Understanding Comfort Technology

Men have zero tolerance for uncomfortable shoes. From twentysomethings’ affinity for sneakers to baby boomers’ need for healthy options, male consumers expect footwear to fit right out of the box.

To meet men’s comfort demands, many footwear brands are increasingly adding comfort elements such as cushioned footbeds and air technologies. But as these features have become more pervasive, core comfort players must work harder to distinguish themselves from the mainstream. Heritage brands are aggressively communicating their comfort stories to consumers in different ways — from traditional trunk shows to modern-day social media. Although none of the methods are revolutionary, brands said they are successful because men have an innate need to understand how technologies work.

“Comfort is such a general term,” said Amy Ciatti, director of marketing for Deer Stags Concepts in New York. “[Comfort] means different things to different people. So it’s important to show what we [add to] the shoe to make it comfortable. Anyone can say they put in cushioning, but at the end of the day, we have the technology to back it up.”

And because nearly 70 percent of Deer Stags’ business is in self-service stores, packaging is a key tool in telling its comfort story. Deer Stags’ new Walkmaster wellness collection, for example, illustrates its selling points through a cartoon character on the box. “We provide the customer with an eye-catching box with simple verbiage about our comfort features so [their] interest is piqued to the point of opening the box and trying on the shoes,” said Ciatti. “If you can get customers to try them on, you’re halfway to making a sale. You’ve already prepared them for the comfort they’re about to experience.”

While Deer Stags relies on consumers to discover the comfort features, Waltham, Mass.-based Earth Inc. taps sales associates to relay the message. “It’s about seeding pairs with sales associates and doing staff training,” said Dave Aznavorian, VP of marketing for Earth. “When a well-trained associate opens up the conversation about [our approach] to total body wellness and joint stress reduction, a deeper and more resonant connection can be [made].”

Mephisto also calls upon sales associates to educate consumers. “The best advertising is salespeople,” said Mike Crosno, president and CEO of Mephisto USA in Franklin, Tenn. “We put a lot of [associates] in the shoes [through a special pricing policy]. As many people as we can get on the floor to experience the men’s shoes, the better. It becomes personal.”

Chris Harrison, owner of Harrison’s Comfort Footwear in Poulsbo, Wash., knows first-hand the importance of having a sales staff that understands a shoe’s features. “Comfort shoes are technical and need an explanation,” he said. “Men are interested in why a shoe’s comfortable. It’s [like how] a car works.”

Michael Toschi, CEO of Michael Toschi International of San Carlos, Calif., agreed, noting that simply getting men to try on a pair of shoes is the first step in differentiating his brand from others in the market. Then, to demonstrate how his comfort system works, Toschi provides retailers with a key ring that shows the rigid platform rather than the more expected soft cushioning. “It’s a point-of-purchase demonstration,” Toschi said. “It’s a tangible education about the components. Guys are into the nuts and bolts of how things work.”

Clarks also keeps it simple when trying to familiarize consumers with comfort technologies. Margaret Newville, VP of marketing, said this spring the Newton Upper Falls, Mass.-based company will run product-driven print ads for its men’s Unstructured and Wave collections. “We do product advertising so we can show the comfort technologies,” said Newville. She added that the method particularly helps promote Unstructured’s four-part comfort system, touting its softness, flexibility, lightweight materials and air circulation.

Edison, N.J.-based Geox is taking advantage of newer tools to highlight men’s shoes, including social media. Evert Rotteveel, VP of marketing, said Geox is launching accounts on Facebook and Twitter in the next several weeks. “Social conversations will be a major tool,” said Rotteveel. “We will get the conversation going.”

Rockport also is utilizing the Internet to illustrate its latest comfort technology, Truwalk, debuting this fall. In October, Rockport will add a video to the site that further illustrates the benefits of the technology, which is designed to reflect the way the body rolls when walking. And while Truwalk is available for both genders, this added effort is even more important in the men’s division than in the women’s, said Dave Pompel, men’s category director at Rockport.

“If men are not confident [a shoe] has the guts [needed] to be comfortable,” he said, “they won’t buy it.”

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