Despite a year of ups and downs, the small team at Miz Mooz is determined to grow the brand.
Under 28-year-old president Ron Kenigsberg, the New York-based brand has enjoyed rapid domestic and international growth and is now aiming to keep the momentum going in 2010.
The brand initially launched in 2000 as a private label for the four New York footwear stores under the Kenigsberg family retail business, Infinity Shoes Inc. The popularity of the line led to wholesale opportunities, which prompted Kenigsberg to present at the WSA Show four years later.
Close friend and sales director Jeff Bart, as well as younger brother Dan Kenigsberg, have been on board since the beginning and help Kenigsberg handle all aspects of the business, from sales and merchandising to retail and design.
Though Tel Aviv, Israel-based footwear designer Avi Wiener — better known as “Gazith” for the popular footwear brand he produces there — spearheads the design, lately the creative process has started to move closer to home.
“My dad, [Jackie Kenigsberg], and I are the ones speaking with our retail partners, so we’re in a better position to respond to what they’re looking for,” Kenigsberg said.
Sticking with proven styles has been the main priority over the past year, as the economy fell deeper into a slump.
“We’ve always run a tight ship, but last year, in particular, we really focused on strengthening relationships with our existing customers, trying to be flexible with them and continuing to make product they wanted to carry,” he said. “Retailers were looking for things that they were comfortable with. Going too far beyond that would have hurt us.”
While the line has expanded its styles, which have traditionally been very junior-friendly, it now also encompasses a more contemporary and dress-casual look for a broader customer base. The brand has never strayed from two signatures — comfort and color. Heel heights are always low, designed for all-day wear, and nearly every style is available in a range of colors, including green, red, yellow, orange and nude. Prices range from $50 for flats to $225 for boots.
Though the economy has improved, Kenigsberg said getting storeowners to take risks is still a struggle.
“Retailers are less concerned that they’re not going to get through the season, but they’re still being pretty conservative. They don’t want to commit a lot of money up front until they know what the trend is going to be,” he said. “That’s just something we have to work with.”
As a wholesaler and retailer, Kenigsberg understands the woes at retail firsthand and has experienced the struggle with the Miz Mooz branded store on Broadway. After a strong debut in March 2008, the shop saw a downturn in 2009 as tourists spent less, he said.
Even in a bad season, though, the store — and the family’s other retail locations — provide an invaluable launching ground for product. “It gives us a good foundation for developing the wholesale business further,” he said. “We can test things out.”
Domestic growth was up last year and the brand has been going strong in department stores, including Nordstrom, and independents such as L.A.-based LF Stores; Boutique, Boutique in Charlottesville, Va.; and Tops for Shoes in Asheville, N.C.
“We’ve been carrying the Miz Mooz line since its inception,” said Tim Wilson, women’s shoe buyer at Tops for Shoes. “We decided to test a few cases of product to help build our younger customer base and the stuff just evaporated out of the store.”
Wilson’s customers like the unique styling of the brand, he said. “[Miz Mooz] always does such great colors; it really isn’t like anything else. It’s a major vendor for our young customers, but also for women into their 50s with a younger [fashion sense], which surprised me.”
Internationally, the brand has continued to grow and will soon be available in 30 boutiques in Belgium through a regional distributor. And since the brand entered Canada in 2006, it is now in 150 doors.
“Depending on the success of shoes this spring, we’ll know how the market is receiving the product and then we can develop a strategy on how to roll out to other countries,” said Kenigsberg. “At the moment, we’re focused on getting to as many shows as possible to see our customers.”
Kenigsberg and his team will hit shows in Las Vegas, New York, Atlanta and San Francisco, as well as GDS in Dusseldorf, Germany.
Going forward, the brand is trying to keep buzz strong. A new Miz Mooz Website launched this month, designed to give the user a more cheeky and engaging experience. The site also will incorporate social networking links, a blog, and eventually a tool that will enable users to interact with each other.
E-commerce will continue to be available through the family’s online retail presence, Infinityshoes.com, which is undergoing an overhaul to add important features such as search and product zoom functions.
Additionally, the family is opening a fifth store, Walker & Whyte, this spring, which will prominently feature the extended Miz Mooz collection. The store will also house a full showroom and expanded office spaces for the growing Miz Mooz team. More branded stores may come later, but for now Kenigsberg said the focus is on the existing business.
“It’s going to be [another] tough year,” he said. “The only thing that changed is that there is less panic. But we just need to focus domestically on building the [brand] with existing customers. If they’re happy, then we’re in business.”