Lose the Blinders

An educational series in cooperation with Deckers Brands will look within and beyond our industry for insights and solutions.

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It’s easy to go through life with blinders on. It’s tempting to settle into a less challenging and more comfortable routine that works under the (misguided) premise: “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” But what if it’s actually breaking and you’re just blind to the fact? Sometimes living with blinders comes from a stubborn conviction that there’s nothing new under the sun. Why bother even looking? The unknown can also be frightening and the idea of change overwhelming. But if you only look straight ahead you risk making a beeline toward a cliff. The old adage “ignorance is bliss” was never a compliment. Nor was it ever a successful long-term business strategy.

Yet there are countless examples of wholesalers and retailers who’ve resisted change. By the time they finally realized they had to adapt or die, it was already too late. For every bygone trend, market segment, business model, technology, retail format, etc., there is a scrap heap of companies that failed or refused to see the warning signs. Tunnel vision was the root of their demise. And despite a long list of well-publicized casualties, it’s happening just as regularly, and at a faster clip, today. The fact is, business moves more quickly than ever and the margins for error have never been narrower. Throw in innovations and technological advancements that make entire industries obsolete before they even reach adolescence, and it’s easy to see that companies operating with blinders on are shortening their lifespan exponentially.

Companies need to look beyond their industry for insights and ideas. You’ve got to look right, left, above, down, behind, forward and inward—continually. We don’t live in a vacuum. What works in another industry might be just the solution for ours. The trick, however, is not to lose sight of who you are and where you want to go. You have to recognize what’s just noise and avoid rabbit holes.

That’s where Footwear Plus comes into the equation. For 25 years our mission has been to serve as a resource and a filter to showcase what’s new, noteworthy and unique. Above all, our goal is to present opportunities and solutions for our readers. Our dedicated team of journalists is always listening, looking and digging for that next great item and finding that up-and-coming brand tucked away down some endless aisle at a trade show. We’re always on the lookout for retailers to profile who—rather than resist change—embrace it, adapt and thrive. We’ve covered countless success stories and they serve as inspiration and roadmaps for us all. And just when I think I’ve seen and heard it all, something new comes along. We also must continually look beyond our industry to the world at large.

With that in mind, it is with great pleasure that I announce our partnership with Deckers Brands (makers of Ugg Australia, Teva, Sanuk, Hoka One One, Ahnu, Tsubo and Mozo) to create the Footwear Network Series. Over the next year, each issue of Footwear Plus will showcase a topic designed to help retailers look beyond their four walls for insights, instruction and possible solutions to their most pressing business concerns. We’ll tap into Deckers Brands’ deep resources and expert contacts in retail, marketing, trend forecasting, consumer analysis and technology to present exclusive thought-provoking content.

It’s a concept that originated over drinks with Angel Martinez, CEO of Deckers Brands, Footwear Plus Publisher Caroline Diaco and myself during the recent FFANY show in New York. (The best ideas often develop casually and organically.) We were discussing the general state of retail and, specifically, the revolutionary change online shopping is having on all formats. Invariably, the talk came around to whether brick-and-mortar retailers can survive in the face of competition that is unlike anything they’ve ever been up against. I was encouraged by Martinez’s initial response: The industry needs good retailers for its long-term benefit. The former running specialty storeowner went on to say that consumers want variety in their shopping experiences, an important component of which can be an in-store experience that features top-notch service, an inviting ambiance and social interaction. That can never be replicated online. Martinez added that if he were opening a store today, it’d be service on steroids. By no means did Martinez think he wouldn’t be able to succeed at it, either.

Of course, shoppers also want the ability to shop online. Basically, they want it all, and retailers must be willing and able to adapt to those demands. Trying to offer one or the other is a fool’s errand. That’s why the advice and expertise to be featured in the Footwear Network Series is aimed at helping all retailers navigate a road ahead that is assuredly filled with twists, turns and potholes—dangers that anyone wearing blinders would surely miss. On behalf of Deckers Brands and Footwear Plus, we look forward to an informative journey.

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