Power in Partnership
Power in Partnership
Relationships take work. But the most fruitful relationships are more than worth it. For brands and independent retailers who are committed to each other, playing the relationship game right can be crucial for success. It can be strategic, it can be dramatic, and at its best, it can be filled with… great products, happy customers and a healthy bottom line on both the brand and retail side.
You get the gist: For independent retailers, partnerships with brands are powerful. And for the brands committed to partnering with the independent retail channel, those partnerships are equally as vital. On the following pages, we highlight a wide variety of different brands that are committed to partnerships with independent footwear retailers. Each have unique product stories and strategies for success.
In our snapshots, brands weigh in on critical topics that are integral to the conversation: 1) The importance of independent retail to their brand; 2) Keys to a good brand/retail relationship; and 3) How their brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC.
Arcopedico and Biza
(Simco Imported Shoes is the parentcompany for both brands).
The importance of independent retail to the brands’ strategy: “Our key focus has always been independent retailers,” says Sydney Simas, VP, Simco Imported Shoes. “We strive to do everything we can to be the best partner we can be. Simco Imported Shoes was built on the relationships we have with our independents, and nothing has changed in 40 years.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “In order for both brands and retailers to be successful, we understand nothing is a ‘One Size Fits All’ business model,” says Simas. “Our company is small enough to work together to find the best products for individual stores, and we can be creative to guarantee success for both our partners and ourselves. Education is key to understanding why our footwear is a good solution for customers coming into stores, and we rely heavily on our sales team to convey this message. Contests and technical trainings are all great ways to get stores excited to put our shoes on end-user’s feet.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “In order to guarantee stock for our retailers, I always let the retailers know we are happy to take ‘back-up’ orders that are cancellable and adjustable,” says Simas. “This helps me with inventory management, but it also is a win-win for them. If they find they don’t need the product in-season, they can adjust their orders accordingly with no penalty, and they also lock in their pre-season discount. We also try to provide at least 55 points margin on all styles, more with the pre-season discount. As far as DTC, we never undercut the retailers by giving any discounts on our website. A DTC channel works to increase brand recognition, and as long as it is done ethically both the brand and retailer benefit.”
Product & Brand Initiatives to Watch: Arcopedico’s campaign for a Sustainable Future reinforces the company’s commitment to eco-friendly footwear. All new models will feature Arcopedico’s 5 Pillars of technology: 1) 100% Sustainable Upper Materials; 2) Antiviral Sole; 3) Techno Elastic Upper; 4) Twin Arch Support System; and 5) Hybrid-Air Insole. For Biza, Spring ’23 standouts Lavish and Luna will expand in a variety of colors for Spring ’24.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “It is the core and foundation of our business,” says Tressa Kreis, U.S. sales manager, Darn Tough. “It is what got us to where we are today, and we are forever grateful for our valued retail partners who brought us in when we were an unknown brand just 20 years ago and have helped build out the brand to be what it is today. The brand loyalty from the floor employees is vital to the success of Darn Tough.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “We treat it as an equal partnership,” says Kreis. “We know the value of our retail relationships and do everything we can to drive their success along with ours. We have maintained our self-imposed rule of not going off price on DTC as we are not going to compete with our retailers in that way. We need to support our partners, not contend with them.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “We have focused on building enough inventory for replenishment business to support our retailers,” says Kreis. “We are the mill; we design, manufacture, and sell everything right here in Vermont so we are able to be agile and pivot when needed, most notably with inventory levels and making sure we have what our retailers need when they need it.”
Noteworthy Brand Initiative: Darn Tough works with its run retailers to promote the brand in stores. This could be window displays, custom in-store images, digital activations, event partnerships, or POP material. Darn Tough even has Merino sheep to promote DTV as the Merino run brand.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent retailer is the Rieker brands’ (Rieker, Remonte, & R-Evolution) DNA,” says Rich Rask, president, Rieker Shoe Corporation. “We have aligned with the independent retailer since we launched in the USA marketplace. Being a fourth-generation, family-owned shoe company, Rieker relates with the independent retailer and their importance to their respective roots and communities.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship? “Communication with each retailer individually based on their current circumstances and specific needs.”
How the brand navigates hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “We hold MSRP and don’t go on sale on our DTC site. We don’t want to compete with our independent retail partners; we want to promote our brands. Rieker sells nothing exclusively. All styles sold in the USA are available to our independent retailers.”
