When Hunter Boot Ltd. debuted a high-tech flagship store in London last month, a dance troupe decked out in the brand from head to toe took over Regent Street to perform “Singin’ in the Rain.”
It was a big splash for the 158-year-old rainboot label, which has spent 2014 diversifying its product assortment, raising its profile on the London Fashion Week runway and pushing into new markets.
“We’ve done a lot in the last 18 months, and we’re excited about how the business is developing,” said CEO and global president James Seuss, who joined the brand in 2012. (Hunter’s controlling shareholder is Searchlight Capital Partners; Pentland Group LLC is a minority investor.)
Under Seuss and creative director Alasdhair Willis, the husband of Stella McCartney who was hired last year, the brand has been working to refresh its core Wellington boot look with clever updates. For spring ’15, Hunter also is tapping into new footwear categories from heels and oxfords to sneakers and booties. In addition, it is expanding with more outerwear and accessories offerings.
While some footwear firms have found it challenging to expand beyond their core styles, Hunter is finding early success by playing up its heritage in every product it rolls out.
“We stuck to the DNA of the boot, so everything feels authentic and true to our roots,” Seuss said. “We haven’t just gone to an opposite extreme that a consumer wouldn’t buy into.”
Scott Meden, EVP and GMM of shoes at Nordstrom — which partnered with Hunter on six shop-in-shops for fall — said the company’s strategy is resonating with consumers. “It is natural for them to extend into additional categories, particularly when they are weather-related,” Meden said. “They are good partners because they are great communicators, listen to our business needs and react accordingly.”
Beyond strengthening its presence in key wholesale doors, Hunter is also ramping up its focus on retail, most notably with the opening of the 5,000-sq.-ft. flagship on Regent Street. “It’s a massive statement for the brand, and demonstrates our commitment to growing the business,” Willis said.
Now, the label is focused on aggressive global expansion, with plans for Asia and the U.S., where business is on a major upswing.
“We saw significant increases in both wholesale and e-commerce,” said Wendy Svarre, president and CEO of Hunter North America. She cited successful expansion into high-end stores such as Kirna Zabete, Intermix and Barneys New York.
Here, Seuss talks about what’s next on the agenda, emerging social media platforms and the power of appealing to a wide consumer audience.
It’s been a busy two years for you. What did you want to achieve with your fresh strategy?
JS: When we did our five-year, long-range plan, we wanted to keep the focus on footwear and develop other kinds of styles. We wanted to refresh the iconic boot, but we’re doing a lot more than just that. We’ve worked hard on merchandising all the new products, from bags to socks, outerwear and footwear. It all looks good together. It’s what you would expect Hunter to look like.
Has the expansion allowed you to push into new retail doors?
JS: We are developing larger presences within Nordstrom where we have some shop-in-shops now. Barneys is carrying our product. We’ve had great success with our younger consumer at Urban Outfitters as well as independents. So we’ve achieved a balanced business.
What is the significance of the London store launch?
JS: Regent Street is a destination for U.K. consumers, Europeans, Americans, Asians. It provides great exposure for the brand and allows us to gauge consumer reaction very quickly. Now we’re looking for a store in New York that would be our first U.S. location.
Who is your main competition today?
JS: The consumer is definitely buying Ugg — that boot has been competition in footwear [overall]. In terms of the rainboot category, we’re the market leader. We have Aigle as a competitor in Europe, especially in France. Le Chameau is [a rival] for high-end shooting boots.
Has your consumer demographic changed?
JS: We’re focused on a core group of consumers with Hunter Original and Hunter Field, but basically everyone can buy into the brand in some way. We have kids wearing them, we have the Queen [of England] wearing them. We’ve opened up a lot more opportunities for consumers to experience.
How are you using social media to drive the business?
JS: We used Grabyo [real-time, geo-targeted video content sharing across Twitter] for our runway show. It was the first time a fashion brand did it, and [it proved to be] successful for our younger consumers. We are trying to lead on our technology messaging, focusing on our product but also the excitement around the brand. A lot of the social media is relevant to our festival audience, too.
Looking ahead, what markets are you focusing on?
JS: The U.S. is our No. 1 market, and the U.K. is No. 2. Japan, Canada and Korea are strong for us. Next year, we’ll open a flagship store in Tokyo with our partner Itochu. We opened a new store in Taipei, Taiwan. We’re in Hong Kong, but we’re working on our mainland China strategy. Everyone wants to be there, and it will be a focus for us, but we want to make sure we’re approaching it in the right way. E-commerce is a big part of that: We just launched our global website.