Brands Supporting Independent Retail
Brands Supporting Independent Retail
There is power in partnership. For independent retailers, partnerships with brands are particularly powerful. And for brands committed to supporting the independent retail channel, those partnerships are equally as vital. As key issues such as Direct-to-Consumer selling, inventory drama (first too little, now too much!), supply chain challenges, and more, continue to impact the market, brand and retail relationships as important as ever. On the following pages, we highlight 18 brands who are committed to partnerships with independent retailers. What are these brands doing that makes them stand out? And why is the independent channel so important to them? These brand snapshots highlight key initiatives and standout products to watch, and explore brand strategies when it comes to the independent retail channel.
With a variety of product collections that target specific consumer needs, Finn Comfort is right at home with retailers who offer specialized service. “Not all product collections are designed for all consumers, but the independent retailer has the training and knowledge to fit their customer with the appropriate product,” says Justin Orrell-Jones, president & CEO, Finn Comfort USA, Inc.
Product Highlight: FinnMellow, the brand’s latest collection, was introduced to expand the brand’s Footbed options to include Super-Soft Footbeds in addition to the existing Regular footbed and Soft Footbed Collections. FinnMellow styles also have a new dual density outsole. Says Orrell-Jones, “The softer density midsole enhances shock absorbency while still offering excellent support for the foot. FinnMellow initially launched with just closed shoes but as of Spring Summer 2022, we expanded into sandals and slides and also men’s. The response at retail has been tremendous.”
Strategic Insight: “The independent retailer is the primary means by which we reach the Finn Comfort consumer,” says Orrell-Jones. “This means we do what we can to be a great supplier that prioritizes the independent channel. We believe Finn Comfort provides an increasingly unique opportunity for the independent retailer. That is, a brand with a very high-quality product, with very limited distribution, that cultivates very loyal consumers. We then enhance this value of the brand to the independent retailer by offering a robust stock program with no minimum order requirements. This allows the retailer to invest in inventory as needed and to tailor their selection of Finn Comfort products to meet demand.”
Like most manufacturers and suppliers, the brand has found “both production and transportation of product has become an especially serious challenge,” says Orrell-Jones. “Consequently, to minimize the adverse effect this has on our retailers, we have been projecting even father out than normal, trying to anticipate their future stock needs. This means placing orders into production much earlier and trying to plan for transportation months in advance.”
One thing retailers will never see from Twisted X as a partner is complacency, says Prasad Reddy, CEO, Twisted X. “From our one-of-a-kind cell comfort technology to our revolutionary no-glue shoe, our team is consistently pushing the boundaries of innovation to put forth the best product possible,” he notes. “As a partner, we would never try to push product on a retailer that will not sell or that must be marked down to be appealing.”
Product Highlight: Two Fall 2022 collections of note from the company include the next generation of the Twisted X Tech X footwear line, with a leather outsole, and a new collection of the recently rebranded Black Star Boots. The seven new leather outsoled styles in the Tech X line push the boundaries of comfort and durability, “reinventing the scale of comfort in Western boots,” says Reddy. The new Black Star collection of women’s boots, meanwhile, “captures the timeless style of western footwear with a hint of today’s fashion influences to create the perfect blend of western wear and upscale fashion,” says Reddy, adding, “Our pride is in our product and our mission continues to focus on creating quality footwear without sacrificing style for comfort.”
Strategic Insight: “We believe in being a true partner to our retailers,” says Reddy. “The clearest way we demonstrate that is through Twisted X’s decision to not sell direct-to-consumer. From the beginning, Twisted X was founded on supporting retailer partners by selling quality products that focus on comfort, innovation and sustainability. If we sell direct, we become competition for our retailers and that’s just not right. When our retailers have success, we have success. It really is that simple.”
“We take pride in providing a hands-on approach with each partner, because while retailers have similar goals, they differ in the necessities needed to achieve them,” continues Reddy. “Twisted X builds personal relationships and tailors support efforts to each retail partner based on their individual needs and challenges rather than offering a broad, one size fits all approach. Our goal is for everyone to succeed together. The best thing for Twisted X is for retailers to be able to make their margins and make money on our products so that they can sell more, and in turn we can sell more. It all works hand in hand.”
