FN Summit: Hicks Touts Athletic Strength at Foot Locker

The athletic market is hot right now, and that’s not a fluke.

That was the message from Foot Locker Inc. Chairman and CEO Ken Hicks during a conversation on stage with FN Executive Editor Neil Weilheimer. “The athletic shoe business is not a cycle,” he said, adding that while the market has had its ups and downs, young shoppers prefer athletic shoes for all occasions — and that bodes well for the category and Foot Locker in particular.

“Look at the streets — everybody who has a choice is wearing sneakers,” Hicks said. “Soon, everybody will be wearing sneakers, and I love it.”

The CEO noted that fresh product with bold color stories from all of Foot Locker’s key vendors is driving the success at retail today. Great product, he said, should help combat the overall economic weakness. “The economy is going to continue to suck, but we’ll be in good shape,” he added.

Category-wise, Hicks said running and lightweight product are selling well, and basketball, a major category for Foot Locker, has bounced back from a more stagnant period with new lightweight offerings that have been popular.

The upcoming Olympics should help boost the athletic category this summer as well. “Anything that gives excitement to sports adds to sales,” Hicks said.

Addressing a theme of the day, the retail exec also covered the importance of using social media to speak to Foot Locker’s core consumer. “Our consumers are 15 to 25 [years old], they’re on social media and they see things a little differently,” he said.

Foot Locker uses Facebook and Twitter, and its videos on YouTube — including commercials that may be too daring for television — have garnered the retailer plenty of attention. But Hicks said he stays out of that area. “They try not to show [the edgier commercials] to me before [they run],” he said, laughing. While he signs off on the general themes, he leaves the details to his team. “They know the kids a lot better than I do.”

While the men’s market is Foot Locker’s bread and butter, the retailer is aggressively planning for growth in the women’s and kids’ categories.

To target kids, the chain is putting more focus on apparel in its Kids Foot Locker doors and will remodel select locations around the country with an eye to driving sales. The same is true on the women’s front, where Foot Locker is looking to leverage new insights into the consumer, Hicks said.

“We have tended to look at women as men with long hair. And they’re not. They’re women,” Hicks said, adding that those consumers represent a big potential market that is currently underserved for their athletic needs. “And women dress from the body down, while men dress from the feet up.”

To that end, the retailer has been putting bra and bottom bars in some of its Lady Foot Locker locations to drive apparel sales, and is doing more to coordinate apparel and footwear colors and styles. And this fall, Foot Locker intends to redo some women’s concept stores, including a test location in the New York area.

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