Milestone Anniversary: Rieker turns 150 years old in 2024. The brand’s global 150-year marketing campaign in 2024 will feature the tagline “Focus on What You Love” and product hangtags will celebrate the 150-year legacy of Rieker.
Product Launch of Note: The recently launched Ghost Max is one of the brand’s largest introductions in recent years. It expands on the best-selling Ghost franchise, delivering a maximum cushion experience and enhanced protection to runners and walkers. To support the launch, Brooks has developed initiatives focused on educating and connecting local doctors to retailers to strengthen the connection between the Sports Medicine community, retailers, and Brooks.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “Our multi-channel strategy is centered on knowing that the runner will shop where they want, and Brooks needs to meet them wherever they are,” says Mike Billish, VP North America sales & service, Brooks Running. “Our job is to engage with the best builders of the running community, and the independent retail channel has always been at the heart of that.”
With the Ghost Max launch, Brooks is using outreach, educational assets and toolkits, webinars, Doctors Nights in-store, and conferences, to not only engage and educate, but to strengthen the synergies between these partners, says Billish. “We’re communicating to the Sports Medicine community that the best place to send patients looking for solutions is their local running store.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Trust and credibility are key to the relationship,” says Billish. “We’ve established ourselves as an expert in biomechanics and runner research, so that when a runner visits an independent retailer, our partners can trust that they are providing them with a quality, innovative solution that will fit that runner’s needs.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “We’re back to a normal cadence, bringing product innovation not only in foams and technologies but also introducing new styles,” says Billish. “Supply chain disruptions have mostly abated and we’re confident more than ever in our ability to service existing orders and in great opportunities to chase business through at once orders. Our FastTrack B2B site continues to be the center of activity for this, and we are committed to ongoing improvements based on user feedback to make it the easiest tool to manage their Brooks business.”
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “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. “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.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “A mutual trust and respect for each other’s business built on our shared goals,” says Higgins. “At the end of the day, we want the same thing – the kind of positive health outcomes that can only be born from individualized foot care. When you start there, everything else becomes common sense.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “When it comes to navigating the current pressures on the industry, we’ve made every decision with our independent retailers in mind… One DTC dollar may have more immediate impact on a balance sheet, but on a macro level it’s worth less,” says Higgins. “A wholesale dollar’s value is shared by our brand, the store owner, their staff, and their community, and it’s one of the reasons we continue to grow year after year. Other brands are hitting DTC heavy and making up for it by discounting their products in the store. But we believe that’s selling everyone short. For some, that also leads to competition for inventory, but for us, our only availability issues come from retailers buying up product faster than they did before!”
One brand, multiple categories: OS1st continues to develop products that make it easy to rely on one brand for high quality, consistent, accessories across multiple categories. All OS1st products carry the same purposeful, intentional designs made with high quality manufacturing and R&D ingenuity. “It is one of the many reasons OS1st is the fastest growing sock brand in channels like independent running where the brand’s product development and business ethos speaks for itself,” says Higgins.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “From our perspective the independent retailer is the primary means by which we reach the FinnComfort consumer,” says Justin Orrell-Jones, president, CEO, Finn Comfort USA, Inc. “We do what we can to be a great supplier that prioritizes the independent channel. We believe FinnComfort 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 enhance this value 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 FinnComfort products to meet demand.”
Strategy of Note: “Our focus on authentic wellness footwear positions FinnComfort as a unique brand for the independent retailer,” says Orrell-Jones. “This is especially true for those independent retailers that cultivate a professional sit and fit environment. FinnComfort offers a variety of product collections that target specific consumer needs and not all product collections are designed for all consumers. However, the independent retailer has the training and knowledge to fit their customer with the appropriate product.”
Product Standout: The new FINNSTABIL product is a highly specialized therapy product designed to help in the rehabilitation of a variety of ankle injuries or surgery. It is a boot with removable stabilization elements — it helps when walking is impaired from damage to ankle ligaments or as part of postoperative treatment. Says Orrell-Jones, “With the appropriate consultation with a medical professional, it can even be used in place of a plaster cast to encourage load bearing, controlled and stabilized movement, thus supporting speedier recovery.” FINNSTABIL will be in-stock in the U.S. right before the holidays.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “Independent retail is the backbone of our brand,” says Mike Arce, national sales manager, Xelero. “The magic happens on the fitting stool where questions are asked about the different ailments or needs the customer is looking to satisfy. Independent retailers are the key to building brand loyalty selling features, advantages, and benefits.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Communication and protection of the retailer,” says Arce. “We keep our distribution tight. Xelero is not sold to chain stores and provides higher maintained margins. In partnership with our retailers, we deliver a product that improves people’s lives.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “We have a strict MAP pricing policy and restrict the number of online retailers we sell to, which enables our retail partners to maintain higher margins,” says Arce.
