FN CEO Summit: Hot Talk on Hot Issues

The shoe industry's top players shared their winning strategies.

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Diane Sullivan

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Uli Becker

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Laure Heriard Dubreuil

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Elizabeth Kanfer

Photo By Moritz & Co.

Aldo, which garnered about $1.8 billion in sales for 2012, anticipates a 20 percent rate of expansion for its next five years. “We are very proud of our growth,” Jaskolka added.

As for Wolverine World Wide Inc., its deal for Collective Brands Inc.’s Performance & Lifestyle portfolio immediately raised its global profile.

“It was the perfect fit for our international plug-and-play model,” Wolverine Chairman and CEO Blake Krueger told attendees.

He also revealed that the firm’s efforts to expand began internally long before the purchase came to fruition.

In 2011, the company reviewed its entire business — from its brand portfolio to its place in the industry — and then anticipated what “a winner would look like in 2020,” said Krueger. “The focus wasn’t immediate, like what we could be in the next one, two or three years.”

The company first looked at where it was strongest — it had successfully completed eight acquisitions in the last 15 years — and where there was room for more opportunity. On the growth side, Krueger said, the firm’s women’s product represented only 30 percent of its total revenue. Additionally, its kids’ business was small and Wolverine had limited exposure to the athletic category.

At Arezzo & Co., CEO Alexandre Birman, who also is creative director of his eponymous label, is working to take Arezzo far beyond its home base in Brazil.

For example, the firm’s contemporary brand Schutz is targeting the U.S. market with its first shop in the U.S., on Madison Avenue. “The new store is driving a lot of attention for the company and it’s acting as a laboratory for us,” Birman said. “We are turning over the inventory each week and we really like the results.”

One reason the company, which also owns the Arezzo and Anacapri labels, has been able to expand so quickly is its ability to innovate on the production side of the business.

Arezzo churns out 11,500 new SKUs and nine deliveries per year, with speed-to-market adding a major competitive advantage. “We have made a serious investment in product development, with a sample manufacturing facility housed in our headquarters that makes more than 60,000 pairs of samples per year. The timeline from sample production to retail delivery is 40 days. Speed is the most important asset we have today,” said Birman.

Geographically, Asia is an area of focus for many designers.

Rupert Sanderson, for example, just opened his second store in Hong Kong. “[Elements Mall has] really invested in me and my brand,” Sanderson said. “We are in [great company] with other brands there.”

And Takhar explained that while North America has been a growth priority for Charlotte Olympia over the last two years, the brand plans to turn its attention to Asia later this year. “We are laying the foundations for opportunities in Japan, South Korea, China, Hong Kong and Jakarta,” she said.

Market Movers
Many speakers were excited about the growth of hot categories, whether that was men’s, handbags or high contemporary.

Nicholas Kirkwood, who is debuting men’s at retail this fall, said the market has changed drastically, creating big opportunity.

“You used to only be able to get very basic styles. Now, there are so many more options,” the designer said, adding that the excitement surrounding sneakers has helped fuel the men’s explosion.

To support the men’s growth, Kirkwood is making several moves within his own business. For example, he plans to expand his London flagship to enable him to add more styles to the mix.

Birman, whose company has roots in the men’s market, might revisit the category in the next two years. “It will be hard to achieve our goal of 20 percent annual growth without adding important categories,” he said, although he noted that the men’s market is still much smaller than women’s.

Meanwhile, a panel discussion led by Elizabeth Kanfer, Saks Fifth Avenue’s senior fashion director of accessories, focused on the high-fashion contemporary boom. “The boundaries of price points are fading away with changing consumer behavior and online shopping,” she said.

Designer Charline De Luca told attendees there continues to be more focus on the space.

“Before, there was a gap in the market around the $400 to $600 mark for a very high-quality product with a high design approach,” she said. “You have to make a statement to carve out a place in the market, and the trick is great quality for a good price.”

“If you have a point of view and brand yourself the right way as a designer, people will only look at the price after they’ve fallen in love with it,” asserted fellow designer Isa Tapia, who worked for Oscar de la Renta and Marc Jacobs in New York before launching her eponymous label. “I look on the positive side that I’m getting both customers: the one who buys fast fashion and the one who buys luxury. So it’s a win-win.”

Get the Message
Not surprising, the social media revolution was dominant in the summit conversation.

Sanderson discussed the power of Twitter, citing a recent example of Victoria Beckham tweeting a photo of herself in his pumps to more than 5 million followers. “Our whole network just lit up,” Sanderson said. “The shoes sold out overnight.”

Tiller noted that SeaVees’ website has become quite successful since the men’s and women’s label relaunched.

One popular feature is the blog, which Tiller calls a journal, with inspirational images and stories. “There is an appetite for original content,” he said. “You can’t release a shoe every day, but you can change your content.”

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