Keen Seeks to Grab More Market Share

NEW YORK — It’s a new era for Keen.

Following the surprise departure of charismatic CEO James Curleigh in late May, the Portland, Ore.-based outdoor firm is moving ahead with plans to grow its consumer base, according to brand execs.

“We’re growing up. We’re soon to be 10 years [as a company], so as our business has grown, we’re looking into the future,” said Russ Hopcus, VP of global sales for Keen.

After Curleigh left to head the Levi’s brand, company owner Rory Fuerst assumed the CEO position and launched a search for a new president. But in the interim, Ron Hill, VP of merchandising, said the company is moving ahead with its five-year plan, and attracting new consumers, especially younger shoppers, is a major focus.

Key to the effort is a new collection launching for spring ’13. Called Keen CNX, the series, which encompasses water, casual, trail and kids’ product, marries Keen’s iconic toe protection and shapes with lower-profile midsoles/outsoles and lighterweight materials.

Targeting outdoor, sporting goods and family footwear accounts, Keen hopes to use CNX to expand distribution in its current channels.

“We want to protect our base and who Keen is — the classic look and feel,” Hill said, “but we also want to excite the edges and continue to look for hybrid approaches.”

CNX, the brand’s biggest launch since its inception, will be Keen’s main story at retail this spring, supported by a major in-store, event and social-media marketing push. And while specific advertising plans have not been revealed, CNX will tie in with Keen’s existing “Recess” promotional campaign.

Retailers said the combination of familiar styling and a more minimal profile should be a winner.

Braden Moorhead, outdoor buyer for Henderson, Nev.-based Zappos.com, characterized Keen’s share at retail right now as “massive” and said the CNX launch is part of a strong forward trend. “They’re on track and absolutely going in the right direction,” he said. “Keen has done an amazing job to get where they are right now, and they have the right people to get them to the future.”