Product Standout: For Spring 2024, Xelero is introducing the new Steadfast II, which has a wider toe box and is lighter weight than its previous iteration. Plus, it’s available in multiple widths.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “It is everything for täōs,” says Glen Barad, president, täōs. “We are completely focused on this channel of distribution; it is where we would prefer consumers to be introduced to our brand… Our focus on support and the wellness of the wearer fits perfectly with the consultative sit and fit engagement that better independents and specialty stores are focused on with their customers.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “It begins and ends with great products,” says Barad. “But in between there needs to be very clear and honest communication. If you can add mutual trust and respect, you can develop real partnerships where both parties are reasonable and fair to each other… We listen to them; they listen to us. We support them, they support us. We design and create high-quality products that their consumers appreciate, purchase and return to purchase more.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: Noting that product availability and inventory management have encountered unprecedented challenges recently., Barad says täōs has been able to maintain a strong at-once inventory for its core styles while continuing delivery of pre-booked and fill-in seasonal styles. He adds, “Our retail network has priority access to all of our inventory with the rare exception of small groups that might be held to support a planned marketing event.”
On product pricing, Barad says, “We have a strict MAP policy that we enforce internally and externally. It is important that our retail partners are price protected against discounting online, offline and in the ever-evolving digital marketplaces.”
On DTC: “Our perspective is that it is completely complimentary to our core business of supporting better independent and specialty retailers. 1) Our website provides an introduction to our brand for new visitors and a window into our full range of products... 2) We have a robust solution to direct web visitors to their local retailer with our Store Finder and partnership with Locally to assist online visitors in finding the styles they want in a store near them. 3) Our website and the data collected enables us to share valuable insights with our network of retailers... 4) The täōs online presence also facilitates our strong investment in digital advertising which elevates brand awareness and demand for all of our retail partners.”
Marketing Strategy of Note: Recent Direct Mail books distributed to homes nationwide from the brand featured a theme of a road trip highlighting “real women” photographed “doing life” in täōs. On nearly every page the brand reiterated the "shop local" message and encouraged consumers to find an authorized täōs retailer.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: Bonapeda is the exclusive North American distributor for Italian-made Saluber orthotic insoles. In terms of the brand strategy for North America, Bonapeda owner and GM Marc Goldberg sees Saluber’s place in the market as follows: “1) Saluber orthotic insoles are the finest and most comfortable available and help people to function on their feet with more comfort and less pain; 2) Saluber orthotic insoles are sold by footwear retailers that know what they are doing. So, without independent retailers, half of the brand strategy is missing,” Goldberg explains. “Hence, we focus on being a reliable and profitable partner to independent retailers for the first sale, and for the sales that follow.”
Goldberg notes that Saluber insoles “have a higher acquisition cost (for consumers) than most other brands, and so to get that first sale the products need to be presented with enthusiasm, put in people’s shoes, and must be in stock.” He notes, “People with foot pain and/or biomechanical issues appreciate stores and salespeople that help them find products that enable them to stand, walk and/or run more comfortably, and that’s what Saluber insoles do. So, I want to work with great retailers that focus on customer service, and that are interested in selling the best products available.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “When we started Bonapeda in 2015, some of the retailers we spoke with expressed concerns about larger brands shifting their focus away from traditional retailers,” says Goldberg. “So, I made the decision to prioritize physical retailers and wholesale distribution over direct-to-consumer sales.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “We see the retailers that choose to sell Saluber as our primary channel to the marketplace, and we prioritize wholesale customers over direct-to-consumer,” says Goldberg. “Some ways that we demonstrate this focus: 1) We set our wholesale and MAP pricing so that our retailers make a healthy profit; 2) We prioritize wholesale orders over direct to consumer sales; 3) We rarely run online sales or offer consumer discounts, but when we do, our retailers are informed in advance and are offered incentives so that they can also profit from temporary promotions; 4) If a retailer has purchased inventory that is not right for their store, we work with them to adjust their product mix. Bottom line, I want Saluber retailers to know that ‘Bonapeda has their back.’”
