Nina's Next Steps

The company is growing its kids' line with a focus on fashion, a new Website and plans for a global push.

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Alan Paulenoff

Photo By Courtesy Photo

Nina Kids’ Fall ’09

Photo By Robert Mitra

After four decades in business, Nina Kids is going back to basics.

Early last year, the brand’s parent, New York-based Nina Footwear Corp., underwent a restructuring that brought all its Nina collections under one umbrella, with Michael Shirey at the helm. With those changes came fresh leadership for the kids’ division: Alan Paulenoff, former president of Nine West Kids, joined the company last June as EVP.

According to Shirey, the overhaul presented an opportunity to redefine the mission for Nina Kids. “We zeroed in on our core competencies — what it is we do best, what distinguishes us from our competitors,” he said. “Trend and fashion are at the top of that list. So we want to make sure we’re conveying that message to the consumer.”

To that end, Paulenoff and Ken Masiello, Nina Kids’ director of product development, have revamped and sharpened the focus of the line, which covers a broad range of categories, including school, play and dress for infants to tweens. The two have tightened the number of SKUs and are putting a stronger emphasis on trends, drawing on the Nina and Nina Dolls women’s divisions for direction. “We’ve got the line pointed in a good direction now, with a nice balance between the different categories and size ranges,” said Paulenoff.

Retailers seem to agree. Sharon Cohen, owner of Footbeats, an independent Stride Rite dealer with four New England locations, has been carrying Nina Kids since its inception and said tweaks to the line have made it an even stronger contender. “The brand’s always been a good seller for us, but now they are offering more, giving it new direction,” she said. “The [Nina team] really understands fashion and function and puts the two together well.”

Roger Brooks, president of Brooks Shoes for Kids, with nine stores in California, also likes the line’s new look. “There have been some nice improvements in terms of color and style selection, and there’s a bigger emphasis on fashion,” he said. And in a tough economy, he added, the line’s “moderate prices seem to be in the right place for consumers.” Nina Kids shoes retail for about $50 a pair.

Amid the revamp of Nina Kids, Nina executives also took some drastic measures. They shuttered Max Silver, the Nina Kids boys’ collection, to concentrate exclusively on the girls’ product. “Since we don’t do men’s,” Shirey explained, “boys’ doesn’t fit with the Nina brand right now.”

But fine-tuning the line has helped Nina execs identify new opportunities, according to Paulenoff. For instance, plans call for a line of newborn shoes to round out the brand’s babies assortment. The company offers a first-walker collection called Mobility, but has yet to delve into the gift-driven pre-walk category. “It’s the one piece we’re missing,” Paulenoff said. “The newborn category is a big part of the business, and there’s an opportunity there.”

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