Wolverine Worldwide is betting big on the kids’ business. To help propel its plans, the firm in 2017 hired industry veteran Bornie Del Priore to oversee the division, which includes the Merrell, Stride Rite, Sperry and Keds brands. Here, the executive opens up about mining new opportunities, Stride Rite’s turnaround and the challenges of shopping for kids’ shoes online.
What new initiatives is your group focused on this year?
“One of the big ones is Sperry Bionic, which is launching across all markets in March. The line of boat shoes and sneakers is made with fiber uppers produced from plastic recovered from the ocean. Also, under Merrell, we’ve forged a partnership with Hike It Baby, a nonprofit that’s all about getting families with young children outdoors to enjoy nature. We’re sponsoring some of their events and will offer a special SKU [in October] designed by [their team]. It’s a perfect tie-in for Merrell, and we love that it highlights the message that hiking doesn’t discriminate — anyone and everyone can do it.”
How is the Stride Rite turnaround going under new licensee Vida Brands?
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“We’re really pleased with the progress that Vida has made in the past year and a half through the transition. They completely align with the strategic vision of Stride Rite and are committed to building the best children’s shoes. They have laid the groundwork for some exciting growth opportunities ahead. Wolverine made a smart decision in choosing a partner with such strong expertise in that baby/toddler age range.”
How important are collaborations to your kids’ strategy?
“We love collaborations. I didn’t coin the phrase, but we talk about it here that cool brands have cool friends. We’ve brought some fun ones in for kids such as Keds x Kate Spade and Sperry x Vineyard Vines. Collaborations are a great opportunity to partner with a specific retailer or distribution channel on product that sets them apart. But we approach these partnerships very thoughtfully — they have to make sense for the kids’ category. We want collaborations that have legs and can be longer-term because a great deal of investment goes into them on both sides. We’d rather have fewer of the right ones than so many that they become diluted.”
Many larger companies are licensing their kids’ business. What is the advantage to Wolverine of keeping it in-house?
“Being part of the company makes it fluid in terms of how we work. From a timeline standpoint, we’re not one step behind — there’s no catch-up that needs to happen. As Wolverine launches platforms to maximize a full family message across brands, we can be in lockstep with that. And from a sales perspective, we share many of the same customers, so it’s a huge advantage to be so in sync.”
With so many parents shopping online, is it more challenging to communicate a fit message today?
“As great as online shopping is, much has definitely been lost as far as educating parents about healthy foot growth and the importance of correctly fitting shoes. We spend a lot of time creating videos and instructional fit guides. We know it’s a digital world and that a large percentage of parents are not taking their kids to a traditional sit-and-fit store to have them measured. We want to at least provide them with the information and tools to guide their shopping.”
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