes and widths so they never miss a sales opportunity. “We try to personalize our service in any way we can, fitting [customers] based on their specific foot type,” he says. “I believe that our customers feel like they can trust us, but at the same time have fun with the experience. The selection overwhelms a lot of people so we say, ‘You’re in our hands—let’s have some fun.’ We fit you with the right shoes that you’re going to love for every aspect of your life.”

One step the retailer took last year to up the service ante was to introduce consumer focus groups. “We have women’s, men’s and young moms’ groups,” Levy explains. “We bring them in and serve lunch and talk about how we can better service their respective needs. We always try to stay on top and ask ourselves how we can improve our [customers’] lives.” To that end, every customer receives a “thank you” note, because sometimes even the smallest of gestures can pay enormous dividends. And despite a difficult 2012, Levy is hopeful that the coming year will reap plenty as consumers remain loyal to a retailer that has always served them well. (Although the epic blizzard that socked the Nutmeg state with more than three feet of snow, shutting stores down for several days, didn’t help matters.) “We have passion—a passion to really listen and care, and to me that’s probably one of the biggest things contributing to our success,” Levy maintains. —L.M.


Women’s Street

Toms

For Toms, 2012 was the year of the wedge. It started in the summer, when the company introduced a strappy wedge silhouette. “We drew our inspiration for the summer collection from the vibrancy of city life and incorporated bright colors and bold stripes,” Lizzy Schofding, a Toms spokeswoman describes. It was followed up with a fall desert boot wedge that provided a fresh canvas for a season centered on textiles. Schofding says, “Woven tribal patterns were the main focus for the fall collection and plusher, warmer fabrics, like shearling and wool were incorporated into the styles for the holiday line.”

In general, Schofding says it’s encouraging how female customers are accepting new styles from the brand that made its mark with über casual footwear. “Our team was excited to release both the strappy wedge and the desert wedge because they add to the number of styles available for less casual occasions,” she notes. “Additionally, the desert wedge is a fancier style for colder climates, featuring a closed toe with wool and suede materials.”

Still, Toms counts the Classic as a highlight of 2012. “The crochet Classics were a big hit with our customers,” she says. “The light and feminine crochet material is truly unique to Toms and has become a staple in our warm weather collection.” —A.V.


OUTDOOR

teva

Teva has been gaining market share of late in the outdoor space by taking the trail less traveled. The belief is that serious outdoor play doesn’t need to be all business, nor does it all have to look like the same earth-toned trail runner or hiking boot that continues to be overly prevalent in stores. In contrast, Teva’s 2012 collections featured plenty of pops of color and athletic styling as well as waterproof constructions that stood out from the crowd.

“We’re really challenging the status quo of the industry,” says Juerg Geser, senior director global product merchandising. “We believe in a product that is super functional, but really as a design that you can just wear all day long.”

The results speak for themselves: Third quarter net sales of the Deckers Outdoor subsidiary increased 22.1 percent to $17.9 million compared with the year-ago period. The success is, in part, to a broader international reach as Teva made its Japan debut. In addition, the brand continues its evolution into becoming more than a seasonal sandal player. That included breaking the mold with the waterproof Chair 5, a packable winter boot that’s one of the lightest on the market with 250 grams of 3M Thinsulate. And a removable inner bootie that works great as a slipper for kicking around the cabin because, “What we discovered was [when you’re done shoveling snow] you either bring it inside on your boots or you take your boots off and your socks get wet,” Geser says.

On the water shoe side, Teva debuted a new traction outsole with the sneaker-influenced Fuse-Ion, built with an ultra-sticky Spider rubber and a proprietary fabric coating to keep the synthetic uppers from absorbing water, while Raith and Sky Lake joined the trail shoe lineup. “[Customers] loved the versatility of these products. In women’s, you don’t wear [hikers] casually around the town so we designed a low-cut hiker for the ladies that is much sleeker than anything else in the marketplace. It looks great on the trail and on the street,” he says.

