Minnetonka Plots New Moves

NEW YORK — The Minnetonka Moccasin Co., a family-run business founded in 1946, plans to branch out from its core classic styles.

Though the firm’s strategy includes several collaborations, expansion efforts will be moderate in scale, according to CEO David Miller.

“We still have so much potential for growth in what we’re doing now; we’re not out looking for acquisitions or other products. We’re not a publicly traded company and we don’t have to grow [significantly],” said Miller, who added that sales have tripled in the last six years. “We anticipate 2014 as being another good year.”

First, the team — which spans three generations — has partnered with Sanrio on special-edition Minnetonka for Hello Kitty product for fall. (For details on the line, see page 21.)

“I’m expecting a very positive response from the fusing of two very interesting and classic brands,” said David Marchi, senior director of brand management and marketing at Sanrio. “[Minnetonka is] such an iconic footwear brand, and fans will love that there is something new.”

Meanwhile, Minnetonka continues its work with Me to We, an enterprise that creates charitable products that benefit their partner, Free the Children, an international education-based organization. For fall, a pair of Me to We Maasai Mocs will feature handcrafted beading from the Maasai Mamas, a Kenya-based arts-and-crafts group.

“These collaborations will have a nice pop, and our product will be introduced to a broader consumer,” said Miller. “We hope to expand our business worldwide.”

To that end, Nordstrom has picked up both projects for fall.

“There is an adult customer who still loves Hello Kitty, and something charitable is always a win,” said Nadia Abu-Zahra, multichannel buyer for contemporary shoes at Nordstrom, who added that Minnetonka performs well in stores because of its brand recognition. “They are definitely in a world of their own. It is something consistent, but they also know how to freshen up the brand without changing their roots.”

As for growing its core product line, the brand will incorporate more leathers, add wedges and heeled boots, and expand both kids’ and sandal styles.

“We do it in a logical kind of way; we don’t take big leaps,” said Miller. “If you look at what we’re selling now versus 10 years ago, the footwear business may be more fashion-driven, but we’re not trying to chase that. Consumers want comfort for certain parts of the day.”

Added President Scott Sessa, “Our consumer has guided us with what she believes Minnetonka is and where the brand can go.”

The line, priced from about $40 to $90, also is stocked at major independents such as The Public in Lincoln, Neb., and Red’s Shoe Barn in Dover, N.H.

Retailer It’s a Girl Thing, based in Texas, has been selling Minnetonka for two years. “Customers connect to their free spirited business,” said co-owner Cerissa Stockdale. “Keeping their heritage and not changing their roots works very well for them.”

Minnetonka works hard to keep up with the diverse tastes of what Miller described as a broad customer base.

“We have three generations buying the shoes on a regular basis: baby, mother and grandmother are buying the exact same shoe, which is fortunate on a brand and product level,” he said.

It is fitting then that the brand remains a close-knit operation. “We have no politics in this company and we have the ability to make decisions quickly or undo decisions in some cases,” said Sessa, who is not officially a family member. “It’s a nice environment and everybody wants to be part of the family here.”

But one well-known family member, Jennifer Miller, recently left the company. “When I started at Minnetonka four years ago, the original plan was for me to stay on board short term to help the team build its international business, which we have done,” said Miller, who is married to David. “I have finally passed along the international responsibilities to new leadership so they can take the business to the next level.”

While most of the industry manufactures in China, Minnetonka continues to make the bulk of its product in the Dominican Republic, where it owns a factory.

“It’s very close and stable, and it’s well established,” said David Miller, who added that a few items are made in China. “Things are getting harder [in China] in terms of prices, but we’re not concerned at the moment.”

On the marketing front, Minnetonka plans to add more lifestyle content to its blog and social media channels. For example, it is working with author and food blogger Georgia Pellegrini and with Chelsey Andrews of The Paper Mama blog.

“Expanding our branded content is one of our major focuses. We are incorporating new contributors who add scale and interesting lifestyle content. Andrews is a DIY wiz, which appeals to our audience,” said director of marketing Kalyn Waters. “Our goal is to engage our current customers in fresh ways and utilize these relationships to introduce the brand to potential new customers.”

Looking ahead, executives said their goals are simple: “We’re getting up every day and doing what we do and just trying to do it better,” said Miller.

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