“The biggest benefit Simco Imported Shoes offers to independent retailers is our ability to be flexible,” says Sydney Simas, VP, Sales & Marketing, Simco Imported Shoes. “As a smaller company, we are in a position to work with retailers and really address their needs. Whether this is changing ship dates, adjusting orders, or swapping styles, we do everything in our power to ensure both us and the retailer have a mutually beneficial relationship. Our philosophy is that relationships come first, and we truly believe the success of the brand and our customers starts with our relationships.”
Product Highlight: For Spring 2023, Arcopedico has a focus on a sustainable future. “Many of our styles feature recycled materials and most are vegan,” notes Simas. “Arcopedico’s commitment to the environment and eco-friendly footwear will be an ongoing theme as we develop new styles.”
Strategic Insight: “Perhaps the single biggest thing we’ve done to combat supply chain issues is shifting our timeline,” says Simas. “Now, instead of six weeks for our container to arrive from Portugal, we are seeing it take upwards of four months, sometimes more. The fact is, we have to place orders with our factories sooner, and allow for longer production times and shipping schedules. We are also projecting further into the future and taking a bit of a risk on what will sell just so we have inventory in our warehouse. Inventory management is a bit of a guess at this point, but we know we don’t want to run out of stock. This is where partnerships come into play. We are asking retailers to work with us by placing pre-season orders sooner. It helps with projections and is the only way to guarantee inventory for the retailer.”
“Supporting independent retailers is the foundational pillar of our brand identity right next to the quality of our products and the technology we use to make them stand out; it is our brand strategy,” says Josh Higgins, president, OS1st.
Product Highlight: “Having OS1st Socks with Purpose on the wall gives retailers the opportunity to recommend a sock that’s specific to the reason each customer walked through the door that day, and compliments the shoe and support being fitted,” says Higgins. “There is a difference between recommending a comfortable sock and recommending a comfortable sock that was designed specifically for Plantar Fasciitis, bunions, diabetes, wide feet etcetera. That level of customization re-enforces the memorable, in-store experience retailers provide, and it’s what differentiates independent retail from any other sales channel. By empowering that as a brand, that’s what makes OS1st continue to grow.”
Strategic Insight: Expanding on the fact that supporting independent retail is a foundational pillar of OS1st’s brand identity, along with quality product and technology, Higgins notes, “You can see that in our mission statement ‘to use science-driven compression to improve lives by relieving pain, empowering active lifestyles, and supporting small businesses who do the same.’ Most importantly, you can see it in action when our independent sales reps visit our independent retailers and take the time to understand their unique needs and create a program that uplifts their entire business, not just OS1st.”
When it comes to navigating the current business pressures on the industry, Higgins says, “We’ve made every decision with our independent retailers in mind. That’s the benefit of our dedication being woven into the fabric of our organization – at every level, in every department we are clear on where the priority is. It’s natural for us to confront challenges with win-win solutions for our brand and retailers because that is a part of our core identity.”
“Right now, our strength lies in the completeness of our collection,” says Sam Spears, president, Ara USA. “We are truly a full lifestyle brand with high-margin product winners across every category.”
Product Highlight: “We literally have a shoe for every aspect of a woman’s day and night,” says Spears. “For everything that is in her closet we have her shoe, boot, bootie, sneaker, sandal, and a full range of Gore-Tex offerings. And we are introducing a whole new group of exciting dress shoes. And dress is the area where we are really seeing major growth. Our Ophelia on a 50mm heel is one of the best fitting and performing dress shoes in the industry. In boots and booties, the Debbie II and Deon will drive the fashion portion of our business and our best-selling sneakers continue to be fantastic for us such as the Camden at $149.95, the Alexandria at $169.95 and the Ollie at $194.95 are showing up as best sellers everywhere.”
