New Balance Craves More Comfort

NEW YORK — Bob Infantino is the right person to drive New Balance’s comfort business, retailers said last week.

The former Clarks N.A. president will helm newly created DryDock Footwear, an independent company that will include New Balance’s existing Aravon and Dunham brands, and new comfort labels, the first of which will bow for fall ’12.

“This is going to be a win-win for New Balance and Bob,” said Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes in New York. “He will now be able to put together probably one of the strongest footwear presentations [with] the fashion he understands and has delivered in the past.”

John Schuler, president of Schuler Shoes in Maple Grove, Minn., which carries both Aravon and Dunham, agreed. “Bob will be an asset. He’s a very talented man and will take [the business] to another level,” he said.

For his part, Infantino — who has a financial stake in the new venture — said Aravon and Dunham need to be run outside the New Balance athletic umbrella to reach their full potential. “They weren’t getting the attention or commitment [they needed before],” he noted. “They’re separate kinds of businesses with a different thinking, market and consumer.”

Infantino plans to put his stamp on the labels beginning in the fall ’12 season. He noted that Aravon will remain a premium women’s line positioned to compete in the euro-comfort category, while Dunham will continue to focus on moderately priced men’s shoes, including casual, work and outdoor product. “I only know how to make comfortable shoes,” he quipped. “It’s been my whole career.”

And while DryDock will operate as a separate entity, Infantino still plans to maintain a New Balance connection at the consumer level. The New Balance name will appear on all product, as well as marketing materials. “Even for [our] new brand, it’s important for people to know it’s backed by New Balance’s technology and performance,” he said.

The athletic firm also will provide manufacturing resources, warehousing and logistics capabilities.

Infantino also plans to focus on the size and width business, something that New Balance has emphasized from the beginning.

“New Balance [is] the only athletic company that [plays] hard in sizes and widths,” said the executive. “It built its business on [it] and on being in-stock.”

Jim Davis, chairman of New Balance, affirmed that DryDock’s goal is to become a major player in all areas of comfort.

“We see this as an opportunity to focus dedicated resources under Bob’s leadership, as well as continue to leverage the strengths of the New Balance brand,” he said, adding that new acquisitions under DryDock were something that could be part of the company’s strategy.

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