Kids’ Brands Aim to Seal the Deal

From toys to apparel, today’s parents are more aware than ever of the health risks related to kids’ products. To meet the demand for safe goods, children’s shoe brands are turning to industry experts such as the American Podiatric Medical Association to highlight the benefits of their footwear.

“[Today’s] parents are afraid to let their children go outside of the house,” said Tristan Coopersmith, executive director at Creative Artist Agency’s Intelligence Group in Los Angeles. “They’re very conscious about health and their children’s development, which has made them hyper-conscious about materials in the products they purchase.”

The APMA, which is committed to increasing public awareness about foot health and podiatry, can give children’s brands a leg up on the competition by awarding its Seal of Acceptance to specific styles. The distinction is given to footwear that promotes quality foot health and guarantees manufacturers’ claims regarding a product’s benefits. Shoes are reviewed by a panel of member podiatrists, who evaluate construction and materials in relation to research and data on development. Once awarded, the seal can be included on marketing materials from shoeboxes to Website ads.

“It gives the consumer assurance that this product has been evaluated by professionals and that they can purchase it knowing that certain standards have been met,” said James Christina, the APMA’s director of scientific affairs.

As more children’s brands focus on quality materials and fit, he noted, there has been an increase in seal applications. “It’s absolutely a marketing point [for vendors] … and certain retail stores prefer to sell product with the APMA seal on it,” he said. “So it has a value to the manufacturer and the retailer.”

The current roster of accepted children’s brands is a tight list that includes Stride Rite, Pediped and See Kai Run. Stride Rite just received the seal for its patented Sensory Response Technology and had already gotten it for the Soft Soles and Mini Shoez styles in its Robeez brand. Robeez even touts the APMA acceptance on its Website.

“Receiving the APMA seal further solidifies our research and development, positioning Stride Rite as the healthy choice in children’s footwear,” said Jenn Kretchmar, SVP of product for Stride Rite’s children’s group, in Lexington, Mass.

West Grove, Pa.-based comfort brand Dansko, which has already received the seal for 90 percent of its adult line, is also seeking approval for its reengineered kids’ line, starting with fall ’10. “We sought APMA certification before we even had a shoe company,” said CEO Mandy Cabot. “We’re big believers in third-party assessments … and we love putting that certification on our packaging.”

Parents aren’t the only ones lured by the seal. For retailers, it can connote a quality product and serves as an important sales piece. “The seal is definitely an important selling point, if needed,” said Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York. “Parents love the fact that it has validity and that it has got [a professional organization] behind it.”

While both Cabot and Wasserman said they believe in the value in the seal, they noted that the APMA could more aggressively reach out to parents, especially in an increasingly digital generation of moms. According to Wasserman, only a few of the parents coming into his store are familiar with the seal. It’s a concern that has deterred some brands from pursuing APMA acceptance for their shoes.

“Back when pediatricians took the time to explain the value of putting your kids in quality footwear that fit and offered proper support, the APMA seal held cachet,” said Ken Proctor, founder and CEO of Twig in Woodlands, Texas. “Unfortunately, today, many moms are far more likely to get their information from mommy blogs versus doctors.”

Indeed, a quick look at the blogs considered most important to younger mothers, according to market research firm Mr. Youth, showed that the APMA was all but invisible. The organization received only one mention, buried in a string of commenter posts, even though the discussions about proper sizing and foot development were perfectly aligned with the APMA’s philosophy. According to Christina, the APMA’s marketing efforts largely are driven through its dedicated Website, APMA.org.

“Of course, there’s far more marketing the APMA could do of its own services,” said Cabot. “But we go to their conferences, and we talk to podiatrists and doctors about our products. That’s why it’s important that we hook up with [the APMA]. Our company is about providing the most comfortable shoes in our categories. The APMA is really what can determine whether a product line promotes proper foot health.”

Access exclusive content