White Mountain Expands Shoe Brand Portfolio, Talks Retail Moves

White Mountain, Summit Expand
Summit's crisscross flats for spring '16.
Courtesy of brands.

White Mountain is out to reclaim its place in the country’s biggest department stores.

Over the past couple of years, the New Hampshire-based firm has launched two footwear collections targeted to highly lucrative retail channels that had previously been untapped by the firm. The first was the made-in-Italy contemporary women’s brand Summit, which debuted in fall ’14, and the Seven Dials juniors’ line for fall ’15.

Kevin Mancuso, CEO of White Mountain Footwear Group, noted that those portfolio additions are at opposite ends of the spectrum, with the company’s more established lines filling the central portion of the market.

“It was necessary [to branch out]. There was a certain level of customer we were no longer reaching,” Mancuso explained. “At one time, the company sold a lot of merchandise, under our White Mountain logo, to Nordstrom, Bloomingdale’s and Dillard’s. These retailers decided to focus their attention on upscale merchandise at higher price points. Unfortunately, with the constant pressure from many retailers to reduce costs, White Mountain was compelled to make a decision on which path to take. These new labels have given us the opportunity to rekindle our relationships with these stores.”

The CEO said the firm is now more well-rounded and can hit all areas of the women’s business. “If you want to be a force in the marketplace, you have to have a variety of offerings, as we have now,” he said.

Seven Dials, priced at $30 to $80, debuted at Macy’s stores last fall. The name is based on an intersection in Lon- don, and the styles are produced in both China and Italy. “We felt there was an opportunity in the juniors’ business to be more innovative and bring fresh looks to the market- place,” said Mancuso.

White Mountain, Seven Dials Expand Clogs from Seven Dials. Courtesy of brand.

Brian Hoke, general VP of omni- channel and DMM of women’s shoes at Macy’s, said, “Seven Dials has been a popular performer since we began carrying it early in the holiday season. They have a great combination of stylish, trend-focused designs and value that our junior customer loves. White Mountain’s agility makes them a great partner for us, and we’re excited about the opportunities for Seven Dials in 2016.”

The Summit collection, priced from $200 to $400, was crafted to attract higher-tier department stores, including Nordstrom. “We put together a fashion line with some great leathers at a great value,” said Mancuso. “It’s really enjoyable to be doing business out of Italy, and it’s wonderful to see the creativity of the artisans. There’s something special about product that is made in Italy.”

The firm’s mix also includes the core White Mountain line, founded in 1979; Cliffs by White Mountain, an affordable casual line; and the dress series Rialto.

All five labels are sold on the company’s e-commerce website, which has been a major source of growth while also delivering more opportunities for digital marketing. “Our e-commerce business has exploded,” said Mancuso. “And we’re expanding our social media outreach. We’ve hired an outside firm, The Bromley Group, to spearhead our social and press [initiative].”

White Mountain has also strengthened its in-house staff, bringing in new hires to oversee the line additions. And longtime executives Robert Geller and Dennis Eichin have taken on a larger role to respectively oversee the branded footwear and private-label divisions. “We have a new management team that will have more of a hands-on role,” said Mancuso.

White Mountain, Summit Expands A spring ’16 image from Summit. Courtesy of brand.

These changes couldn’t come at a better time for White Mountain, as the CEO is predicting a tough season ahead, especially in the boot category. “I am cautiously optimistic that we will continue to grow, but it will definitely be a challenging year,” Mancuso said. “The tall-boot business has changed, and there’s a decrease in the fall boot business.”

Overall, the executive is bullish on White Mountain’s future and said he plans to strengthen internally before adding any more brands. “Right now, I want to nurture the new divisions,” he said.

[Editor’s Note: This story first ran in print 02/01/16]