Online is another opportunity the brand has targeted. Nina relaunched its Website in September, and according to Shirey, it’s a core focus for the company for 2009. “Our women’s business is already up considerably because of it, so now we’ve taken the next step and set up Ninakids.com as its own site,” he said. “It’s exciting because it gives us our own store, and it’s going to afford us significant growth.”
In addition, Nina is preparing to launch an affiliate program that will allow independent retailers to process individual sales through the Nina Website. “It gives the independents access to expanded inventory without the onus of having to physically house it in their store,” Shirey explained. “Everybody wins.”
The program, which he said is still being tweaked, will bring greater flexibility to how Nina Kids manages its independent base, which accounts for 40 percent of its distribution. (Specialty chains and department stores, including Dillard’s, Belk, Macy’s and Von Maur, make up the remainder.) “We think it’s a compelling idea. In this kind of climate, you have to look at new ways of doing business,” Shirey said.
With its U.S. business on solid footing, Nina Kids has begun to turn its attention to the international markets as a new frontier for growth. Currently, the brand has only a small presence outside the States, selling on a limited basis in markets including Canada, Hong Kong and Latin America. But Paulenoff said he is hoping to change that. “There are huge opportunities for the brand overseas — we’re getting inquires from all over. So we are looking to strategically grow our international distribution in the coming seasons.”
That, coupled with its other initiatives, has the Nina Kids team feeling bullish about the year ahead, despite the dismal economy. In fact, Paulenoff said he considers the downturn an opportunity rather than an obstacle. “In times like these, we hit an appealing price point for retailers. We’re not the highest-priced brand in the store,” he said. “Consumers’ ideas on how much they’re willing to spend are really going to change, and some of those brands selling $100 kids’ shoes are going to feel it.”
The company also is banking on Nina’s considerable brand equity. “Nina has this incredible heritage. The brand has been around for 55 years, and that ties into the trust factor with moms,” Shirey said. “They know our kids’ shoes are going to fit and be made well. We want to play this up.”
And while it’s easy for a kids’ line to get overshadowed by its parent, Shirey stressed that Nina Kids is a priority for the company. “The kids’ division is a very important piece of our business — it’s not an afterthought,” he said. “It’s a key element of our success and will continue to be.”