Looking to 2013, Geser is excited about this month’s debut of Tevasphere collection of trail running shoes, a design process that was four years in the making. For starters, TevaSphere differs greatly from the bulkier, squared-off heels and over-cushioned soles of most trail runners and running product. “We’re super stoked. It’s already won awards in the U.S. and Europe and we can’t wait to see how consumers react,” he says. —L.M.


WOMEN’S COMFORT

DANSKO

Ann Dittrich, creative director of Dansko, describes 2012 as a “banner year” for the company. Building off its original clog, Dansko expanded its women’s offering to give customers the option to wear their favorite brand in every aspect of their life, from workdays and weekend getaways to a night on the town.

“We thought, ‘If this is our core, if this is our strength and it’s what we do better than anything else, then why can’t we own that business in different applications?’” New silhouettes for 2012 included an espadrille-style clog that features a jute wrap on the sole as well as a kid-suede enfolded clog for fashion-conscious customers. Dansko also introduced a new collection called XP. “It’s a re-imagining of our Professional clog with different elements,” she says. “It has a softer ride, removable foot bed and a slip-resistant outsole. The success rate was huge; people seemed to love it and it’s growing leaps and bounds.” Dittrich notes that Dansko’s sandal season performed exceptionally well this year, naming the Sophie double-buckle sandal as the “runaway favorite.”

Dittrich believes that Dansko’s ability to identify with its customers is a main reason for the brand’s success. “We were very conscious of expanding the wearing occasions we can offer a woman,” she says. “We’re cognizant of a woman’s whole life, offering as many opportunities to be comfortable as much as she can.” But it’s not just the designers who should get the credit—she says the employee-owned company works together in order to be successful and turn out a great product. “Everyone has pride in [Dansko], from the mailroom and the sales team to the designers,” she says, adding that being honored with a Plus Award for a record eighth consecutive year in this category is “gratifying.”

For 2013, expect further growth from Dansko in their women’s collections with both dressier and active styles, as well as a ballet flat. “We have some real solid plans to give our customers more opportunities to wear Dansko [with] styles you haven’t necessarily seen before,” Dittrich says. —M.B.


customer experience

the tannery

A Cambridge, MA, mainstay for more than 40 years, The Tannery ended 2012 on another positive note. In fact, Tarek Hassan, the front man of the business founded by his uncle, Sam Hassan, reveals that the store achieved almost-triple-digit growth. “And 2013 so far shows that we are trending in a positive direction. We won’t miss the opportunity to capitalize on that. We’re doing well and we can’t complain,” Hassan says.

When The Tannery opened its 21,000-square-foot mega-outlet on Boylston Street across the river in Boston in late 2009, it wanted to be a one-stop destination, with three concepts on three different floors. “Each has its own look and feel. When you walk in it’s outerwear, or you can get your fashion products, or you can get your comfort, all under one roof,” Hassan explains. “Customers walk in and feel comfortable. Each floor sets its own mood.” Aesthetics are extremely important to Hassan, and the clean, modern space lets the merchandise play a starring role.

From classic brands like Frye, Ecco, Dansko and Ugg offered on the main floor, to made-in-America brands such as Danner, Wolverine 1000 Mile and Eastland downstairs in the wine cellar-like basement, to upscale labels Helmut Lang, Opening Ceremony and Alexander Wang featured in Curated by The Tannery upstairs, Hassan believes the format covers all the key bases and is well-positioned for continued sales growth. This year the store added Bottega Venetta, Viktor & Rolf and Maison Martin Margiela to its mix, and a team of in-house designers works with brands for one-of-a-kind collaborations with the likes of Nike, New Balance and Canada Goose.

“At the end of the day it’s about product mix and what we are and what we do and what we offer” Hassan notes. “It’s also about working on collaborations and doing unique stuff that can’t be offered anywhere else. It’s about understanding what your customer is looking for and trying to be a step ahead of the curve.” —L.M.