Strategic Insight: “The independent channel is incredibly important to us,” says Spears. “It’s one thing to say that and it’s totally another thing to create and execute the activities behind that philosophy. We work extremely hard to ensure clean distribution, to provide programs specifically to benefit the independent and we even pay a ‘commission’ to our retail partners if we make a sale on our D2C site to a consumer who lives within 25 miles of that retailer. We will not run a promotion prior to our retail partners having an opportunity to sell the shoe throughout the season. One could make an argument that we are being naïve in our approach to how we ‘protect’ our retailers, but that’s just who we are. We try to think like retailers in our approach to business.”
Additionally, the brand has created a partnership marketing program that allows it to “work with each individual store in the manner the retailer best feels they can drive the business,” explains Spears. “From there, we realize that being in stock on key product is critical to the success of the independent channel. We have an amazing inventory of great looking and great fitting men’s and women’s shoes ready to service an account’s at-once needs. We may not always have the exact shoe the retailer is looking for because we have not been able to keep up with the high demand for all our shoes, but we have many other great solutions consumers will love to wear.”
Adds Spears, “Another key point that we want to express is that for retailers to not be disappointed with not getting all the Ara products they want, it’s becoming critical for them to place future orders with us during our booking period – and to book the quantity they believe they will sell and not be so dependent upon in-season replenishment because we may be sold out. Having retailers’ bookings is key to our focus in 2023 to maintaining inventory to service fill-in orders. Lastly, we’re very accessible. Our independent owners know they can reach out to us at any time. We love discussing the business and working together to make sure we both have our very best foot forward!”
Darn Tough Vermont
“One of Darn Tough’s initiatives for this year and into 2023 is to share in the excitement of runners returning to groups, events, and races; and to be on-site as often as possible,” says Tressa Kreis, national sales manager, Darn Tough Vermont.
Key Initiative: “We are excited to share our Merino run socks with road and trail runners across the country who are anxious to get back to the start line,” says Kreis. “Two races we are particularly proud to support are the Vermont City Marathon and Broken Arrow Skyrace. Ski Rack, Alpenglow Sports, and Bozeman Running Co. are phenomenal retail partners that help bring the Darn Tough experience to life on race day.”
Strategic Insight: “We have always put our retailers first,” says Kreis. “Most importantly, our current retailers. We are in an incredible position in that WE ARE THE MILL. We design and manufacture all our socks right here in Northfield, Vermont. We have complete control over the process so can adjust as the landscape changes — which is a constant these days.”
When retailers were “starved for inventory,” Darn Tough was able to ramp up production and fill those requests, notes Kreis. “We even shut off setting up new retail accounts so that we could focus solely on filling our current retailer’s orders. As we are seeing the other side of that coin, we are now able to level out production and we have started opening new dealers again. Having complete control over our production and our output, we can quickly react to a change in consumer behavior. Our main goal is always to support our retailers who got us here and being able to quickly accommodate their ever-changing needs in this every-changing climate has been our focus, especially over the past few years.”
“We are constantly looking for opportunities to provide our specialty retail partners with new products that service the needs of their existing customers,” says Joe Gaither, chief marketing officer, Feetures.
Product Highlight: The sock brand noticed in recent years that many independent footwear retailers were selling running footwear to customers that weren’t necessarily “runners.” Notes Gaither, “The customer seemed more interested in functional footwear with an athletic look, such as athleisure. We noted that a lot of these customers wanted an invisible sock look and many of them were currently buying our Everyday Invisible, but that sock had a decidedly comfort/casual footwear style and wasn’t specifically engineered for a running shoe. We identified what we thought was a white space. So, we set out to design an invisible sock for athletic footwear that could even be used for running.”
To engineer an invisible sock that wouldn’t slip during a run, Feetures needed to do more than just repurpose its Everyday Invisible, Gaither says. “Our designers started with the very fabric we were using,” he explains. “Instead of a soft plusher spun polyester that we knit in our Everyday design, they employed a lighter performance fiber using our iWick Microfiber Nylon and adding a mesh zone to enhance breathability. Next, they added some height to the front and back of the silhouette. Since running shoes were not as low cut as casual footwear, the sock could be higher, but remain hidden, and the extra sock would protect the foot and keep the sock in place. They then enhanced our silicone heel gripper technology with added gripper tape. All of this, combined with our signature anatomical design and Targeted Compression, created a true no show, no slip sock, which we came to call our Elite Invisible. There is nothing like it in the market today. It will be part of our Active line and retails for $18.”
