When James Rowley joined the Mephisto USA team as president and CEO in January, he told FN his primary goals were to update the 53-year-old brand’s image to attract a younger audience, while also developing stronger ties to its retail partners. In the intervening months, the former Geox executive has set his plans in motion, culminating recently with a buzzy campaign launch in Los Angeles. Here, he shares details about the efforts so far and where the brand can go.
What is the most effective way Mephisto is talking to millennial shoppers?
“We’re super-aggressive about reaching out to [this] group. All I’ve done in the last nine months is talk to younger consumers. We’ve [launched] our own Instagram page around our 50-year-old Originals Rainbow and Lady styles, and have repositioned them by reducing the price from $349 to $269. We’ve also developed new [online] content targeting 25- to 40-year-olds and recently launched a collection under the #MephistoWalks campaign that began with a pop-up shop in Los Angeles and influencer activation event at Sportie LA.”
What are the biggest barriers to reaching the younger generation?
“There’s a challenge to get people into our product at [this] high level. Younger people are spending their money on experiences and technology, and are not as open to buying $350 shoes. Millennials also don’t have the disposable income the baby boomer generation did, so we’re spending a lot of time on communicating the value of our product [to these consumers]. We’re talking about the fact that we own our own factories in France and Portugal, as well as a cork production facility.”
In today’s highly digital world, how are you utilizing Mephisto’s internet presence?
“Our site tells a great story about our brand and directs consumers to our retail base. We share the revenue from the site with our Mephisto concept [partner] stores, while our retail locator is one of the most regularly visited pages. We also support our retailers’ own e-commerce sites since we believe stores need to supplement their brick-and-mortar business with an online element.”
How do you work with wholesale partners while growing your branded store?
“While our 16 U.S. stores do compete, we protect [our retailer partners]. In New York, for instance, we don’t have any Mephisto stores on the Upper West Side since we sell at Harry’s Shoes and Tip Top Shoes. However, we have two on the Upper East Side, on Third and Madison avenues, and will open a third there in January. Those are totally different neighborhoods, since in New York, a mile away is like hours away. Next year, we’ll open [our first] store in San Francisco.”
The sneaker trend has dominated lately. Is the brand playing heavily in that category?
“While this is a significant trend, we see the explosive growth starting to slow. Consumers are looking for that perfect hybrid that feels like a sneaker but looks more like a shoe. As a comfort player, it’s our job to find the perfect balance between the two. While lace-to-toe sneakers and trainers from Stan Smith and New Balance are among the most successful out there, people are looking for something less athletic to wear to work, such as our Rainbow and Lady styles, that have a traditional sport bottom with leather uppers that can be dressed up a bit more.”
Looking ahead, what is Mephisto’s five-year plan for the U.S. market?
“We’re going to work more closely and support our best retail customers, as well as grow our share of them. It keeps our distribution simple, high-end and full-price. Zappos stands alone in the e-commerce category, while we also [work with] Nordstrom and Saks Fifth Avenue. But the single most important part of our business is the better independent, such as Hanig’s Footwear, Harrys Shoes, Tip Top Shoes and Comfort One — all sit-and-fit, service-oriented retailers that don’t compete on price.”