MEN’S COMFORT

rockport

Bob Mullaney, president of the Rockport Company, part of the Adidas Group, credits the brand’s design team as the key to its success in 2012. “The design team tapped into the DNA of the brand and translated it into modern and current day, and have done a great job of addressing the needs of our consumers,” he says.

Dave Pompel, vice president of men’s products, explains the brand’s revival in the comfort space in more detail. “What we’ve done over the last four to five years is rebuild the foundation, rebuild the design resources working with Italian last makers and reorganized our platforms,” he says. This rebuild focused on the wants of Rockport’s core customer—the metropolitan man—and giving him a larger range of footwear with its Ledge Hill series and the RocSports Lite and Business Lite collections. While Business Lite and Ledge Hill focus on dressier comfort styles, such as wingtips, RocSports Lite offers customers casual looks such as slip-ons. “Men are looking for details that add more value, design and luxury to the product, and are taking a little bit more risk in colors,” Pompel says. “And with the hands-free era we live in, they also need shoes that you can slip on in and out the door.”

Pompel also notes that Rockport is breaking the compromise between comfort and style and giving its customers both, most notably with its technology in the RocSports Lite. The footwear has a three-density lower construction, which entails an outsole grade EVA, an internal chassis of softer EVA and a wedge of Adidas Adiprene foam, which absorbs shock and disperses foot-fall energy. The collection is also lightweight, flexible and mobile—perfect for all-day comfort. “Once people put the shoes on their feet, they knew it was the real deal,” Mullaney confirms. While he calls this component the “hero piece,” he notes all three collections experienced the same reaction: “They made customers’ lives better at the end of the day.”

Finishing out 2012 up by double digits with a 60 percent conversion rate with customers, Mullaney and Pompel are looking to continue that momentum this year. Stars for this year’s Rockport collections include the Total Motion series for customers searching for a combination of stability and flexibility in lightweight footwear, as well as a new concept still under wraps for Fall ’13. “We will continue to innovate and solve problems for our customers to make their lives better,” Mullaney says. —M.B.


pre-walkers

pediped

Since its start in 2005, Pediped has been a favorite of moms looking to outfit their children in supportive and comfortable shoes from a very young age. The brand’s pre-walker range aids children during their crawling and learning-to-walk phase with flexibility and roomy toe box. Pediped also looks to keep their customers safe, emphatically testing materials to ensure they exceed the CPSC guidelines and avoiding any small moving parts that could easily fall off the shoes.

“Consumers have learned to trust us because when we put out a product it’s going to be good quality and healthy for the development of children’s feet,” says Angela Edgeworth, president and founder of Pediped.

In 2012, Pediped offered a revamp of its original sole, making it more slip-resistant, which received a positive response from both consumers and retailers. “We also tried to infuse a little bit more fun and whimsy into the line,” Edgeworth notes, adding that the theme for girls in 2012 was candy and flowers and boys’ designs were centered on preppy styling. Pediped added a boot and athletic line in their fall collection, as well as new sandal silhouettes for spring. Traditional styles, however, still remain popular with customers. “Our classics perform the best,” she says. “We have some styles that have been in the line for more than five seasons.” Overall, Edgeworth describes Pediped’s design aesthetic as a more sophisticated take on baby shoes. “We try to keep it pretty classic and I think that differentiates us. We like styles that stand the test of time,” she says.

Sales for the brand were strong in 2012, as it continues to expand its breadth of product with their additional collections. “We’ve given our customers more reasons to come back to us to buy all of our footwear,” she notes. As for 2013, Pediped will introduce a playground collection for older kids and new silhouettes and fun color blocking for the youngsters. As for Pediped’s second straight Plus Award in this category, Edgeworth says the recognition is a “huge affirmation to what we’re doing and certainly means a great deal to us. And it gives our consumers confidence in our brand as well.” —M.B.


