Wanted: Fresh Keds Prez

NEW YORK — Industry insiders are upbeat that new leadership can help restart Keds’ sales.

Following the departure of President Shawn Neville last week amid continued sales weakness, brand observers expressed hope for the future of the casual footwear label.

“Out of all the Stride Rite brands, Keds has been the underperformer,” said Caris & Co. analyst Claire Gallacher, who compared the brand to top-performers such as Saucony and Sperry Top-Sider.

“I’m expecting they’ll probably have a change in strategy,” continued Gallacher. “Payless brought in a new president. Matt Rubel, the CEO of Collective, is really just repositioning for growth and bringing in new management where he feels like they need some help.”

Neville left the company on July 10 after a four-year tenure with Keds, whose parent company, Stride Rite, was acquired last May by Collective Brands Inc. Collective confirmed the departure and said it was looking for a new president, but it declined to comment further last week.

For many industry watchers, the move wasn’t a surprise. “Keds has really been the brand they expected to revitalize both here and abroad, but they’ve had more trouble doing that than they expected,” said Gallacher.

During Collective’s first-quarter conference call, Rubel told analysts the brand was not meeting expectations, particularly in the U.S. market. “It’s actually the drag on the wholesale business in the U.S. for the Stride Rite group, and that’s primarily impacted by some of the performances you’ve seen from mainstream retailers.”

Retailers, however, said that despite current challenges, the brand still has a chance to make a comeback.

“It’s a classic brand, and it’s a household name,” said Tannery co-owner Tarek Hassan. “It probably needs better focus and better management. Keds could be positioned in many places. … Look at what PF Flyers and Tretorn did. They’re making changes, why not Keds?”

Tip Top Shoes owner Danny Wasserman added that Keds could be revived with product updates and cleaned-up distribution. “Having them in the right places and making the customer feel they’re getting something that’s not available in every outlet [is important],” Wasserman said.

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