5 Questions for LJP’s Larry Paparo

LJP International is on the fast track.

The Edison, N.J.-based footwear firm, founded in 2006 by industry veteran Larry Paparo, made its name as a sourcing agent but is becoming a major player in the licensing business.

In 2011, LJP was tapped as licensee for Nine West Kids, and last year, it inked a deal to make men’s shoes for ready-to-wear label Robert Graham. Now, LJP is stepping into the women’s market with Mootsies Tootsies, the 35-year-old moderately priced brand under the Nine West umbrella. The firm will introduce an updated collection in September with retailers including Boscov’s, DSW and Zappos.com.

“We saw it as a great opportunity,” Paparo said of the license, which also includes girls’ footwear. “Mootsies is a well-established brand with a very loyal customer base. It has a great foundation, so we’re looking to build on that and create a broader lifestyle around the brand by expanding the category assortment.”

LJP will pump up the product, which retails from $30 to $100, with updated styling, more premium materials and enhanced comfort features. Paparo believes the changes will help attract a broader audience. “Our core customer is 35- to 55-year-old women, but we can reach her in her 20s and even her late 50s and 60s,” he said, noting a consumer-focused marketing campaign for Mootsies is in development. “We want to present a lifestyle concept of who the Mootsies customer is. There hasn’t been a campaign for many years, so retailers are excited about this.”

Paparo’s team is also busy steering Robert Graham’s footwear, which is shipping to stores now. (For more on that brand’s founder, see page 76.)

Nine West Kids, meanwhile, continues to flourish under LJP’s wing. Sales have surged 25 percent to 30 percent annually, and Paparo said there is more opportunity for growth. “We’ve worked hard to get the product, pricing and distribution right, and to maximize the business. [The sales numbers validate] those efforts,” he said.

Here, Paparo shares his strategies for remaking a much-loved brand and picking the right licensing partners.

What’s your plan to update Mootsies Tootsies?
Nine West has done a great job with the brand, so we’re simply building on that. We’re making the product as on-trend as possible and using more interesting materials and embellishments. To give an example, there is a plain navy moc that customers have been buying for 30 years. We’ve stepped it up and embellished it. We’ve also added a lot more comfort to the line. Our customer is a career woman who likes to take her shoes from day into night. So we’ve put more padding in the metatarsal area and more memory foam in the footbeds, and we’re using breathable fabric linings instead of synthetics.

How are you expanding the assortment?
We’re taking what’s already working well in the collection and doing more of it. But we’re also looking at what’s missing and introducing it. Over time, the brand has become known for certain categories, like social [occasion] and stretch casuals. We have a consumer who embraces those categories, so why not give her more? Why not give her stuff she’s buying from other brands, such as sandals, wedges and sneakers? Trends are happening in the market that she’s aware of, but she [hasn’t been] able to get them from the brand she loves. Now we’re offering that.

What do you envision for the Mootsies girls’ line?
We debuted a range at FFANY earlier this month. It features women’s takedown styles, as well as some [kids’-specific] styles that address who we think the Mootsies girl is. The line will be very distinct from Nine West Kids. We look at Mootsies as incremental business that we could never get under Nine West but that other competitors might get.

LJP has a well-established sourcing operation in China. Has that been an advantage as you grow the firm?
We’ve invested a lot in developing our China office and factory base. Because we have this strong sourcing arm overseas, we don’t have to go through middlemen. We have our own sample room, so we can design and develop the product correctly from the beginning. We know which factories to go to, we have our own lab. This all allows us to achieve speed-to-market and get better pricing. We also can control the quality and production [flow]. It’s a big selling point as we talk with [prospective licensing] partners.

What are your criteria for potential new licenses?
We look for brands with strong consumer awareness and staying power. We want to commit to long-term partnerships. We’re careful about choosing licenses that won’t directly compete with anything in our stable. I also determined early on that I didn’t want to specialize in any one category, like children’s. When you do multiple brands within the same category, you end up diluting yourself. We want to be more diversified in our portfolio.

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