Champion Plans Expansion at Earth

NEW YORK — Gary Champion is hoping that growing consumer interest in healthy living and a renewed focus on the company’s branded business could bolster Earth Inc.’s sales by as much as 25 percent this year.

Since taking over as president six months ago, Champion has dedicated much of his efforts to growing the firm’s namesake brand, which plays to his management strengths.

“I have the expertise on the branded side of the business,” said Champion, whose resumé includes 25 years as SVP of wholesale at Clarks.

That’s somewhat of a shift for the company, considering that the largest piece of its business is first-cost.

Champion believes the strength of the Earth brand could yield big returns. He is hopeful that sales can grow fivefold over the next five years. And though revenues were flat in 2009 over 2008, Champion said he anticipates a 20 percent to 25 percent uptick this year.

To help fuel growth, Champion has been bolstering his management team and recently appointed Daniel Silver to the newly created post of director of sales.

Silver was formerly the director of sales and national accounts manager at Birki’s.

The time is right for expansion, the president said, since health and wellness is top of mind for consumers.

“There’s now an opportunity,” he said. “There has been a shift in society, with people thinking about their lifestyle and their health and wellness. This comes right at what Earth represents.” 

Champion added that the company would emphasize its signature negative heel technology, designed to promote better posture and aid in toning and calorie burning.

However, he explained, while Earth plays in that arena, “it’s a tiny piece of what we do.”

The brand also has a concise offering of Exer-Fit styles, its take on the toning category that focuses on athletic styling.

More broadly, Champion predicted that the brand’s wellness message will resonate with consumers.

“Wellness is not only good for you, but good for the planet,” he said. “It’s about how you want to live your life. How does [Earth] treat the world.”

To that end, the company takes an eco-friendly stand, using glueless boxes and biodegradeable soles.

“At different levels, you can get involved with the brand in your lifestyle. Part of the wellness lifestyle is the green [aspect]. Eco-friendly plays a role in the brand, but is not a selling message,” said Champion.

The executive also plans to leverage the company’s position in the comfort market with the spring ’11 launch of a series of dressier looks under the Earthies name. The collection of sophisticated heels and wedges will be targeted to top-tier department stores and independents. The line will retail from $100 to $140.            

“We hope we have hit a niche that doesn’t exist in style, comfort and price point,” said Champion.

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