Designer Boutique

barneys

For Barneys New York, 2012 was a year for makeovers. In May, the luxury department store launched a revamped website where visitors can create a list of their favorite items for others to follow and like on social media sites. Tastemakers like Jane Aldridge, Katie Holmes, Michael Chernow and Julianne Moore got the ball rolling. And in September the retailer unveiled the flagship’s newly renovated first floor by displaying baubles from Bottega Veneta and Repossi with commissioned artwork from designer-turned-artist Helmut Lang. But the biggest news and reason for its excellence in retail Plus Award was its exquisitely remodeled shoe boutique.

To truly standout from Manhattan’s influx of mega-shoe floors, Barney’s borrowed design cues from nearby New York City institutions. A stone’s throw away from some of the city’s finest museums and galleries, the luxury department store’s brand new fifth floor shoe department opened in July dazzling label aficionados with a museum-quality interior worthy of masterpieces from the likes of Balenciaga, Christian Louboutin, Narcisco Rodriguez and Chanel.

Designed by architecture firm Yabu Pushelber, in collaboration with Barneys’ Creative Director Dennis Freedman, the 22,000-square-foot department—40 percent larger than the former space—features minimal enclosures for an open, gallery-like flow with Italian marble walls, limestone floor and display tables made from glass and ebony macassar wood. The new space allows for 350 more styles on the selling floor, which opened the door for more exclusive styles from Maison Martin Margiela, Giuseppe Zanotti and Manolo Blahnik. And for the first time, the flagship combined men’s and women’s footwear to create an all-encompassing source for luxury footwear.

Barneys New York marked the grand opening of the shoe floor with a “Perfect Pairs” initiative to support the Human Rights Campaign and its Americans for Marriage Equality Program. During the shoe floor’s grand opening week, the retailer donated 10 percent of each shoe purchase to the HRC. And to keep the buzz alive, the store has enlisted designers and trendsetters to share their favorite shoe moments on its blog, The Window—a perfect read on an iPad, which are dotted around the shoe floor for customers to peruse while trying on their new stilettos. —A.V.


children’s

BBC int’l/polo ralph lauren

If Tracey McLeod, president of worldwide product sales and marketing at BBC International, could sum up Polo Ralph Lauren’s 2012 in one word, it would be color. “It was a really big card in our spring collection. We offered lots of brights, whether it was uppers, linings or lacings,” she says, noting that the collection tied back to the fashion label’s ready-to-wear. “If they did yellow polo shirts with purple players on the runway, we would then emulate that on the footwear.”

Spring’s top-seller was the Faxon, a vulcanized canvas sneaker with contrasting laces, while the Cantor, a more upscale version with leather tags and embroidered pony accents, and the Sag Harbour Hi, available in five colorways spanning plaid canvas to gold metallic for a fun and sporty look, did well across the board for fall. “I think they’re very nice styles between lifestyle and athletic,” McLeod notes. “They meet a consumer need. It’s not an active sneaker; it’s a lifestyle, ready-to-wear approach.”

With striking colors seen everywhere last year, the brand is in sync with trends as a whole, offering fresh takes on category staples like the Mary Jane and boat shoe as well as takedowns of popular adult styles. Along those lines, animal prints played a strong role in the brand’s success in 2012, with the fall collection consisting of youthful leathers combined with leopard prints. “The silhouettes in the women’s and men’s definitely influenced the kids’ collection, but I think in order to appeal to the kids’ market you also need to include the high neon brights, something a little more fun like cool closures and you also need to consider fit,” McLeod says, adding the push to introduce fresh looks continues this year. “Polo is a really strong kids’ brand and this year we will welcome more opportunities to expand globally,” McLeod says. —L.M.


Wholesale Customer Service

clarks

With some companies, the clue to what they do is in their name, while others, like Clarks, evoke a warm-and-fuzzy feeling of tradition. To say the almost-190-year-old brand knows a thing or two about customer service would be a gross understatement—retailers have long considered it top-of-the-class.

As one of the biggest privately held footwear firms in the world, Clarks’ approach is simple: “The primary component of what we’re doing constantly, and it wasn’t anything different last year, is first of all listening to our customers, making sure that we’re focused on their objectives—not ours—and ultimately being the easiest company for them to do business with,” says Jim Salzano, president of The Clarks Companies, N.A.

