Q&A With Heelys’ Tom Hansen

After exploding onto the footwear scene in 2000 with a “stealth skate shoe,” Heelys Inc. has struggled to maintain its momentum.

The company raised $135 million for an IPO in December 2006, but has since seen its business falter. In 2008, for example, the company reported a loss of $5.9 million, compared with net income of $21.9 million in 2007, while revenues dropped more than 61 percent to just $70.7 million.
In an unconventional move, the company named advertising veteran Tom Hansen as its new CEO in July. Several weeks after beginning his work at the Dallas-based firm, Hansen gave Footwear News some insight into Heelys’ future.
FN: Why did you decide to take a job in the merchandise arena after working in marketing for so long?
TH: I thought it would be an incredible challenge to be on this side of the table. Heelys is an icon brand, which I define as a brand that either recreates — or totally creates — its own category. It was probably one of the most disruptive forces in the [footwear] category when it came out.
FN: Before joining Heelys, what were your thoughts about the brand?
TH: The first time you see someone skate by you on [the shoes], it’s such a shock, because you’ve never seen anything like it before. But Heelys, as a brand, never developed. It’s still a product. That represents a giant opportunity.
FN: What is your strategy for pushing Heelys forward?
TH: We’ve focused on the product of shoe with a wheel in the heel, but [we want to move ahead to] the benefit of Heelys. It’s the idea of exhilaration, excitement, joy and freedom [that you get] when you’re using Heelys.
FN: What are some areas where you see potential growth for the brand?
TH: Dance and music are big potential areas of growth for us. We want to be a brand that can participate in that part of pop culture. Beyond just skating, we see a lot of opportunity in the area of dance competitions, like the B-Boys.
FN: How does the current belt-tightening for back-to-school impact Heelys?
TH: Times are still a little bit tough. But I think that as we begin to come out of the cycle, and as more positive news comes out, people will begin to spend again and will spend on our product.

For more on Heelys, see Monday’s issue of Footwear News.

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