Birkenstock Targeting New Consumer Set

LOS ANGELES — After several years of reorganization, including the sale of the company to its namesake family, Birkenstock USA is on the road to revival.

For spring ’11, the firm has already added several key retailers, including Madewell, Steven Allan and Urban Outfitters, and the brand’s appeal is growing across age groups.

“We have had a tremendous year exceeding all of our sales expectations,” said VP of sales and marketing Jay McGregor. “We’re continuing to elevate our brand in the consumer’s eye, staying true to our core wellness message but also acknowledging that Birkenstock can be hip and stylish, too.”

Shelly Glasgow, director of product development and merchandising, said the company has simplified its advertising message and increased its visibility in the marketplace, in a way that speaks to different demographics.

“Part of the trend right now for younger folks is a suspicion of advertising,” she said. “The younger market, they don’t take in traditional media, the way 40- to 50-year-olds take in traditional media and they absolutely don’t want to be sold to.”

The company’s current advertising campaign features limited copy that speaks to a wide range of consumer ages, from 15-year-olds to 60-year-olds.

Glasgow said the company took an aggressive approach to marketing in 2009, followed by an even more vigorous plan in 2010, which topped $2 million. That amount will likely increase for 2011, as the company continues to branch out with ads targeted at male consumers. Those investments have helped the company increase 2010 sales in the double-digits, according to Glasgow.

Marketing aside, Glasgow said the downturn in the economy has helped drive customers to the brand as they seek out ways to live more simply. “After going through this economic turmoil, people want to simplify their lives a little bit, live more true to their values, be more authentic, and that’s who we are. And all that can be fashionable,” she said.

But that’s not to say Birkenstock has changed its designs to become more fashionable. In fact, Glasgow said, the company continues to depend on its founding core styles and colors. For example, the firm offered a wide range of colorways this past summer, in pink, lime green and powder blue, but in the end, classic colors far outsold all others. “I like to say we specialize in brown and black. We have about 12 different shades of brown,” Glasgow said.

“Our brand doesn’t change that often. We get lots of pressure to change, but that’s not our role,” she said. “Our role is to nurture and protect the brand and stay true to the health and wellness aspect of it. If that other stuff comes, that’s great, and that’s what’s happened right now.”

Looking ahead, Glasgow said the company intends to spend the year pursuing outdoor and specialty running accounts, as well as strengthening its relationships with independent retailers. To help in that process, the company recently hired four territory managers and five field service representatives.

For Tip Top Shoes owner Danny Wasserman, that is good news on top of what has already been a stellar year with the brand. “We’ve been really satisfied with their operation from both a customer service [standpoint] and from their field sales person,” he said. “This year, we were quite happy with their inventory and their support. For us, it’s a great brand, and one of our outstanding performers this past season.”

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