The new CEO of Vibram, who took over for Tony Post in June, said he’s ready to take the brand into fresh territory and become less dependent on the flagship FiveFingers line.
“Everybody’s waiting for what’s next,” Gionfriddo told Footwear News during the recent Outdoor Retailer show here. “FiveFingers was certainly an innovation, but we need to not stand still and instead focus on developing new things for the marketplace.”
Mostly known for its proprietary rubber outsoles, Vibram does one third of its worldwide business in FiveFingers product.
Although he was tight-lipped about precise plans to diversify the line, Gionfriddo said there is a lot of potential for FiveFingers in the watersports category. For spring ’13, Vibram expanded its water-specific footwear offering with two more styles and introduced its first multisport shoe.
“Five years ago, activities like paddleboarding and windsurfing weren’t as popular or accessible as they are now,” Gionfriddo said. “All of a sudden, that product line has taken off tremendously and there’s opportunity for us to create more shoes specifically designed for that.”
As more vendors launch minimalist and barefoot footwear, retailers said sales of the FiveFinger shoes aren’t fueling as much exponential growth as they used to.
“Vibram is definitely still one of our major players, but consumer interest has leveled off a bit,” said Jennifer Mull, CEO of Austin, Texas-based outdoor chain Backwoods. “There’s definitely some increased competition in the marketplace and there are a lot of [vendors] who’ve jumped on the minimalist bandwagon.”
Doug Baker, buyer for Benchmark Outdoor Outfitters in Blue Ash, Ohio, also said Vibram may be a victim of its own success. “Barefoot has caught on with the big boys,” he said. “When you see Adidas and Nike getting involved, it doesn’t become the hot commodity anymore.”
Despite increased competition, Gionfriddo isn’t overly concerned. He said that as long as the company sticks to what it knows best and continues to find ways to support retailers, opportunities will abound.
One of those opportunities is its first retail store, which opened earlier this year on Newbury Street in Boston.
“This concept really holds true for our marketing and how marketing materials would work in a retail location,” Gionfriddo said, adding that the firm is discussing bowing stores in other U.S. locations. “We don’t want to offer anything to our customers or retailers that hasn’t been proven and tested.”