“The one thing that’s remained constant [over the years] is that we have always been focused on the teenager, the [kid] ages 12 to 22. That’s the heart and soul of who we are,” said Mario Gallione, SVP and GMM of the Journeys Group at Genesco Inc. “That’s always who the Journeys consumer was back then and who it has continued to be.”
Executives at the Nashville, Tenn.-based retailer said that as trends have come and gone, the key to getting the product mix right for the past 25 years has been to keep the focus on the teenage consumer and to rely on a network of store employees, managers and buyers who are tightly connected to the core shopper.
“One of the things we do well is pay attention to where our customer is, identifying who he is, and what he’s wearing and what’s influencing him,” said Kevin Coppage, VP and GMM for men’s.
The store’s brand partners concur.
“[Journeys] definitely knows who its consumer is, and we work really closely with them in translating that in a Vans way,” said Henry Cosio, VP of sales for Cypress, Calif.-based Vans, a division of Greensboro, N.C.-based VF Corp.
Following the teenage customer has meant that the Journeys footwear offering has undergone several major overhauls since the company’s founding.
Started as a house-of-brands concept, the chain’s product assortment has at various times been driven by athletic styles, grunge, brown shoes, skate or low-profile athletic silhouettes.
In today’s market, brand execs said, a lack of any single, all-encompassing trend story for teens has led to a mix that covers running, athletic, brown shoe, preppy boat shoes and utilitarian casuals. And the proliferation of fashion and trend reports online allows Journeys’ geographically diverse store base to react even more quickly to fashion shifts.
“The Internet has made everything so much closer,” Coppage said. “I can remember when we started, you used to have trends start on either coast. But that really doesn’t happen anymore. The likelihood that a trend will start and make a wave across the country and eventually get to Jackson, Tenn., three years or even three months later — that doesn’t happen as much. Things are just as big in Billings, Mont., as in New York City.”
That geographic access has turned Journeys into a key account for retailers looking to access the broader U.S. market.
“[Selling at Journeys] really helps a small brand like us get out in the mainstream market and get recognition,” said John Gothard, VP of sales for Sanuk, a division of Goleta, Calif.-based Deckers Outdoor Corp.
To target that diverse customer base, Journeys works closely with brands to create the material stories and silhouettes that will work best for its shoppers. Brand execs said special makeups, which account for 30 percent to 40 percent of the mix, have been an integral part of succeeding at the chain.
Robert Nand, co-founder of Los Angeles-based Creative Recreation, said that working with Journeys helped the brand develop a product offering that expanded its consumer reach.
“Their customer base was really in tune with where we were headed, and a little younger than who we had at the time, so we were excited about that,” Nand said. “We wanted to tailor our line specifically to them, but at the same time keep our core values.”
For Dr. Martens, which counts Journeys as its No. 1 customer globally, tweaking the product has paid off. “We have a little bit of a different take on things, and there’s a lot of European influence, so we have to ask, ‘Does that work for Journeys?’ If not, that’s when we start collaborating [with their team],” said national accounts manager Martin Meade.
But while Dr. Martens’ special makeups have been a longtime component of its partnership with the retailer, Meade said sometimes it’s the inline product that works best. For example, right now, he said, the brand’s Originals are driving the women’s business, thanks to interest in the punk look.
Pierre-André Senizergues, CEO and founder of Lake Forest, Calif.-based Sole Technology, said his company’s Etnies brand has grown and evolved with Journeys. “Skate shoes have become the shoes a lot of people will wear, shoes that have much more variety than the one style,” he said.
After starting with a chunky cup-sole silhouette for guys, Etnies now places vulcanized, low-profile, high-top, mid-top and girls’ and kids’ shoes with the chain. “We’ve been in business for 25 years, too, and it takes a lot of commitment and drive to make it [that far].”