In a new series, top leaders from across the footwear industry discuss the deep impact of the coronavirus and the challenging road ahead.
Slippers are shedding their reputation as holiday gift. As Americans continue to shelter-in-place, slippers are becoming a must-have item in their at-home workwear wardrobes.
For more than century-old slipper maker, SG Companies, recent business has been brisk, according to president and CEO Matt Feiner. “The most exciting thing about it, is that most of our key customers are no longer seeing it as a seasonal category. It’s now become year-round.”
The Hackensack, N.J.-based company offers a stable of slipper labels including Dockers and Izod for men; Chinese Laundry and Rachel Roy for women, and kids’ licensed product that includes Sesame Street, Paw Patrol and Super Mario Bros., in addition to private label programs.
While the company sells to high-profile retailers Walmart, Dollar General, JCPenney and Macy’s, it’s recently ramped up its ecommerce business. “A couple of years ago we made some big investments in ecommerce,” said Feiner, a business that’s doubled since the pandemic hit. “We were expecting it to be up in the 50% to 60% range. I think a lot of people who were not interested in shopping online see how easy it is. I think there will be a lot of converts.”
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The company’s new focus on ecommerce hasn’t diminished its relationships with its long-time retail partners. In fact, said Feiner, it’s continued to work closely with stores that have been financially challenged during the pandemic. “Quite a few of our customers reached out just as it happened, informing us they would be paying 60, 90, 120 days more than planned,” said Feiner. Iit was something we weren’t thrilled about, but had to accept. We want to support our customers however we can and all the challenges are different. While some need product right away, some are looking towards the future, strategically thinking how they we should be building their slipper business in a bigger way.”
According to Feiner, while the company saw a number of order cancellations early on in the event, over the past four to six weeks most have been reinstated. Some stores, he noted, have even increased their orders. “Those stores that have remained open are really thriving,” said Feiner, boding well for the once niche slipper category.
Here, Feiner talks about the new opportunities in the slipper category, the importance of ecommerce, and the country’s relationship with the international community.
What can the industry as a whole do to move forward?
Matt Feiner: “I think we all have to adapt to the new world we’re living in, whether it’s working from home, how we collectively work together — whether it’s innovating with product or selling via Zoom to customers. We have to examine and reexamine what we’ve done in the [past] and find ways to innovate and be more productive. There’s a ton of opportunity out there. For us, product is king. So, [we’re] communicating with our creative team, sales team, and customers. It’s about focusing on what the consumer wants and needs and going about things a little differently, which is key for us.”
Has the government done enough to support workers and companies during this period?
MF: “I give the government credit. it moved quickly. There are a lot of options out there and I think that’s important, particularly for small businesses like ours. We had to furlough some people, but have begun to bring them back. It’s not going to be all at once, but in gradual stages as we need them. Our hope is to bring them all back.”
How are you supporting your retail customers in need of assistance?
MF: “We’re very close with all of our customers and have phenomenal relationships. [However], all their challenges are a little different – some need financing help, product assistance right away, some want to get a sense going forward of what their credit limits might be. We have to work with them on a one-by-one basis. We need them as partners to sell our product. I think the more we work together, the better off we will all be.”
Moving forward, what are among your key initiatives?
MF: “For us, ecommerce is number one. We’ve placed a pretty big bet on it a few years ago and it will [continue] to have more and more momentum. Personally, I love to go into stores and shop, and that’s important. Brick-and-mortar will always be an important part of our business. It’s just a matter of time how soon people can get back to shopping in stores. It will be a gradual process. We will have to wait and see to what level consumers will accept and respond to it. Ecommerce will be critical going forward no matter what, but particularly in the short term.”