Stride Rite is shaking things up as the children’s market continues to undergo a revolution.
The nearly century-old children’s shoe company has introduced a new brand platform, Built for Childhood, that spans everything from marketing and product to the label’s in-store experience and e-commerce site. Stride Rite has also stepped into the mass channel for the first time with a collection for Target.
The moves follow several years of change at the brand, not only internally — Stride Rite was acquired by Wolverine World Wide Inc. in late 2012 — but also within the broader kids’ business. The independent retail channel, historically a core part of Stride Rite’s distribution, has shrunk considerably, and adult footwear brands continue to capture a growing share of kids’ sales.
“We took a hard look at our business and how it was performing and conceded that there were things we needed to fix,” said Ira Hernowitz, Stride Rite’s president. “Built for Childhood is a complete reinvention of our brand.”
Born of the findings of extensive consumer research, the Built for Childhood platform reflects Stride Rite’s effort to better relate to the everyday, real-life needs of today’s millennial parents, with an integrative brand experience that is more convenient and social. “The message of Built for Childhood is, ‘We’re here to help — we’re here to solve problems and make your life easier,’” explained Hernowitz, a former Toys ’R’ Us executive who joined Stride Rite in November 2013.
To showcase its new positioning, Stride Rite will run a national campaign for back-to-school centered on its Made2Play collection of comfort-driven, machine-washable shoes for school and after-school. The campaign, which is Stride Rite’s largest marketing investment in more than a decade, will reach parents through TV, video-on-demand, print, social and digital channels. The spots take a humorous look at the messy, rough-and-tumble reality of childhood.
The brand’s new Target collection, Surprize by Stride Rite, hit store shelves last month. Hernowitz said the decision to partner with the mega-retailer stemmed from the changes that have occurred within the kids’ retail landscape in recent years. “We had a lot of licensed partners and independents selling the Stride Rite brand, but that business has shrunk substantially,” he explained. “And our research was telling us that we had lost accessibility to our consumers — we just weren’t as available at retail as they wanted us to be. Target is a great fit [because] we know it’s our consumers’ go-to store.”
For Target, the Stride Rite partnership is an opportunity to bring one of footwear’s most-recognized names to its kids’ departments. “From what we’ve heard from our customers so far, they are very excited about this exclusive collection,” said Target spokeswoman Courtney Foster. “We know they are always looking for high-quality, durable brands they can trust.”
Hernowitz said he expects the Target collection, which is priced from $20 to $30, to be “nearly 100 percent incremental business” for the brand. “Anytime you expand distribution, you never know what’s going to happen. But we’ve been intentional in segmenting. If you’re looking for half-sizes or widths or leather, you’re still going to come to our [branded] stores. Also, parents are replacing their kids’ shoes every few months and buying multiple pairs across different price points.”
In its own retail stores, which number more than 360 globally, Stride Rite is freshening up the interiors and rolling out new technologies and services, including real-time digital signage and in-store ordering. It also is experimenting with self-service to deliver more convenience. Last fall, the brand installed a grab-and-go area at the front of about a dozen stores. Hernowitz said the test, which was particularly successful in more bilingual markets, gave the brand greater insight into how parents like to shop.
On the marketing front, Stride Rite has tapped designer Rosie Pope as a brand ambassador to help boost its social media profile. A mother of four, Pope oversees a maternity-and-babywear brand and starred in the successful Bravo reality series “Pregnant in Heels.”
She is partnering with Stride Rite to create content across platforms, including videos on various parenting topics and columns such as Rosie’s Picks and Mommy IQ. “Rosie’s fantastic,” said Hernowitz. “We’ve already seen thousands of hits from the social media placements we’ve done with her so far.”
As busy as the brand has been, Hernowitz said there’s more to come, hinting that there are additional distribution partnerships in development.
[Editor’s Note: This story first appeared in print 08/03/15]