At a time when “artisan” and “craft made” are some of the hottest buzzwords among millennial consumers, Allen Edmonds is banking on attracting more followers with its storied craftsmanship.
This month, the 98-year-old, made-in-America men’s shoe label (which was acquired by Caleres Inc. in December 2016), debuted a new identity aimed at a broader, youthful demographic.
According to Caleres CEO, president and chairman Diane Sullivan, the modern Allen Edmonds is more focused on inclusivity than exclusivity. “Allen Edmonds shoes have been something men aspire to — shoes they buy when they’ve achieved a certain station in life,” she said. “[Now we want to] make Allen Edmonds part of the journey, part of his lifestyle along the way.”
The refresh encompasses all aspects of the brand, from a new logo and maker’s mark to energized promotional imagery and packaging. In addition, Allen Edmonds has begun rolling out a modern look for its 79 brick-and mortar locations. And its e-commerce site relaunched this month, featuring the new identity as well as rich content and video elements.
The initiative is being steered by brand president Malcolm Robinson, who joined in July 2017 and previously worked with Sullivan at PVH Corp., where he oversaw the sportswear division, including labels such as Izod, Bass and Van Heusen.
The executive noted that it took little convincing to bring him to Allen Edmonds. “I knew it had intrinsic value,” said Robinson. “It was really a matter of designing products using their expertise that were going to engage consumers and tell a story that’s engaging.”
Robinson pointed out that Allen Edmonds is principally a direct-to-consumer business, with about 90 percent of sales coming through its stores, website and catalog.
“We want to do things well at a few significant points of distribution and not be splattered all over, where you can no longer control pricing and presentation,” he said. The brand’s top wholesale partners include Nordstrom and The Forum Group of upscale independents.
Even before the reboot, Allen Edmonds had a strong start to the year. It saw a 10 percent rise in sell-though in the first quarter, and Caleres predicts more upward trajectory in the coming months. “It typically takes a little time for any rebranding to gain full traction,” said Sullivan, “but we anticipate solid year-over-year [sales] increases in Q4 both in stores and in the e-commerce business.”
Steven Marotta, an analyst with CL King & Associates, said the label has performed relatively well in the years leading up to and since its acquisition. “Based on the evolution of their offering, they appeal to a very wide swath of the demographic,” he said, “but by rebranding and emphasizing marketing to a younger audience, it might unlock a whole new set of customers.”
Aside from its visual identity, Allen Edmonds has also revamped its product strategy: It is exiting the private-label business in all non-shoe categories in favor of long-term collaborations with other U.S.-made accessories brands.
The curated program, called Artisans of Freedom, launches this month with partners including L.A. denim brand Civilianaire, Alan J Eyewear of Vernon Hills, Ill., and New York outerwear label Cockpit USA.
Allen Edmonds will serve as a distributor for the co-branded products, selling them through its own stores, website and catalog. “We are using our marketplace to help build up other American businesses that need support,” said Robinson, who sees untapped opportunity in the small leather goods and bag categories.
Another area ripe for expansion is the brick-and-mortar fleet. In Q1, the brand opened one store location but closed three. However, Robinson said he aims to add four or five doors per year, both domestically and internationally. “It’s a brand that does well in high-income neighborhoods, so we have to go global soon,” he said.
Internationally, Canada is a top target for store openings, as well as the Middle East, Asia and South America. In Europe, the brand is looking at wholesale opportunities such as shop-in-shops.
Additionally, e-commerce continues to gain importance. Robinson estimated that his average customer buys about four Allen Edmonds shoes online and one in-store — a complete reversal from four years ago. He noted that its e-commerce business could soon eclipse brick-and-mortar, even with the addition of locations.
But the rise of digital does place greater importance on storytelling for the brand. “Our biggest challenge is staying on top of the task of engaging the enthusiasts who care about quality product and being a part of this,” said Robinson. “If we do a good job of that, the rest will be easy.”
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