Regardless of point of purchase, Clarks wants all of its customers to have the same Clarks experience. In 2011 when it rolled out a customer-focused platform it aspired to improve the shopping experience and get a better grip on why buyers reach out. And it’s a two-way street: the platform also enables retailers to check availability, place and track orders and access marketing materials. The focus, as ever, is to keep product on customers’ feet and deliver service that centers on accessibility, commitment and partnership. These ongoing efforts haven’t gone unrewarded, starting with Clarks being recognized in this category for the second straight year. “We’re a couple of days away from a record year, thanks in large part to our wholesalers who worked with us through some challenging conditions,” Salzano reveals.

Beyond the systems and technologies put in place to assure everything runs smoothly, Salzano credits the human touch as well. “We’re really fortunate to have such great people as part of the Clarks team,” he says. “We’re fortunate to have great retailers to work with in the best distribution places around America.” A final piece to the puzzle, Salzano notes, is the strength of the Clarks brand. “It’s stood the test of time and our retailers and consumers recognize that. It really comes down to the people on both sides that have developed a fantastic, deep and rich connection to the brand,” he says, adding, “We don’t take that for granted.” —L.M.


women’s dress

dolce vita

In 2012 Dolce Vita’s effortless approach to design caught the sartorial eye of fashion editors across the world, landing in the pages of Marie Claire, Lucky and InStyle to name a few. The brand hit an androgynous mark with man-tailored smoking slippers, patent oxfords and tassel-accented loafers, while sculptural pumps and cut-out wedge sandals in lush suede jewel tones complemented fashion’s mood for futuristic, fantasy footwear that paid homage to ’70s and ’80s style icons.

That mood was also reflected on Dolce Vita’s Pinterest boards, where electric blue pumps were sided next to images of Prince in head-to-toe blue latex. Sites like the content sharing hub, as well as a lively Twitter feed and Dolce Vita blog, which follows DV staff on jet-set adventures and sheds light on the ins and out of the shoemaking business, have become go-to sources for the brand’s fans to discover the upcoming creations. Connections with style blogger friends like Flashes of Style, Behind the Seams and Jag Lever offer further inspiration, showing head-to-toe looks that capture each of the girls’ individual style and the many faces of Dolce Vita. —A.V.


athletic lifestyle

adidas originals

Brian Forester, design director of Adidas Originals North America, calls 2012 a “fantastic year” for the brand. He cites collaborations with Big Sean and the Brooklyn Nets as two of last year’s highlights. “What’s great for Originals is that we’re always able to crossover, and not just with sports access but with artists giving an original feel to us,” he notes. Whimsical designs from Jeremy Scott and collaborations with David Beckham and Ransom helped to keep the Originals as the frontrunner in the athletic lifestyle category that combines both sport and style.

Forester names the ’90s as an inspiration for the brand in 2012. “We wanted to take that [inspiration], reinterpret it and offer it in a new way,” he says. He adds that last year’s success comes from the brand knowing its target customers and offering them innovative styles. “We look for someone who is comfortable with who they are, who wants to stand out from their group of peers and looks for something that’s [unique] for their wardrobe,” he explains. “We want our customer to pull our product against all others on the wall.” Updated looks that were standouts for customers included the iconic Superstar, Samoa and the Roundhouse.

Adidas Originals also joined the “Adidas all in” campaign for Fall/Winter ’12 with the tagline “All Originals Represent,” for which singer and rapper Nicki Minaj wrote the track “Masquerade.” The campaign encouraged fans of the brand to represent themselves as unique individuals through their own style, and featured shoes from Adidas Originals by Jeremy Scott collection to footwear designed by skateboarders for hitting the streets.

“For us, we’re constantly growing and changing,” Forester says. “One of the things to our advantage is we don’t want to do the same thing over and over; we’re always looking for progression. And our target consumer keeps us on our toes to keep us moving forward and have an eye for nuance and detail to bring something new to the market.” —M.B.

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