Hush Puppies is proving you can teach an old dog new tricks. While the 60-year-old brand, known for its Americana-inspired casuals, has enjoyed a robust business internationally, over the past two decades, it has lost some of its footing in the U.S. So in a move to recapture market share at home, parent company Wolverine World Wide Inc. last year tapped a new leadership team tasked with refreshing product, updating marketing and refocusing distribution.
Leading the effort is industry veteran Greg Tunney, who was named global president of Hush Puppies after 12 years with R.G. Barry Brands. According to Tunney, who joined the Wolverine organization in March, Hush Puppies’ business had been ignored at home, even as overseas dealing continued to soar. Today, international sales account for 90 percent of revenue, aided in part by the more upscale products that foreign partners created for their markets.
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“[In the U.S.], the company tried to live on price points,” said Tunney. However, he believes there is potential for Hush Puppies in the States. “Our awareness with younger consumers is quite high,” said Tunney. “We usually get a response [from them] of, ‘I love that brand; do they still make it?’ We need to drive brand relevance and have a more meaningful connection with those consumers.”
Gary Weiner, president of Saxon Shoes in Virginia, told FN that his retail stores had carried Hush Puppies for decades but abandoned the line about three years ago due to its dated styling. However, he is encouraged by the recent changes. “One of the reasons we are looking at it again is Greg Tunney,” said Weiner. “He has a lot of experience and makes things work. With the right marketing and product, we think it’s a name people recognize and can be made cool.”
For fall ’19, Hush Puppies is updating its product assortment to appeal to a more modern consumer. Spearheading the initiative are new team members Ken Beaulieu, VP of product, and men’s designer Bryar Babcock.
Tunney noted that previously, the offerings lacked a distinctive look, particularly in the men’s arena. “The [label] was doing what everyone else was doing,” he said. “Bryar is doing a good job of looking into our archives for what was successful and relevant to the brand and reinventing it for today.”
According to Babcock, since consumers are accustomed to the fit of athletic shoes, he will adapt heritage Hush Puppies patterns, materials and details, and update them with the brand’s signature Bounce energy-return comfort system (a technology that will be used throughout the brand). “We’re keeping things tasteful,” said Babcock. “They’re classic looks with a twist.”
On the women’s side, which Tunney said is still a work in progress, casual styles will also dominate for fall, rounded out with looks such as tailored mocs for officewear.
Hush Puppies’ next move is connecting with customers old and new. “Our consumer target is the ‘purposeful optimist,’” said Kate Pinkham, VP of global marketing. “They value a positive perspective, looking put-together and living their best life. It’s a cross-generational mindset, but we’re focusing on a bull’s-eye age of 30 to 40, when consumers start to place an equal emphasis on comfort and style.”
A new fall marketing campaign will celebrate individuals who are spreading optimism in interesting ways, choosing to live life on the bright side, she explained — a message that will be generated through social media initiatives.
The brand is also expanding its distribution in the U.S. with a new sub-brand called HP by Hush Puppies. The line, which retails from $50 to $80, is targeted to family channels, while the core collection, priced at $80 to $130, will continue to cater to full-price department stores including Nordstrom, Dillard’s and Von Maur, in addition to independents.
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