Standout Features: Saluber’s premium insoles feature traits such as full Poron foot bed, arch support, metatarsal pad, Alcantara top cover, semi-rigid shell and cut away heel design.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “For over 130 years the Meltonian brand has supported independent shoe stores and shoe repair shops by providing high quality shoe care products at low prices but high margins,” says Ivan Komashinskiy, Meltonian, adding that the brand’s products “are considerably higher in quality than brands at department stores but remain affordable and price competitive.” The brand’s shoe cream polish is available in over 60 colors.
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: Meltonian is sold to shoe stores only through a network of well-established wholesalers in the U.S., Canada and UK. Partnering with wholesalers is the key to success for Meltonian, says Komashinskiy.
Milestone Anniversary: Meltonian Shoe Care was established in 1893, and the brand celebrated its 130-year anniversary this year. From the start the brand was known for high quality products at affordable prices. The brand was sold to Sara Lee in the 1990s and later to SC Johnson in 2010, before being brought back to market under new ownership in 2020. The brand is now back in thousands of stores today. “To this day we receive many emails from customers sharing their Meltonian stories how it makes their leather products look their best,” says Komashinskiy.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “Independent retailers have been crucial to ECCO establishing a business that speaks directly to consumers,” ECCO’s North America sales team tells us. “In looking forward with that heritage, ECCO considers independent retailers to remain among our top priorities for the brands future strategy. Knowing that they are the bedrock to our current statue, we’re aware we will only be able to build future success with independent retailers’ continued support, vision and partnership.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “We believe in strong, constructive and engaging partnerships. This includes the staff within our company as well as external partners sharing their point of views in an open dialogue. Retail is essential to our business, so a dialogue between the brand and retailers and a willingness to learn from each other mean we can thrive together.”
How the brand navigates hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “ECCO looks at the business from a consumer’s perspective. When it comes to hot buttons with product, pricing and other consumer facing situations, ECCO will always do what is right for the marketplace and consumer. Protecting the relationship with customers is essential for long term success, and far more important than short term wins.”
Product Standout: In SS24, the brand is excited to launch the SOFT 60 sneaker to the independent retail channel. The SOFT 60 is an extension of ECCO’s popular SOFT style, created to celebrate ECCO’s 60th anniversary.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent retailer is essential in telling the medi brand story to elevate our products in a competitive category. Independent retail enhances the customer experience through education and expertise in product selection,” says April Wilson, medi.
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “We support our retail partners through marketing efforts, clinician referrals and strong selling policies to help them build and maintain long-term, consumer relationships,” says Wilson. “Additionally, providing a compelling product and technical story that is easy to execute builds success early and often.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “The most critical issue our retailers face today is staffing,” Wilson notes. “By providing multi-channel educational opportunities, in-store support, and creating business operational efficiencies, this generates more effective retail associates, allowing managers to focus on business-driving activities.”
Standout Innovation: The medi protect foot support line is based around functionality and quality. Medi foot supports are constructed around the specific indication they treat through the layering of different materials to achieve the perfect performance outcome. All medi insoles are handcrafted in Germany with multiple layers of material using the most advanced technology to treat indication-specific conditions. The latest innovation is the brand’s Hydrofresh interface cover that helps manage moisture and odor within the shoe.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent retailer is an extension of the Swiftwick brand,” says Andy Keel, national sales manager, Swiftwick. “Independent retailers act as a critical link between us and the customer. There is no better place for a customer to learn the benefits of a highly engineered performance sock than in a conversation with a specialty retail associate. Swiftwick is a challenger brand. We are not in big-box retail and have limited marketing resources, so we highly value and support our independent retailers as true partners to help introduce Swiftwick to new customers.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “A brand must provide a value proposition for the retailer to be a good partner,” says Keel. “We think that starts with exceptional, differentiated products that help set independent retailers apart. As an accessory brand, we must be easy to work with. Streamlined programs, easy ordering, and exceptional customer service are paramount. Then, we try to structure our business to address common retailer pain points. Being made in the USA allows us to avoid forcing pre-booking programs, huge buy-ins, and other traditional mechanics onto retailers that rob them of operating cash. We have inventory available throughout the season, no minimums, exceptional margins, and even fast free shipping on all orders placed via our B2B site.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “Being made in the USA, we were able to minimize product availability issues during the pandemic, as well as avoid the glut of inventory that many brands faced earlier this year,” says Keel. “We have a thoughtful MAP policy and maintain strict channel control, especially over 3rd-party marketplaces like Amazon. Local production in small lot sizes allows us to avoid excess closeout inventory that eats into our retailer’s margin and fills demand with off-price products. Swiftwick strives to be the easiest vendor our retailers work with.”
