MBT Strengthens Wellness Message

NEW YORK — MBT is on a new mission: to reinforce its wellness message to consumers, retailers and the media.

Executives at the brand, distributed by Portsmouth, N.H.-based Masai USA, said they are aiming to stand out from all the new toning product.

“There’s an onslaught of toning shoes [on the market],” said Sam Spears, VP of product and marketing at MBT. “We didn’t expect it. We don’t think of MBT as toning. We’ve thought of it as wellness.”

According to Klaus Heidegger, a majority shareholder, MBT does not view today’s toning brands as competition because they don’t offer the same core health and wellness benefits as MBT. “It’s a different audience,” he said, adding that MBT has a more sophisticated consumer base. “Our footwear has an effect on the whole body. People will not compromise by going with a $100 brand.”

Despite the more crowded marketplace, MBT is continuing to grow, much as it has since launching in Europe in 1996, and in the U.S. in 2003, Spears said. The brand experienced global increases from 2008 to 2009, with similar results expected this year for the privately held Swiss parent company, Masai Marketing & Trading AG.

“The potential is quite positive,” said Spears.

Helping boost sales is more fashion-driven product, with 20 percent more styles in the collection for spring ’11 than a year earlier. “There’s more interest in lifestyle product,” said Spears. “There are lots of careers where people work on their feet, and they like the casual as well as dressy styles.”

To get its health and wellness message across, MBT will continue to focus on its primary marketing tool of educating the retail community. “Instead of advertising, we need the best retailers to represent the brand and spend the time with sophisticated customers to get the word out,” said Spears.

Eight MBT staffers are taking the company message on the road. “We want to make sure [retail] associates understand the product,” said field pro Amy Manson.

Added Spears, “It’s the front line for us.”

While connecting with retailers is paramount for MBT, the company does plan to more aggressively target consumers with a new advertising campaign. Set to kick off this month in the Style section of The New York Times, it will be followed by a national campaign next spring.

“This will separate us from the pack,” Heidegger said about the first ad, which identifies MBT as the original wellness shoe. “It’s about building a stronger body. We’re Swiss innovation combined with Italian style. Our [technology] addresses the whole body, not just the toning aspect.”

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