French fashion-comfort brand Mephisto has mapped out some big plans for its U.S. business this year. Spearheading the initiative is James Rowley, who was recently tapped as president and CEO of Mephisto USA.
Rowley, most recently VP of sales and marketing at Geox, plans to update the 53-year-old brand’s image to attract a younger audience, taking a fresh look at e-commerce and strengthening relationships with its wholesale partners.
“We want to start aligning ourselves closer with retailers,” said Rowley. “We need to work with partners like Nordstrom and our independents to give them new product more regularly throughout the year.”
While the company values its retail partners, Rowley said it also plans to expand its store count in the U.S. The brand’s longtime retail partner Danny Wasserman, president of Tip Top Shoes in New York, said Rowley’s diverse wholesale background has prepared him to navigate the differences in approaching the market between management in France and the U.S. team. “He knows how to bob and weave,” said Wasserman.
Here, Rowley talks about the value of the brand’s heritage product, the importance of social media and competing in the growing comfort segment.
What are among your first initiatives as president?
JR: “We want to change the way we are marketing ourselves to consumers. We want to use social media, online advertising and start talking to a more modern customer.
“[Next], we want to change our e-commerce business by [putting] more focus and energy around it. We’re going to create an integrated, clear strategy that makes our e-commerce business profi table for everybody involved — Mephisto USA, Zappos, Nordstrom and our independents that sell shoes online. It’s maintaining a single price marketplace, then limiting the number of retailers that can sell our product online to our very good partners.”
Mephisto recently collaborated with Concepts on a limited-edition retro style. Will initiatives like this go forward?
JR: “We’re going to look for opportunities to work with retail partners that can help us make our product more modern. [The Concepts] collaboration [targeted] a whole other customer, and it was extremely successful. We’ve got a lot of retro product in the line and are going to be focused on building [a collection] called Mephisto Originals — key shoes in the line for over 30 years [that] are timeless, classic and authentic.”
Who is Mephisto’s core consumer base today?
JR: “We have a following of older customers. However, if we continue to rely on them, it will be a going-out-of-business strategy. That customer is more modern in their approach to life than they were 10, 20 years ago, so we have to become more modern. We have to get fresh product into the marketplace. We have to reignite that customer base and also start to work with a younger consumer. We have a merchandising team here and are going to leverage it. I am also going to be involved directly with the team in France.”
Many companies today are touting comfort. As a core player, how does Mephisto compete in that space?
JR: “The advantage we have is making our product in our two factories in France and Portugal. We control the product development cycle start-to-finish. We’re not relying on anyone else to make our shoes comfortable. Because [we have our] own factories, it’s where the [higher] price comes from, but what you‘ll find is, the level of quality is hard to match.”
Long before the buzz around athleisure, Mephisto introduced its Allrounders brand. How do you plan to compete in that niche?
JR: “It’s still a good part of business in Europe, and we are trying to reinvigorate it here. It gives us the opportunity to o er something at a lower price point — $125 to $200 — straight in the middle of the athleisure market. We plan on putting a lot of emphasis around it over the next 12 months.”
How does Mephisto plan to balance its own stores with wholesale distribution?
JR: “We’d like to have 20 to 30 stores in key demographic [areas] around the country — downtown areas of big cities, not malls. Then maximize the partnership. We’re [also] going to work hard to help the independent channel thrive.
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