Weyco Banks on Diversity

NEW YORK — Weyco Group Inc. is looking far beyond men’s dress shoes.

With the acquisition last month of Bogs parent firm The Combs Co., and last year’s purchase of the children’s brand Umi, the Milwaukee-based company is making a major push to broaden its product offering.

“Dress shoes are an important part of our business, and we continue to develop that part, but the reality is the dress shoe market is shrinking,” said John Florsheim, president and COO of Weyco, which manufactures the Florsheim, Stacy Adams and Nunn Bush men’s lines. “As a company, we need to evolve and develop footwear that today’s consumer is wearing.”

Florsheim said the addition of boot maker Bogs fits well with this strategy, as it allows the firm to move into new categories and capture broader distribution within key retail channels such as outdoor. “It’s important to add brands that have a more casual orientation and that are multi-gender,” he said. “Bogs is a fast-growing brand with a diverse following that will bring a lot of energy to our company.”

The Combs team will continue to lead design and product development for Bogs, while Weyco will take over the operations side of the business. Known for its waterproof, breathable boots for adults and kids, Bogs has strong roots in the performance-outdoor, work and hunting markets, but it also has been expanding with more lifestyle-driven product. “We’re in a wide variety of categories now, and there are many more that [would make sense for us],” said Bill Combs, president of Bogs.

Sam Poser, an analyst for Sterne Agee, said Bogs offers good long-term growth potential for Weyco, as it is a classic brand “that has legs beyond the trends occurring right now.”

The children’s category is another growing area for Weyco. The company has had a small offering of boys’ shoes under Stacy Adams for some time, but it stepped into kids’ in a serious way when it acquired Umi last April. Under Weyco, Umi has made significant strides in the past year, including revamping its in-store branding, broadening its retail distribution and rolling out a baby collection and expanded waterproof shoe offering.

For spring ’12, the brand will debut Umi Sport, a line of machine-washable sneakers. “[Partnering with Weyco] has been a great fit and very positive for the long-term growth of the brand,” said Mark Kohlenberg, founder and president of Umi. “[We now have] the benefit of a large company with a strong balance sheet.”

Florsheim said he expects the kids’ brand, which had $1.2 million in sales last year, to become an important part of Weyco’s business over time. What’s more, the company sees even greater potential in the children’s market. For instance, Bogs has a strong and growing kids’ business, and — with Kohlenberg’s help — Weyco plans to explore other opportunities in that category under its existing brands. First up could be Florsheim boys’ shoes.

While it cultivates the new brands, Weyco continues to build its existing businesses. The company’s 135-year-old Stacy Adams label is showing the strongest growth, with sales up nearly 10 percent in 2010.

Helping to drive that growth is a focus on more casual options. This past fall, the brand introduced Brockton Originals, a higher-end, vintage-inspired collection featuring modern takes on two of its most enduring dress styles: the Madison and the Dayton. Retailing from $150 to $190, the assortment includes brogues, spectators and spat boots, done in more casual materials to pair with denim.

“The idea is to reach down to a different customer, a younger customer,” Florsheim said, noting that Weyco has already sold its initial inventory for the line, which is being carried by select independents including Hanig’s in Chicago and In God We Trust in New York.

Weyco also is taking its Nunn Bush brand in a more casual direction. Following last year’s launch of its All-Terrain Comfort line of moderately priced rugged casuals, the brand introduced another extension for fall ’11: Nunn Bush Kore, targeted to department stores, specialty comfort retailers and footwear chains. According to Florsheim, Kore builds on the brand’s heritage in the walking shoe category with a series of biomechanically designed styles, priced at $85, that feature lightweight, dual-density contoured soles.

Weyco’s flagship Florsheim brand, meanwhile, continues to get a big boost from its collaboration with menswear label Duckie Brown. Now in its fourth season at retail, the partnership has brought “new energy and freshness” to the brand, Florsheim said. “It’s allowed us to get into a level of distribution we wouldn’t normally be in, as well as attract a much bigger customer following.”

For fall, Duckie Brown designers Steven Cox and Daniel Silver have added socks to the offering, and the pair is testing the waters in the women’s market with two new styles — a brogue and saddle shoe — both available in an array of colors. “We’re really just experimenting with the idea right now,” Florsheim said of the move. “We’re trying to figure out how to do it and whether we can add value in that market.”

Poser said Weyco’s recent efforts to branch out beyond its core business make a lot of sense. “They’ve always been a very methodical company, and the success of the Duckie Brown [collab] has given them more confidence that they can step out of what was once their comfort zone and be slightly more aggressive.”

On the retail side, Florsheim continues to expand its footprint internationally. The brand last year opened shop-in-shops in two Sogo department store locations in Shanghai, as well as a standalone store in Johannesburg. Next month, it will debut a flagship in Sydney’s Westfield shopping center. In addition, Florsheim just extended the lease on its New York pop-up shop, which launched last September. “We see a lot of growth potential in the retail side of the business,” said Florsheim.

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