5 Questions for Dearfoams’ Nancy Coons

After a two-year hiatus from the men’s category, Dearfoams will relaunch that business for fall ’13 with looks aimed at a younger audience.

According to Nancy Coons, president of the Pickerington, Ohio-based brand, the men’s collection lost its point of view after being increasingly tweaked to meet individual retailer requests. “What I found [we were] doing was changing who we were as a brand to accommodate the retailers,” said Coons. “By taking a step back and getting out of the market, it allowed us to design a line we felt was right based on consumer trends and what was going on in the marketplace.”

For the season, Dearfoams has focused on colors and materials, and such silhouettes as the boat moc. The brand also stepped up the quality, allowing it to raise the line’s average price to $39. The initiative, Coons said, means the men’s category could eventually account for half of the brand’s sales.

The updated product is expected to open retail doors for the brand, particularly in independent and department store channels. The men’s line already is sold through mass merchants, shoe chains and mid-tier department stores.

But, Coons noted, the firm plans to hold fast to its improved positioning. “If [a store] wants to buy anything from us, they’re going to have to pay more money and put us into the higher-price-point [category],” she said. In addition to more-upscale retailers, the men’s slippers also will be available in Dearfoams’ current account base, which includes DSW and Kohl’s.

Here, Coons talks about the challenges in selling to a diverse retail base and the new ways men are wearing slippers.

What do men look for in slippers?
They look at style, then technology. They love something new, different or interesting. I used to work in the apparel industry — technical outerwear and athletic apparel — all of which has great features and benefits men love. [After all that], it’s price and the “ooh, ah” feeling. They really love to have slippers feel great. A lot of the comfort features built into a woman’s slipper aren’t going to support a man’s foot or weight. Men look for comfort in [terms of] responsiveness. They want to feel it’s stable, so there has to be some firmness.

Who is Dearfoams’ target male customer going forward?
[We’re now designing] for a younger demographic because we really don’t think it’s your grandpa’s slipper [anymore]. It’s something fun. We’ve incorporated great materials, colors and trends, so it’s very current. When we talked to consumers, we found a desire for product for men ages 18 to 35. They’re not able to find what they’re looking for. And it’s no longer about slippers you wear inside. There’s a shift in the way we look at this product because it’s now being worn outdoors. If you go back several years, you saw college kids wearing pajamas to school. Men are now wearing slippers for travel as well as to class.

Men’s slippers are traditionally bought at the holiday time. How can Dearfoams keep the business going year-round?
It’s a 12-month program, but retailers will not dedicate the space for men’s. They put it out at holiday time, then take it off the floor. With women’s, we have dedicated space year-round in almost every retailer and channel of distribution. That’s something we’re now working on with our key retailers. [For example], Walmart has a 12-month program, as does Target. The consumer needs to know [the product is] there, so they’ll come in for it. My job right now is to get our retail partners to allow us to dedicate space all year.

Who is your main competition in the men’s arena?
The No. 1 brand Dearfoams is up against as far as going into the mass market is Dockers. It’s a great brand with a lot of big money behind it. Healthy competition is good, so it’s one that we look at. Then there’s the Totes piece, but it’s not nearly as big as Dockers, so we don’t look at it nearly to that level. A lot of it is name recognition. While Dockers is a license, people understand the brand — it’s a big, important brand.

What are the key slipper trends for fall ’13?
Corduroy is big. It’s comfortable, and you get vibrant colors. [In addition], genuine suede and microfiber [are important]. Microfiber is a synthetic, but it can look and feel like real suede. That’s important to a man. You can also get strong, true color in microfiber. So if you’re popping black with a red or blue, you’ve got this great intensity. The classic boat moc is very important, so we do [that] and loafers.

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