How Jimmy Jazz Is Winning in a Changing, Competitive Sneaker Market

Jimmy Jazz Harlem New York City
The storefront of Jimmy Jazz's flagship in Harlem, N.Y.
Jimmy Jazz

Jimmy Jazz has seen its share of ups and downs in the retail industry.

Over its nearly 30 years, the New York-based chain has adapted to the moment’s hottest trends, constantly aiming to deliver what consumers want when they want it.

That ability to navigate what’s in the now is truly paying off as Jimmy Jazz pushes forward with an expansion of its brick-and-mortar footprint.

President Robert Shapiro told Footwear News that by the end of 2018, the chain will have more than 200 stores in the U.S., up from 170. The new locations will be focused in regions where the company operates, from the East Coast to as far west as Austin, Texas. The company also has invested in modernizing its doors’ look. Last year, it poured $3 million into a makeover for its flagship in New York’s Harlem neighborhood.

Jimmy Jazz Harlem New York City A look inside the Jimmy Jazz flagship in Harlem, N.Y. Jimmy Jazz

Longtime brand partner Jim Mistretta, regional sales manager at Timberland, cheered Jimmy Jazz’s strategy. “They have over the years renovated and re-renovated,” he said. “They don’t allow for their stores to get stale.”

Shapiro said the goal is to renovate all of its older locations, but the mission comes with its challenges — mainly related to costs.

“As a privately held company, it’s a huge undertaking,” he said. “Every dollar you spend is a dollar less you make. But we’re investing in the Jimmy Jazz brand ultimately to get the consumer the best space.”

But in-store experience is just one of Jimmy Jazz’s  focuses. The company is also steadfast about stocking the most relevant product for its consumer, something it has done since its inception in 1989.

“They made a decision years ago to concentrate on some of the strongest brands for this city consumer,” said Mistretta, who has worked with Jimmy Jazz for 15 years. “They’ve kept to what their consumer wants, and they do a very good job of presenting those brands to the consumer.”

Shapiro noted that the retailer has evolved from  being apparel-first to today’s concept, which is a sneaker store that also carries best-in-class, of-the-moment apparel.

“We try to stay relevant, stay to the consumer and offer the right product at the right time,” said Shapiro. “We have a staff of buyers and management and forecasters who are culturally relevant, and it’s from there that we take our cues.”

Jimmy Jazz Harlem New York City Another look inside the Jimmy Jazz flagship in Harlem, N.Y. Jimmy Jazz

Top brand performers include athletic players such as Nike, Jordan, Adidas, Puma and Reebok. And today, footwear dominates Jimmy Jazz’s sales, with 65 percent of its business coming from kicks.

As the retailer has expanded across the U.S., it has learned how to adjust its product offering to be regionally focused. Isaac Thompson, GMM,  explained, “You could sell thousands of New Balance 990s that are only relevant in the DMV [D.C., Maryland and Virginia] and Philly, but you can’t give them away anyplace else.”

But hot product alone isn’t enough to win over shoppers today. The company also plans to keep sneaker fanatics shopping by upgrading its customer experience.

To improve efficiency on the selling floor, Jimmy Jazz is now using the Enterprise Retail System. When a sales associate scans the barcode on a product, the system will find the exact shelf it’s located on in the stockroom, and a runner can quickly bring it to the associate.

“We challenge our people to be the fastest in the game,” Shapiro said. “I’m not the most patient person, and when I’m in a store and it takes a while to bring up my product, I start thinking about my exit. I don’t want customers to feel the same.”

And all of the retailer’s investments into the store design, product and technology seem to be paying off. Shapiro confirmed Jimmy Jazz has experienced year-over-year growth in the high teens so far this year.