White Mountain Scales Up

White Mountain Scales Up
Rialto for fall ’13.

NEW YORK — White Mountain Footwear aims to climb higher.

The privately held, 33-year-old Lisbon, N.H.-based company’s plans for the year include a major relaunch and rebranding of its website; a retooling of its Rialto label; the debut of handbags; and a licensing deal with at least one European women’s label at a higher price point.

The company, which consists of three made-in-China labels — White Mountain, Rialto and Cliffs by White Mountain — as well as a private-label division, is primed for expansion, according to Robert Geller, president of branded sales. “We have had exponential growth [over] the last five years, and we have the opportunity to not only drive some volume but get the brand out there,” he said, noting that across-the-board sales increased more than 20 percent from 2011 to 2012, driven primarily by Rialto and the two-year-old Cliffs label. “We have underestimated the value of our brand to the consumer. We’ve done a reasonably good job getting our brand in front of our buyers, but it’s important now to get directly in front of our consumers.”

To that end, White Mountain will start with a $500,000 investment in its website. “We are taking a steamroller to our current site,” said Matt Dragos, president of the Rialto brand. Integrated social media and full-fledged e-tail will be primary focuses.

While White Mountain launched e-commerce in 2010, its new site will allow for fulfilling orders in-house. Digital sales for all three brands (including the firm’s own site and retail partners such as Macys.com and Dsw.com) more than doubled in 2012, Geller said.

Sales for the fashion-focused Rialto label rose 25 percent for 2012, and White Mountain aims to build off that success with a brand overhaul that is more style-driven. “We’re taking the brand up a notch,” Geller said. Prices for the footwear, the bulk of which retails in the $40 range and utilizes man-made materials and leathers, will increase by $10 a pair.

A collection of corresponding handbags in four to seven silhouettes (with the same price points as the shoes), also will debut at FFANY this week. “We want to make Rialto a lifestyle brand, and bringing in handbags rounds out the look,” Dragos said. “We also are seeing a trend re-emerging in Europe right now with matching handbags to shoes.”

Company co-owner Kevin Mancuso, who heads up overall branded sales and product development, noted that the White Mountain brand could add handbags by 2014, and it has discussed delving into apparel.

The firm’s retail roster counts more than 10,000 doors, including Macy’s, Belk, DSW and Bon-Ton, but Mancuso said the company wants to expand its distribution channels.

Fred Kraft, Bon-Ton’s VP and DMM for footwear, explained that White Mountain’s success lies in its ability to form strong relationships with retailers. “It’s a small company and they always want to help us,” he said. “When I have an opportunity to go after an item or a category, I [often] go to them because they know how to work with the retailer and build a shoe that will drive sales.”