Feetures has pre-booked orders from many of its independent retailers and it will begin shipping in January for a Spring 2023 launch, says Gaither. “Retailers will now be able to offer something new to their athleisure customer that they’ve never had before,” he says. “We are extremely excited for the launch of this new type of no show sock.”
Strategic Insight: “We put the independent specialty retail channel at the core of our sales strategy,” says Gaither. “We know that the independent retailer and staff associate can be powerful brand ambassadors that have the influence to expand our audience day-in and day-out. We recognize that footwear is the primary focus for our retail partners because footwear sales drive their business. Since we occupy a secondary category, we know we need to be easy to work with. Therefore, we try to never be out of stock of core sizes and styles, and we endeavor to ship orders out within 24 hours of receiving them.”
Feetures offers simple booking programs that help the brand plan inventory, but also offer the retailer a good discount opportunity. Says Gaither, “We support stores with other high margin opportunities by supporting two seasonal promotions. Beyond this, we truly believe that retailers enhance their store experience by educating consumers about the benefits of performance socks. If they don’t do this, they’re doing the customer a disservice because the benefits of high-quality footwear can often be mitigated by low-quality socks. Consequently, we try to help our retail partners educate their staff on how to sell socks and we provide them with try on socks at no charge to be used in the fitting process. If you can get a pair of fresh performance socks on someone’s feet during the fitting process, you can almost always convert a sale.”
Feetures also encourages retailers to track their sock to shoe ratio to help evaluate their sock sales over a period of time and see how well they’re doing.
“Overall, our goal is to be considered not only the best partner in our category, we want to be considered one of their very best vendor partners all together,” says Gaither.
Aetrex, which launched its first scanning technology in 2002, makes a product that is designed to gives consumers a reason to shop at a brick-and-mortar store rather than online. Aetrex technology helps retailers offer consumers benefits that aren’t available when they shop online. It’s an in-store service experience delivering customization of fit to the customer’s unique feet. The brand’s new Albert 2 Pro foot scanner is an all-in-one foot scanning solution, capturing 3D foot measurements and pressure data underfoot to help recommend orthotics.
Technology Highlight: “In addition to driving traffic to stores and significantly increasing footwear and orthotics sales, Aetrex technology helps retailers with their digital initiatives,” says Matt Schwartz, chief revenue officer, Aetrex, Inc. “Our Albert 2 Pro and Albert 3DFit scanners are proven to increase email acquisition, create opportunities for personalized marketing initiatives, and can be used to feed data to our FitGenius AI platform, which can be incorporated into the retailer’s ecommerce site to help reduce returns.”
Strategic Insight: “If you were a fly on the wall here at Aetrex during a strategy meeting, you’d witness how central independent retailers are to our product initiatives,” says Schwartz. “One of the great things about orthotics is that — unlike shoes — weather, fashion trends and seasonality have no impact on price. Your starting margin is your ending margin. Retailers maintain 60% margins on a $60 - $90 add-on sale, which they can sell to every customer who comes into the store. And best of all, consumers love the products!”
“Dansko is where we are today because the Independent Retailers across the country got behind our brand and made it relevant to their customers,” says Kitty Bolinger, EVP of sales, Dansko. “Sales associates in these Independent retailers are experts at explaining what makes Dansko footwear special. Without this TLC Dansko could get lost or misunderstood in a sea of women’s footwear.
Product Highlight: Dansko launched the Livorno Collection, specifically the Pace walking sneaker, in Spring 2021. “We recognized that this very technical walking sneaker needed the support of trained exceptional sales associates to communicate the features and benefits to the consumer,” says Bolinger. “Our independent retailers excel when given product like this, so we went to them with training videos, backroom posters, in person associate training sessions, product seeding and initiatives that included group walks on National Walking Day and Fit Bit giveaways for their customers to track their progress wearing the Pace walking sneaker.”
