Jumping Jacks On the Go

With takedown brands capturing more shelf space in the kids’ market today, Jumping Jacks is standing out by sticking to its roots.

That includes offering an extensive range of sizes and widths, providing an in-stock program to accommodate retailers’ replenishment needs and catering to niche categories such as school uniform shoes and girls’ dress shoes.

“There is a lot more competition now … so we have to make sure we don’t lose sight of what makes us different from these adult brands,” said Allen Butterfield, who has served as GM of Jumping Jacks since 2007.

The 63-year-old brand, a division of Hot Springs, Ark.-based Munro & Co., also has taken the opportunity to expand, this past spring launching Jumping Jacks Sport, a line of colorful, lightweight athletic looks that retail for about $48. The shoes are machine washable and feature moisture-absorbing linings, removable contoured footbeds and flexible dual-density bottoms. “Although it is just in its infancy, [the collection] is already becoming a significant part of our business. We plan to substantially increase our offering in this category,” said Butterfield.

Jumping Jacks also is angling to become a bigger player in the booming baby market. Known mostly for traditional styles such as lace-up booties, the brand recognized the need to update, and is revamping its baby line for fall ’11. It will introduce more sophisticated, trend-driven styles, better materials and enhanced comfort and fit features. “The basic white high-top is still a strong seller for us,” Butterfield said, “but consumers are looking for more stylish alternatives.”

But the uniform business, in particular, has been a standout for Jumping Jacks in recent years, said Butterfield. Under the JJ School label, the brand produces an assortment of basic navy, brown and black looks, including bucks and slip-ons for boys and Mary Jane styles and saddle shoes for girls, which retail from $40 to $60. Depending on the style, the shoes are available in narrow, medium, wide and double-wide versions. “Many of our competitors do not fully address [the category] with a comprehensive size-and-width offering,” Butterfield said. “Uniform shoes are a part of the business where we excel because it requires a real commitment to fit.”

At Olly Shoes, customers are willing to pay a premium for good fit, said Kirby Lohff, president and CEO of the Downingtown, Pa.-based chain. “We have school shoes from Jumping Jacks that cost as much as $20 more than other [competing brands] we sell, but customers say they prefer Jumping Jacks,” Lohff said. “The fit is spot on, and it’s one of the few brands that has widths.”

Erica Weil, children’s buyer for Zappos.com, agreed. In school shoes, sandals and sneakers, she said, “the strength of the Jumping Jacks brand is being able to engineer shoes specifically for children’s feet. And [key to that is] having a selection of sizes and widths. It sets them apart.”

Jumping Jacks also is successful in dress shoes, offering classic looks for holidays and special occasions, as well as a more fashion-forward collection of dressy ballet flats called Balleto. “That’s not to say we don’t have competition,” Butterfield said. “On the contrary, we work hard to protect our shelf space in these niche categories.”

Having an extensive stock program has been a boon for Jumping Jacks in recent seasons, as retailers increasingly seek to carry less inventory and buy closer to need. “Our reorder business has been outstanding, [especially because] our customers are telling us they are having a more difficult time finding other suppliers that carry stock through the selling season,” said Butterfield.

Lohff noted that the brand’s replenishment capability is a big selling point for Olly Shoes. “The [retail] business is extremely volatile right now, so we are definitely aligning ourselves with brands that offer at-once shipping for fill-ins, so we don’t have to invest in too much product up front. It’s a huge competitive advantage for a vendor.”

And along with the brand’s expansion into sport looks and baby shoes, the fashion factor is being pumped up throughout Jumping Jacks’ entire product offering. “The growth of adult brands in the category has definitely created a need for updating our patterns and lasts more frequently to keep up with the trends,” Butterfield said.

Still, he stressed, Jumping Jacks doesn’t plan to stray too far from its heritage. “At the end of the day, we are still a children’s brand, and that won’t change.”

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