Charting New Territory

He who hesitates is lost.

Many a footwear company has fallen victim to the aforementioned phrase, which can also fall under the guise of resting on one’s laurels or getting soft. And then there are those companies that reach a certain girth and become too big to move. The nimble nature that brought them to the forefront is replaced by a big-business mentality that is counterproductive—and demoralizing—to
the entrepreneurs that got the company off the ground.

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He who hesitates is lost.

Many a footwear company has fallen victim to the aforementioned phrase, which can also fall under the guise of resting on one’s laurels or getting soft. And then there are those companies that reach a certain girth and become too big to move. The nimble nature that brought them to the forefront is replaced by a big-business mentality that is counterproductive—and demoralizing—to
the entrepreneurs that got the company off the ground.

No matter what the causes of corporate inertia may be, the inability to move forward, adapt and evolve ultimately leads to a company’s demise. One only needs to look around the current comfort footwear landscape to observe numerous companies in various throws of stagnation, whether it’s product that hasn’t changed much in years or a refusal to adapt to the American market’s unique tastes and demands, no matter how unfashionable they may be. In addition, there have been several changes in leadership that can potentially create vacuums as well as instances where there’s been a lack of any consistent leadership at all. With regards to the latter, a management team of starts and fits is akin
to the old saying: one step forward, two steps back.

The Euro comfort segment, in particular, is in a state of flux. Brands that retailers have counted on for decades may not be as bankable. This is all the more unsettling since the comfort category is quite unlike fashion, where volatility is the nature of the beast. In contrast, retailers and consumers build life-long affiliations with their beloved comfort brands, so change can be jarring. And while the turmoil allows others to fill the void, the changes are never predictable, smooth or quick. Retailers must absorb the often long and winding road of a brand in decline. It’s not easy to switch gears, especially taking into account the lag time between when a retailer knows a brand is not what it was and when a customer accepts the fact.

The next few seasons may see seismic shifts in the comfort footwear landscape. The potential loss of a once dominant Euro accent could create new centers of power. The current bubble-like correction taking place in the shaping and toning segment, which has had a strong presence in comfort stores, is also causing major repercussions. And the rise of natural motion and customizable footwear will alter the comfort playing field going forward. Comfort may well be in the process of morphing into a new category called wellness—shoes that are good for the mind, body and soul. It’s an evolution that’s sure to involve new brands, technologies and retail formats as well as generations of new consumers.

While change can be uncomfortable at times, it can also be the impetus for new growth opportunities and prosperity.

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