The Pace launch was a huge success, says Bolinger, and Pace continues to be a best seller for Dansko and the Independent retailer. A new companion sneaker, Penni, introduced in Fall 2022 is seeing broad support and success at independent retail, too, says Bolinger.
Strategic Insight: “We have been able to stand out because of the passion that the Independent Retailers and their associates have – they are fiercely invested in getting the right shoe on their customers feet and they take the time do this,” notes Bolinger. “Dansko recognizes that this approach will always be fundamental to our brand’s success.”
In order to foster this success, says Bolinger, “Dansko continues to invest in retail sales associate training – in person, in print and virtually. Dansko continues to invest in getting our shoes on the associates feet so they can experience the comfort and support that our footwear provides. Dansko continues to invest in our brand sales representatives to ensure that the Independent Retailer has a committed human being calling on them wherever they want to see us – in their stores, at trade shows and sometimes (at the retailer’s requests) in their homes. Dansko continues to invest in organizations and trade shows that provide continuing education and community to the Independent Retailers – the Atlanta Shoe Show, BSTA, IR, NSRA Leadership Conference, Outdoor Retailer to name a few. It is essential that we support the Independent Retailers as passionately as they have supported our brand for decades.”
Unlike many over-the-counter insoles created from a one-size-fits-all mindset, Currex insoles are highly customized — not only to the wearer’s foot, but to the specific sport or activity the wearer participates in.
“If you run, we have a running specific insole,” says Lutz Klein, president, Currex, The Americas. “If you play hockey or soccer, we have insoles for those specific activities as well. The same goes for golfing, hiking, cycling, tennis, skiing, working, and everyday activities like taking your kid to the park or going for a walk. Simply put, whatever moves you, we have an insole to help keep you injury free and performing at your best.”
Key Initiative: The brand’s latest marketing campaign “Just Soul” brings this idea to life for not only end-consumers but also for the brand’s retail customers, says Klein. “Many have discovered Currex due to our RUNPRO insole, specifically designed for the running category,” he notes. “However, those consumers do more than run and they can find the same unmatched technology for their other activities in our broader insole line-up. Currex understands they don’t do their sport for a living, but they live to do it. It’s passion they all possess. It’s in their souls. And Currex is passionate about keeping them doing what they love to do.”
Strategic Insight: “A huge part of our brand strategy that helps differentiate us from our competitors is that we really know our specific target audiences and we’re giving our retail customers an opportunity to cross-sell products,” says Klein. “We don’t simply sell insoles for anyone with feet. It’s not as simple as taking out your old insoles and replacing it with a generic insole. We sell insoles specifically designed to who you are and what you love to do. And we communicate that specifically and thoughtfully in every retail environment. We speak to runners like runners. We speak to a soccer players like soccer players. We speak to tennis players like tennis players. These are unique audiences who deserve unique insoles and unique messaging. So, we’re giving our channel partners the chance to satisfy all their insole needs, literally, for anything that moves them.”
“Our brand is simply not just a shoe, it’s our commitment to providing innovation in recovery footwear that improves people’s lives and revolutionizes the market,” explains Dan Werremeyer, CEO, Xelero Footwear. “We stand out by being the only shoe on the market that is neutral and works in remedying both pronation and supination. Our main strategy encompasses compassion and top tier technology. As we like to say, ‘Helping people is in our DNA.’ We want to connect with all our customers and provide the very best shoe available, even if that means taking a large risk.”
Technology Highlight: Xelero’s technology offers several layers of protection, including a midsole, control plate, and XPS propulsion element, all designed to help wearers stay on their feet longer with less pain. “No matter what your lifestyle is like, health issues associated with the wrong footwear is one of the easiest problems to prevent,” says Werremeyer. “We want anyone who walks in our shoes to enjoy life again to the fullest, as if your injury or foot ailment didn’t exist. We believe the combination of compassion and commitment to high quality research and development keeps our customers returning.”
