Service. It’s what it all comes down to. When Footwear Insight launched the Gold Medal Service Awards in 2015, we wanted to identify – and reward – the independent stores that elevate service to an art form. And the good news is we found them, and they are thriving.
To create the list, we went wide. More than 120 shops were nominated by themselves or their vendor partners. (For this award, independently owned shoe stores and regional chains in the U.S. with a significant shoe business were eligible.) After evaluation, 124 were mystery shopped by Franklin Retail Solutions, a leading retail consultant firm. Shopped stores were rated on a list of criteria (to see the criteria, see page 28). Stores scoring a 70 or above were named Gold Medal Service Award winners. For 2018, four stores scored perfect 100s – or above, thanks to the bonus questions! – and were named the Waldlaufer Waldy Award winners for the year: Check them out on the facing page.
Sam Barstow, Forsake. “The main benefit of a knit upper is that the material is very flexible and stretches to fit your foot for a sock like feel with no break in period. Knit uppers are also lightweight and breathable.”
Giuseppe Ciavarro, The Eastman Group. “Air ventilation, comfort fit (molding to the feet), easy care, machine washable, lightweight for performance, packable, sleek aesthetic, multipurpose.”
Christoph Hühnerbein, Mammut. “Mammut uses knit uppers to improve flexibility as well as durability and to reduce pressure points. In addition to enhanced performance due to abrasion resistance, this technology provides a distinct technical modern look together with the ability to offer specific functional areas.”
Greg Thomsen, Adidas Outdoor. “A knitted upper provides lightweight breathability, stretch and flexibility, ensuring comfort while on long hikes or trail runs. The Primeknit, specifically, has all those qualities, in addition to water repellency for wet terrain. Aesthetically, knitted shoes enable designers to utilize more creative approaches with colors, textures and patterns embracing today’s trends as seen on the runways.”
By Cara Griffin. Relief. Recovery. Comfort. Whichever of those three key words you feel best describes a “chill out” footwear of choice, the recovery market has it covered.
Brands in the recovery game say that the target market for recovery footwear is moving beyond athletes and designs are following suit. Not only is recovery footwear getting more technical in its comfort offerings, but crossover styles – think “knit uppers” and on-trend sandal silhouettes – are also gaining ground.
So who exactly are the key consumer groups purchasing recovery footwear?
For Oofos, which has been a leader in the recovery footwear category since the brand launched in 2012, the core consumers are “runners, fitness enthusiasts, active individuals and athletes,” says Duncan Finigan, marketing head.
But, Finigan adds, “the shoes can be worn by anyone looking for added relief and recovery. For a nurse on his or her feet all day or an on-the-go business person, the much-needed physical stress-relief we seek in our daily lives can be relieved by slipping on a pair of Oofos and truly feeling the ‘OO’ of recovery.”
“Our recovery sandals and slides service the athlete who wants to kick off their walking, running or cleats after a hard workout or practice,” says Doug Gordon, interim president at MBT. “They are trend-right, so they are also perfect for the consumer who just wants to wear them for comfort.
By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry. All Hail the Dad Shoe. (Or Mom shoe, depending on your preference.) The once-reviled norm-core staple electrified the couture world when Balenciaga’s high-fashion $895 Triple S sneaker marched down the runway last September, and takes from brands like Adidas, Fila and Nike have been a surprise streetwear hit this fall. But the chunky, ’90s-inspired silhouettes are only gathering momentum heading into spring. And the spread of the trend has presented an opportunity for heritage brands to get some of their throwback styles in front of new eyes — and for athletic players outside of the dominant two to play with styles inspired by the large-and-in-charge outsoles, bold colorblocking and straight-from-dad’s closet classic whites, beiges and grays. We’re showing off some of our favorite retro and cleverly retro-inspired looks, perfect for talking a walk on the comfortable side this spring. These styles just go to show, it’s never too late to listen to your parents.
As the casualization of fashion takes over in the workplace and beyond, footwear brands are responding with a tried and true combination — style plus comfort. Brands are serving up options that look good, feel good and add up to a “casual fashion” homerun.
“There has been a major shift over the past five years from a more formal sense of fashion to more casual and a lot of this is being driven by the office culture becoming more relaxed. It is forcing consumers to purchase more modern/hybrid footwear to fit their lifestyle. This has created a major rise in the need for office/dress sneakers and more functional footwear. People are now purchasing footwear for more than one end use in mind. Instead of just an office shoe, they want something that transitions from the office to the brewery to even the trails. It has forced all footwear brands to make design and development much faster and effective.”
“We’ve hit the refresh button on our classic silhouettes to incorporate elevated materials and styles. We can take our customer throughout the journey of their entire day – from the moment they wake up to the moment they go to sleep – whether in their daily routine or summer travels.”
A sign of the “casualization” times? Walmart has relaxed its dress code to allow its managers to wear sneakers. “Safety and professionalism are still at the core, but relaxing the rules on style and letting people bring their whole selves to work just makes good sense for the business, for our people — and for fashion.”
The most important trend impacting trail running footwear right now is the idea of maximizing protection for the trail environment but delivering modernized construction and materials. The innovations from road running are working their way into the trail experience as the large majority of consumers are realizing they can get out on the trail but don’t need the overt features that once defined the category. The modern explorer seeks products that deliver an underfoot experience and material story that align to their aesthetic demands that suits their active lifestyle.”
Socks can be a fickle business. Take weather, for example. It can play a large role in the hosiery a consumer chooses to wear. “The new norm is that if we want to meet the retailer’s needs, we need to have the manufacturing ability to adjust and follow the regional season retail trends,” comments Bruce Barrows, VP–business development for Standard Merchandising Co. For optimal flexibility with its Fox River brand, Standard Merchandising invested $2 million in technology in 2017. Catering to longer winters and summers can lead to increased sales and happier customers all around.