Product Standout: Swiftwick’s tech-infused Flite XT and Flite XT Trail socks provide differentiated features that align with the in-store experience offered by great independent retailers. The brand also offers its sit and fit retail partners Swiftwick’s off-the-wall program – which allows them to offer a new pair of socks for every fitting and elevate the experience for the customer. “Ultimately, this will get Swiftwick on more customers’ feet and more dollars in the registers of retail partners,” says Keel.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “From our launch into the U.S. market 15 years ago, the Alegria brand has placed independent retailers on the top of our distribution priorities,” says Scott Cates, president of sales, Alegria. “The value of what we offer as a brand is expressed and communicated the best at this level. It’s where a product like ours belongs so our story can be told.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Communication and connection is key to a good partnership,” says Cates. “An independent retailer must know they can make money with your brand, first and foremost. The quality and consistency of the product gives the retailer confidence in what they are marketing daily to the consumer. The Alegria brand thrives in the work and wellness world, therefore the product must function effectively in that space. A good brand/retail relationship starts with the retailer’s needs first!”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “Product availability has always been a strong suit for us,” says Cates. “Many years ago, we supported a ‘never-out’ program but then realized our consumer wanted basics first and fashion second. We still try and maintain solid in-stock core goods, while seasonally flowing in fashion. Originally, when a consumer bought her first pair of Alegria’s she then followed it up with 3-5 pairs in a calendar year. Her choices are now greater than when we started, therefore we turn new product quicker to keep up with consumer trends.”
Adds Cates, “While our DTC is something we try to underemphasize, it’s the only way for a brand to control their message. The challenge is doing it properly while enhancing the brand’s story and marketing. A brand always pushing sales versus messaging is not a successful long-term strategy and eventually deteriorates the retail/wholesale relationship.”
Product Standout: The new ReBounce collection offers a gross margin percentage that is above industry average, notes Cates. The athleisure-inspired collection is Alegria’s most lightweight and supportive footwear to date. The brand is reinforcing it with in-store POP and a 30-Day Walk Test to entice first-time consumers to experience the comfort. And Alegria is aiming to reach younger consumers via social media with influencers and social ads.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “Independent retail is at the core of PowerStep’s brand strategy, and its success is rooted in the sit and fit try on process,” says Nicholas Adams, chief sales officer, Foundation Wellness. “It is independent retailers around the country that introduce, recommend, and fit end-consumers with PowerStep products. We partner with retailers to drive store traffic, promote the products, and service the stores with a dedicated sales team. Ultimately our brand growth happens when we are winning together.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Communication and shared goals,” says Adams. “PowerStep’s goals as a brand must be aligned with the retailer’s goals of providing the customer with the best service, products, and experience.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “Being a brand manufactured in Ohio we don’t have product availability issues and we make decisions on product pricing and ecommerce with the independent retailers in mind,” says Adams. “Ensuring retailers have the ability to price the products competitively and win on service in an omnichannel environment is key to both of our successes.”
Combined Brand Power: Earlier this year, PowerStep’s parent co. Foundation Wellness acquired Currex. “We are excited to bring the brand power of PowerStep and Currex to our retail partners,” says Adams. “With the no. 1 Podiatrist recommended brand driving referrals into stores and the no. 1 brand in independent running stores offering a comfort and performance option, Foundation Wellness has our retailers covered.”