Strategic Insight: “We see times of economic stress to be a good opportunity to connect with our customers and mold new relationships,” says Werremeyer. “Lately we have been teaching our audience on social media the causes of many long-term foot ailments. Whether you’re a returning customer or someone who’s never heard of us, you’re bound to find something that relates to your lifestyle from one of our checklists or infographics. We believe the more we educate our audience, the more we can positively impact their lives. Even in times of a volatile supply chain and price sensitivity, we will always stay devoted to providing value in our customer’s lives every single day.”
For Brooks, innovation is not just about product — it can also be found in its creative retail initiatives.
Key Initiative: A specialty retail program the brand is excited about is the Run Happy Shop, a holistic in-store brand program from Brooks that caters to specialty retail and is now in its fourth year. This fall, Run Happy Shop 2.0 launches with a completely revamped experience. The Run Happy Shop (RHS) helps independent retailers drive business (apparel and accessories are a key focus), by implementing assortments and buy plans, as well as marketing programs, sales tools, and creative resources.
In partnership with specialty retailers, the Run Happy Shop has grown to nearly 130 shops and has resulted in strong apparel and accessory sales with locations averaging 2.4 times more sales than non RHS doors with greater sell through.
This fall, Run Happy Shop 2.0 will build on its predecessor and make room for more innovative and versatile storytelling. The brand’s goal is to deepen its partnerships with specialty retailers, by creating a holistic system to drive success throughout the process with support for buying, merchandising, events, in store visual support and of course some “Run Happy” fun.
Product offerings in each Run Happy shop in partner stores are curated based on where the stores are located and incorporates historical sell through data to ensure the customer is getting what they want and need. This fall the Run Visible collection will be highlighted in shops to keep the runner seen for those early morning or late-night runs, in addition to other run must-haves such as Run Bras, Run Layers, Socks, and more.
Brooks Run Happy Shops will continue growing in spring 2023, with 11 added storefronts, along with a refresh for those already part of the program.
Strategic Insight: “Our independent retailers remain an equal and important partner in our overall distribution strategy and play a key role in building the run community,” says Mike Billish, VP of North American sales & service, Brooks. “At Brooks, our strategy is to enable the runner to find and experience Brooks in the best possible way that works for them by providing the same service model across channels to create the experience they want when looking for information, researching gear and buying (of course!). Their expertise and the personalized touch that’s a part of the specialty run experience is a central part to helping Brooks reach these strategic goals, and always will be. Making it easy for runners to find our brand is a focus for how we execute, and that puts our retail partners right in the middle of the conversation.”
According to Tom Berry, president & CEO, ECCO US, the brand’s independent retail channel philosophy is simple – “Dance with the one that brought you!”
Product Highlight: For Spring 2023, ECCO will launch a new program for women and men called Gruuv. Crafted in buttery soft Nappa leather by ECCO, these shoes have an eye-catching design, with rubber outsoles and a midsole material of Polyurethane to provide flexibility and underfoot support.
Matt Thibeau, channel manager, ECCO US, notes that because independent retailers have “led the market as early adopters of new product initiatives, they provide an essential relationship for ECCO.”
He points to the Helsinki and now, the new Helsinki 2.0 as critical ECCO offerings in the casual/dress space. “The Helsinki 2.0 has great flexibility to bridge the gap between casual and dress. This Swiss Army knife of a shoe can also look appropriate paired casually with a pair of jeans, or khakis. The key to its success in independent outlets is the universality of the pattern, the accessible price point, the fact that it is Euro-sized and features the extra-width feature (removable insole that creates more depth in the shoe for wider feet). All of these factors combine to drive higher ROI’s and make this an independent shoe store superstar.”
Thibeau notes that, “Since 1991, when ECCO entered the American market, independent retailers have been in the forefront of introducing new and innovative technologies (such as our FluidformT technology and Phorene midsoles) as well as new categories (e.g. Outdoor). Another great example of how our best independent accounts remain important avenues to launch new programs is with the Biom 2.0 and 2.1 series. This new classification of Outdoor Lifestyle product incorporates several innovative technologies and features that have expanded the entire category for us, led by our relationships with independent retailers.”
