Dr. Scholl’s New Lease on Life

Iconic comfort brand Dr. Scholl’s is getting a major overhaul.

Encouraged by the buzz about wellness these days, parent company Brown Shoe Co. is building up the brand, using the Original Exercise Sandal to create a modern lifestyle collection. In the coming season, Dr. Scholl’s will undergo a makeover, including updated product, fresh packaging and its first consumer magazine campaign. Even the brand’s name has been changed from Original Dr. Scholl’s to Dr. Scholl’s Shoes, emphasizing the breadth of the new collection.

“We always traded as a comfort brand,” said Keith Duplain, SVP and GM of Dr. Scholl’s Shoes. “We’re reimagining it, not reinventing it. We’re putting our energy and resources into what’s already there. Every now and then, you have to make sure you are true to who you are in a way that takes you forward.”

To better understand what today’s active consumers are looking for, executives at Dr. Scholl’s conducted extensive consumer research in early 2010. They discovered that consumers wanted footwear to comfortably take them through a busy day, said Maureen McCann, VP of wholesale marketing for Brown Shoe Wholesale. And though age didn’t play a large role, an active lifestyle did. “They have an optimistic, energetic spirit,” she said.

To meet the varied needs of such customers, Dr. Scholl’s went back to the drawing board and developed an expanded product offering for men and women that includes sandals, boots, casuals and tailored looks, in addition to its signature women’s Exercise Sandal on classic wood and polyurethane bottoms. On the fitness side, there’s the Free Step collection of lightweight minimalist shoes, with gentle cushioning and a soft fit that shapes to the foot; athletic styles; and the Advance Motion Collection, designed for walking and low intensity workouts.

While trend-right product may attract new consumers, the brand remains focused on delivering an enhanced comfort experience. Every style integrates proprietary comfort technologies, such as the Massaging Gel (licensed by Schering-Plough Healthcare Products), moisture management systems and flexible outsole constructions. To call out these features, individual icons are displayed on boxes and hang tags.

“The simplicity of the icons is a unique and appropriate way to tell the [comfort] story,” said Duplain, noting that every shoe incorporates at least seven of these elements.

To further capitalize on the Dr. Scholl’s name in foot care, shoeboxes and hang tags will advertise that the shoes use technology licensed from Schering-Plough. “These [references] let the consumer know how we are different from other footwear on the store shelves,” said Duplain.

Brown Shoe also has pursued its own research in the area of technology. Duplain said the company created a comfort lab a year ago at its St. Louis headquarters, available to Dr. Scholl’s and Brown Shoe’s other brands. “It helps designers with the technical execution of the product,” he said. “Every category gets tested [in order] to deliver on what the attributes [claim].”

As a result, product upgrades have led to slight price increases. Formerly retailing at $40 to $70, the collection now sells for $40 to $90.

The brand’s fresh product direction and enhanced comfort features have opened the door to new retail channels and helped it expand its position in current accounts that include Belk and DSW.

Ruth Hartman, SVP and GMM for women’s merchandising at Columbus, Ohio-based DSW, said the chain will test both the new spring and fall collections. “The updated position of Dr. Scholl’s is a very positive move for the brand,” she said. “The team has done an outstanding job of maintaining a strong core of contemporary comfort while updating with new technologies and styling.”

Boston-based Shoebuy.com has been carrying the line since 2005 and offers the classic [Original] Exercise Sandal, in addition to roughly 100 other SKUs. “It fits in with our comfort mix,” said Chief Merchandising Officer Patrisha Sweeney. “There are those who remember the sandal and how comfortable it was. If they enjoyed that, they will like the new direction.”

For fall ’11, Sweeney predicted items such as a novelty knit sweater boot will appeal to both young and mature customers.

To acquaint consumers with the new brand identity, last month Dr. Scholl’s kicked off a consumer magazine ad campaign. The initiative is backed by fresh in-store signage and an updated website, Drschollsshoes.com, which launched earlier this month. It features e-commerce functionality with separate men’s and women’s pages showing lifestyle imagery and information about the collections’ technology.

With a growing list of new product and marketing plans in place, Duplain said Dr. Scholl’s expects to reach its latest goals. “We’re modern,” he said, “but true to the history and DNA that makes the brand relevant to consumers today.”

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