Why FDRA CEO Matt Priest Doesn’t Feel Optimistic About U.S. Trade Strategy

Shoe players from all corners of the industry gathered in Washington, D.C., last week to talk about burning political issues, the rapidly changing consumer and major challenges in retail.

“The theme of this event was the ‘United States of Footwear.'” “Despite all of our differences and despite the fact that we all compete against each other, we are united in our desire to do the best we can in driving business and trying to understand the consumer,” said president and CEO Matt Priest.

Here are some of Priest’s top takeaways from the event, which featured a diverse speaker lineup, including CNN anchor Jake Tapper, Senator David Perdue (R-Ga.), top compliance and trademark specialists and major executives.

On Sen. Perdue’s off-the-record trade talk on the proposed border-adjusted tax:

“The great thing about David is, [as Reebok’s former president and CEO], he knows us. We have so many politicians who come to us, and the only thing they know about us is that they wear shoes. But David understands supply chains and how to meet athletic consumers’ needs … We’ve been totally consumed with the border-adjusted tax. David is confident it’s dead on arrival [in the Senate]. There’s not a lot of support for it publicly. The House leadership is very interested in moving it. The question is how much President Trump pressures them to give up on that provision and find other ways to raise revenue to [pay for a tax cut]. We’re not going to rest on our laurels.”


On overall trade issues under the current administration:

“I don’t feel optimistic that we will have a robust trade strategy as a federal government. [Congress] wants to spend a lot of time thinking about prior agreements should be updated. TPP would have changed that. Robert Lighthizer was just confirmed as the new U.S. trade representative, so hopefully that changes the direction of the trade policy. We’ll have to see.”

On changing consumer patterns:

“I think [FDRA chairman and Deer Stag principal] Rick Muskat’s point was right on: We can have all these discussions about margins and where we’re going to source from and from whom. But how do we [focus] on what the consumer wants? We’re more connected, more educated and more informed than ever before. But the noise is kind of loud. Some of [Mastercard SVP] Sarah Quinlan’s insights were simple but effective. For example, how do we make sure we’re marketing around [consumers in factory towns] when their bonuses go out? Are shoe companies micro-targeting their consumers? You have to be sophisticated in your efforts.”


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