Strategic Insight: “ECCO has a long and successful history of partnership with the independent channel, and they will continue to be our priority,” affirms Berry. “Consultants always suggest ‘cutting the long tail’ and exiting independent retail – but we don’t see independent retailers as a ‘long tail’ – we see them as ‘The Core of ECCO’ and look forward to many more years of future success.”
Like ECCO, most independent retailers are family businesses that “focus on the long-term,” notes Berry. “They succeed by offering premium and curated products, exceptional and expert service, and a great customer experience.”
He concludes, “I believe that the key to our ongoing partnership with this channel is in the strategic decisions that we have made and in the nature of our brand itself. We are a premium brand obsessed with fit and quality. We have a very limited distribution of best-in-class partners. And while we have a DTC business, our philosophy, (unlike many other brands), is not to become DTC dominant but rather to have a balanced and segmented marketplace with different roles for each channel… Wholesale, and in particular Independents and Specialists (like those of our leading Golf business), will always be the primary focus of our brand in the US.”
Scott Cates, president of sales, Alegria, describes the brand’s retail partners as “our mouthpiece, especially the independents that understand us and the product we create.” He adds, “We rely on the voice and expertise of explanation through our retailers, to today’s savvy consumers. When a consumer needs us, then she’ll know how important our product is based on the benefits.”
Product Highlight: The brand is currently launching ROK n ROLL by Alegria. The collection is Alegria’s “Next Generation Rocker Outsole.” Explains Cates, “Rocker outsoles have been the root of our brand for 15 years. The outsole material is long-wearing, slip-resistant, resilient, and grounded in wellness. Our footbed has the same ingredients that millions of service professionals have worn on long shifts and hard floors since Alegria’s inception. The uppers are available in a variety of materials such as water-repellent mesh to vegan leather with fashionable and inspirational colors.”
Strategic Insight: “Our philosophy has always been very consistent over the years,” says Cates. “We found a mutually profitable niche in the independent footwear channel, and we offer programs to support those channels. We believe in providing a gratis product that sales associates can wear to enable them to explain Alegria benefits firsthand. We believe in supporting the ‘Walk Test’ and other creative tools to stimulate the purchase and give today’s consumer the confidence she needs while limiting her risk.”
Adds Cates, “Many brands are building a strong DTC base in order to sustain the longevity of their product. Although we may have started as a ‘comfort novelty,’ our Alegria Nation is very consistent. We trust and hope that many of the mentioned programs will help sustain our independent retail base. We need the voice and passion of our independent retailer, and they need brands with depth, history, and iconic comfort.”
Communication, product, and partnership, are the three keys to the brand’s strategy in the independent retail channel, says Jon Brooking, VP of sales, Propet.
Product Highlight: DuroCloud B10 is the brand’s Spring 2023 line up of athletic products for both men and women. Styles in the line feature Propet’s Durocloud ETPU foam. The styles have extra depth footbeds, Ortholite insoles and breathable uppers made from sustainable wood, bamboo and cotton. Overall, “Propet Footwear is the fit centric, innovative Activ Wellness footwear brand designed to move you,” says Brooking. “Whether your next level is getting off the couch, having a day pain free, or you are going after that extra mile, Propet Footwear is there to meet your ‘needs.’ Stable, well-fit footwear for every occasion and for every foot. ‘Need’ footwear that you want to wear. Every product is looked at to ensure that it meets the standard of having Activ Wellness features to make a difference in fit and comfort.”
Strategic Insight: “When it comes to the partnership [with independent retailers], we want to have the biggest ears in the industry to hear and respond to our partners’ pain points and opportunities,” says Brooking. “We are launching a new B2b to make ordering easier, we have launched this year new margin protections for our partners, we are also partnering with Locally to reward those investing in our brand with traffic in stores, and we have a host of shipping and margin programs to ensure profitability. Stability comes into play not just with our product but with our partnerships as well. By identifying partner variable costs and pain points we are better able to ensure their profitability. When retailers invest with Propet footwear with their valuable shelf space we return the favor with an eye not toward just ‘sell in,’ but an understanding that ‘sell through’ policies and support are the key to be your most valued brand partner in store(s). This is what has led to a 40% growth in retail business year over year.”