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “Dansko’s original customers and long-term supporters have been independent retailers,” says Kitty Bolinger, president, Dansko. “They remain at the heart of Dansko and represent strategic opportunities for us to share our beloved brand with consumers that expect service and product knowledge. While other brands might be walking away from the independent channel Dansko remains committed to the folks that brought us to the dance!”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Mutual listening is the key,” says Bolinger. “Brands need to hear about the challenges and opportunities that retailers face. Retailers need to hear a brand’s go to market strategy, our story and our commitment to them. Listening builds trust and together we will better understand what resonates with the Dansko consumer and simultaneously provide a good return for our retailers.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “Dansko has been fortunate because, excepting the rocky supply chain issues of 2021 and early 2022, we have been able to meet most of the product needs of our retailers,” says Bolinger. “Of course, there will always be a ‘hot’ item that sells out, but our factory partners have helped to put us in a strong on-hand position. Our pricing structure has not changed over the past few years, and we haven’t had retailer push back as a result. DTC is an evolving conversation. Dansko does not do site wide sales and maintains a strict MAP pricing structure in an effort to build a brand that consumers expect to pay full price for and will not be motivated to resort to showrooming when they want our product. If she’s shopping with one of our retail partners, we want her to purchase Dansko from that retailer. If she’s at home in her PJ’s with a glass of wine, well…”
Campaign to Watch: A new marketing campaign from Dansko is focused on the brand’s heritage and iconic clog style.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent retailer is the perfect partner for us,” says David Church, president, Sorbothane, Inc. “They meet every customer’s need with great care and provide personal attention to everyone that visits their store or site. It takes time and effort for the retailer to assist each customer with their unique needs. We have a complete line of Sorbothane Insoles — each offers a distinctive combination of comfort, protection and performance.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “Two-way communication is key,” says Church. “As a brand we need to reach out to our retail partners. Not to sell, but to listen. Encouraging them to share their ideas, successes and challenges. Not just what they require from a business standpoint... but the products and innovations they need from a customer service standpoint. For us to design, produce and deliver a superior Sorbothane Insole we require the retailer’s input and their knowledge of the customer and their needs and desires.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability: Says Church, “Sorbothane Insoles are made in the United States by American workers; they have been since the beginning over 40 years ago. Our design staff, offices and production facilities are in Kent, Ohio and we are able to produce and deliver our insoles without interruption and at a fair price. I encourage our retail partners to give me a call directly with any question or special request — we will work with you.”
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent channel really helped us build our business from day one, and they continue to be our biggest channel of distribution for the brand,” the Aetrex team tells us. “So, we design, market and cater to this channel. We are dedicated to the success of the independent retailer through our technology and footwear offerings, and we are committed to their overall success. We’ve built trust and solid partnerships with our partners over the last few decades, which has allowed our product assortment season after season to really grow.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “It comes down to understanding each other’s needs and markets. The success we’ve seen to date with our partners is realized by the trust and commitment we’ve built together. Their success with our brand has allowed us to build a generous co-op program, marketing assets, displays, pre-season terms and in-season selling tools which they can utilize each season, helping both of us.
Luckily, the majority of our pricing has remained stable over the past 12+ months. Our partner relationships have been key in offering insights into what’s trending and successful during the season, given their fills and at-once orders. This information gives us knowledge and the confidence to place larger buys for stock.”
Category to Watch: One of Aetrex’s biggest successes has been the growth of its wedge category, which had great sell throughs for Aetrex in 2023, and this category is a highlight for Spring 2024, too. Aetrex attributes the success of this category to a few factors. First, the footwear is designed based on the data and learnings from Aetrex’s foot scanning technology, allowing the brand to incorporate an anatomically correct Aetrex signature arch support and footbed in every pair. Second, the styles are competitively priced, comfortable, supportive and on-trend. And Aetrex re-works the line each season to ensure newness, whether in style, color or materials.
The importance of independent retail to the brand’s strategy: “The independent retailer often introduces our brand to the consumer, and educates them on the features and benefits and unique differences between Cadence and others,” says John Hinds, PT, founder and owner, Cadence. “We consider all our retail partners to be friends and family and treat them in a manner that we want to be treated and will support them in any way possible.”
Keys to a good brand/retail relationship: “First, you need a quality product their customer will buy and one the retailer can stand behind,” says Hinds. “But a good relationship goes beyond the transactional. Communication, support, authenticity, and a low friction process are key to a healthy and long-term partnerships. By low friction I am referring to an efficient ordering process, getting their orders shipped out in a timely manner, addressing and answering partner questions in a timely manner, speaking with them as fellow humans and partners, standing behind our product, treating them with respect, and the like.”
How the brand is navigating hot button issues for retailers such as product availability, product pricing and DTC: “Inventory management is always at the top of the list and one we pay close attention to,” says Hinds. “We have a good track record with availability overall but in instances where we do have backorders we try and reduce their pain (while holding ourselves accountable) with free freight of backordered items. Regarding DTC, at this time 5 of our 8 models are exclusive to in-store sales only and cannot be sold online. While this strategy certainly reduces our overall sales potential, we do this to support our brick-and-mortar retail partners and this exclusivity is greatly appreciated.”
Product Standout: The Original Orange insole is Cadence’s most popular — and recently updated — model. It provides contoured support with exceptional comfort from heel to toe and with added relief and comfort under the heel. “Support Made Comfortable” is Cadence’s tag line.