Here are some other moves working for brands at retail.
“Consumers around the world are making more conscious buying choices by seeking out fabrics that not only perform, but also have a softer footprint on the planet” (and their feet!), notes Sockwell director of marketing, Sarah Bailey. American-grown Merino wool blended with bamboo offers natural moisture management, thermo-regulation, odor resistance and all-day comfort, “giving peace of mind to those who want to feel good about their purchase,” the exec says.
“Texture and feel are very important — this is typically an indicator of quality,” shares Kim Gross, chief strategist for sales and marketing at Lily Trotters. The brand provides retailers with free try-on socks “as we believe to love us, is to wear us,” she adds. Socks should not feel thick or bulky and should have the ability to “slide from sneakers into work shoes,” according to Gross.
Feetures! new marled look is created through a new fabric for a better, softer fit and feel. “If you want to use a performance fabric, but sacrifice soft touch in doing so, you’re going to lose at retail. People will pick it up and put it right back,” says Joe Gaither, Feetures! VP-marketing.
“The sock department should be one of the most profitable real-estate per square foot in the store and a lot of bills should be paid for from sock sales.”
—Mark Comcowich, Darn Tough sales and marketing director.
FootZen, which markets non-binding socks for the comfort and footwear solutions market, uses synthetic MedDry yarns which are soft on the skin in its line. Combined with antimicrobial mohair, MedDry offers “a very gentle interaction with the skin to avoid irritation and friction,” says Tanya Pictor, VP-marketing for FootZen parent company Implus.
At Wigwam, more styles from the brand now incorporate Wigwam’s INgenius NXT technology, a strategically positioned knit-in lining that moves moisture away from skin to the outside of the sock to prevent blisters. For Spring 2019 Wigwam is also adding more run and hike-specific socks to its offerings.
As lifestyle and comfort intersect in socks, “we are getting far more requests for lifestyle-oriented point-of-sale materials than ever before,” Pictor continues. The exec is seeing younger consumers who want product with fashionable appeal.
QSD marketing executive Carine Villeneuve explains that “consumers want products that help them heal.” EC3D compression socks address foot pronation, supination and plantar fasciitis pain.
Consumers want socks that solve problems. Fox River’s Barrows explains that shoppers “want to know what this product will do for me and it needs to be communicated visually.” For him, “it is not just acceptable to list features.” Consumers want to see what the sock is designed for, along with one or two key benefits.
For example, the Swiftwick Flite XT is a cross-training sock engineered to improve stability during activities that require lateral motion. GripDry (a nanofiber blended with olefin) prevents slippage and keeps the foot dry. AnkleLock technology gives extra support around the ankle. There are other benefits, but these are the meat of the product. In short, as per Swiftwick marketing manager Rebecca Henson, “this sock makes high-intensity exercise easier.”
In trying to perfect the brand’s running socks, Point6 sales coordinator Mackenzie Yelvington’s team talked to members of the running community to see what they wanted in a sock. The answer was more comfort, blister-free fit, quick drying and bright designs. “We totally redesigned our 2019 sport line to deliver on their needs, with more support around the foot and ankle and an improved fit, keeping the foot hot-spot free.”
The key to in-store placement of hosiery is making it work for your store and your customer. “I have seen tremendous success in all different ways,” notes Darn Tough sales and marketing director Mark Comcowich. Large sock walls create one-stop shopping, while merchandising by end-use narrows options for the shopper.
Comcowich likes to see Darn Tough on floor racks, allowing the consumer to learn about the brand, while the retailer can take advantage of more socks in a small area, equating to potential big return. “The sock department should be one of the most profitable real-estate per square foot in the store and a lot of bills should be paid for from sock sales,” he says.
Implus’ Pictor notes that in regards to the Balega brand, “when retailers spend time on the footwear fit process, having socks on hand and integrating them, it definitely moves the needle for the sock vendor and the retail partner.”
Tom Weber, sales and marketing director at Wrightsock, says it’s even more important to bring performance socks into the conversation before the try-on process begins. “Asking the shoe buying customer, ‘do you need any socks with those shoes?’ after the decision is made to buy a shoe, chances are slim to add socks to the transaction,” he comments.
“Socks with stories can claim additional, alternative merchandising locations in the apparel pad, as well as the cash wrap,” says James Jesserer, VP-sales at Thorlo. This includes the brand’s Old School line, which has Thorlos’ quality and standards of performance, gone retro.
Farm to Feet had a successful program last year with multipacks in crates that retailers could put almost anywhere. “Many stores had great success with these in areas near checkouts, especially around the holidays,” says VP–sales Chris Nitzsche.
Eye-catching designs work on the counter or a rack behind the counter to remind shoppers to buy socks as “retailers have been asking us for more bright colors and fun designs that work well as impulse buys,” comments Michael Foley, SockGuy president. Whether it’s a dash of donut or a splash of sriracha, “we have noticed a lot of demand for food-based socks,” the exec notes.
The performance boot, whether it’s walking a factory floor, climbing a mountain while fighting a fire, keeping order on city sidewalks or sprinting through the rain, is a master of change. Through the last several years, it has quietly been upping its game to turn itself into a major player in the athleisure space. The sneakerization of the work boot has generated styles that, well, look very much like sneakers. But a closer look reveals that these are sneakers on steroids, jam packed with enough technology and comfort features to keep workers on their feet (and their toes). Sleek and stylish, they stand ready to get the job done and when their work is finished, they walk confidently toward the weekend. As the latest styles show, boots are now doing their job with an entirely different attitude.
In all categories, work footwear’s got game this season.