“SAS stands out in the independent retail channel because of our continued commitment to U.S. manufacturing and to shipping shoes every day,” says Kelly Dumpson, head of U.S. wholesale sales, SAS. “This commitment supports our retailers’ ability to meet very specific customer demand for style, color and sizing while not burdening them with excess on-hand inventory.”
Product Highlight: “This fall, retailers will be excited about our High Street collection for both women and men,” says Dumpson. “This collection combines the wellness and comfort benefits of our classic styles with a modern sneaker design appealing to today’s aesthetic.”
Strategic Insight: “SAS is obsessed with the quality and craftsmanship in shoemaking, as well as the integrity of our relationship with our customers,” says Dumpson. “For almost 50 years, we have been providing our retail partners with high quality, hand-crafted shoes that fit and last. Our promise is to do the exact same thing for the next 50 years. While our product design has evolved over time, our principles of quality and fit, as well as our dedication to craftsmanship in shoemaking has remained a core central value for the SAS brand.”
“A key initiative for us has been to openly state ‘Our Commitment’ to the independent market, and what can be expected when doing business with Revere Shoes,” says Craig Truscott, co-founder & CEO, Revere Shoes. “Things have changed so much and so quickly over the past two years, and we felt it was important that our customer, the Independent Retailer knows what they can expect from us as a Brand Partner.”
Key Initiative: “Our Commitment” from Revere Shoes includes:
• Be a trusted and responsible Brand Partner that listens to your needs and operates with integrity at all times.
• Maintain and manage MAP in the marketplace as well as adhering to our MAP policy on revereshoes.com
• Use revereshoes.com as a branding asset, including prominent store locator & retail partner website listings.
• Not allocate stock for website only.
• Not sell directly on Amazon.
• Centrally located warehouse in Hickory, NC for cost-effective shipping options.
• Take responsibility and act proactively in challenging times and situations through open communication and transparency.
• Ensure our customers interests are at the forefront when making strategic business decisions for revere.
Strategic Insight: “Our Brand Strategy is based on great product that offers unique fitting features that resonate with both our customers and the end consumers,” says Truscott. “It’s an opportunity to create theater and storytelling in store, that offers an experience that can’t be replicated buying on-line.”
The biggest challenge Revere continues to face as a brand is delivering product on time, when customers need it. “To overcome this moving into 2023, we have worked with our factories to bring production forward to allow for the extended lead times and delays that now seem to be the new norm,” Truscott says.
“My background is not sales and marketing but I understand enough to know that our retail partners are the gateway to our customer so we want to do whatever we can to make life easier for them, to listen to them, and to make our relationship as friction free as possible,” says John Hinds, PT, founder and owner, Cadence Insoles,
Product Highlight: Cadence products offer a combo of contoured support and enhanced shock absorbing comfort, especially under the heel. The insoles are “Support Made Comfortable,” explains Hinds. “Insoles tend to be either supportive only or cushioned only, and we’re a hybrid of sorts. This resonates (and works!) with a lot of people, so we found a great niche on the shelves.”
Adds Hinds, “My goal from the beginning was to provide a product that I found worked so well with patients in and out of the clinic and then make it available on a larger scale. I’m as much a consumer as anyone else and I’ve worked in the retail and service businesses. I have the utmost respect for retailers and small business and the challenges (and rewards) they face on a daily basis, and I want to do whatever we can to cultivate a positive and successful relationship.”
Strategic Insight: “Our business approach compliments the product with a ‘low friction’ ease of doing business with our retail partners,” says Hinds. “We provide unconditional guarantees (for the consumer and the retail partner), we provide exclusive products available for in-store only sales and not available for online sales. We don’t require minimums. We provide fee-free drop shipping, we provide free samples to referral sources, and our turnaround time for shipping product is typically 24 hours.”
Over the past two years, Cadence has also made “a large investment in inventory so we are well stocked,” says Hinds. “But” he adds, “if we’re ever caught in a backorder situation, we own it and provide free shipping for backorders. Oh, and we also provide customer service that is accessible and responsive. What a concept. There’s more to business than economics.”