How Foot Locker CEO Dick Johnson Is Steering 3,000 Stores in 27 Countries Amid the Coronavirus Crisis

Update: March 16, 2020 at 11 p.m. ET

Foot Locker shared a statement via its Instagram account tonight stating it is temporarily closing its North American stores amid the coronavirus crisis.

“The health and safety of our team members and customers around the world is our top priority. Beginning tomorrow, Tuesday, March 17, Foot Locker will temporarily close all stores in North America through March 31 while we continue to monitor and navigate this evolving situation with COVID-19. In the meantime, Foot Locker team members will continue to be paid,” the company wrote on social media tonight.

Original story

Several athletic footwear powerhouses have closed stores temporarily due to the ongoing coronavirus crisis. But Foot Locker — the market’s most powerful multi-brand retailer — is still open in the U.S., even as many of its European doors close.

Dick Johnson, the company’s president and CEO, told FN today that the firm is “evaluating the [coronavirus] situation daily.”

Foot Locker has 3,129 retail stores in 27 countries across North America, Europe, Asia, Australia, and New Zealand. Here’s how Johnson is managing through the complex situation.

What is your leadership mantra during this period?

Dick Johnson: “The mantra doesn’t change. It’s to keep doing good things and stay focused on the business. At the same time, you have to take care of yourself and your health — and you have to take care of your family. What CEOs have to do, what leadership teams have to do, is assess the situation and adapt. We had strategies and plans on how we were going to attack the spring sneakers, and now we have to be fundamentally concerned about how careful we are about our employees and our customers. It is a read-and-react, day-to-day business that we have to be in, even hour to hour.”

Other U.S. retailers have closed temporarily, but Foot Locker has made no such announcement. Is one coming?

DJ: “Most of our stores are closed throughout Europe — we’ve got a big store count in Italy, France and Spain. Germany has started to make announcements about closing. The German marketplace is a state-by-state closure, and Bavaria announced that it will close Wednesday, which will obviously change the dynamics in Germany. The Netherlands will likely follow that and the last bastion is in the U.K. Clearly the Europeans are a couple of weeks ahead of us in terms of the spread of the virus, so in those cases it’s being mandated. We’re looking at it as logically as we can, market by market, here in the U.S. We talk to our employees in terms of how they’re feeling about serving customers, and they want to serve customers. We’ll work with federal, state and local governments around closures. We could make the decision to close, but at this time we have not.” 

With thousands of stores, how are you effectively communicating to everyone each day?

DJ: “We share updates on our Lace Up app, which employees have access to every day. As we adjust to what’s going on, we have the ability to communicate with every employee.” 

How are you making sure to establish fair — and safe — policies on the corporate and store levels?

DJ: “We adapt where we can. Obviously if you’re a store associate, you can’t work from home. But from a corporate perspective, we’ve encouraged our team to work [remotely] — and I’m digitally connected to everybody today across my leadership team. We’re trying to take advantage of technology and work as effectively as possible, even though we’re not sitting in the same room. We’ve got our great connectivity, our IT team is strong and we’ve got a good infrastructure that allows us to do that. We have a different situation in stores. We’re trying to be as flexible as possible with our employees as stores close. We look at each situation with the employees that might be impacted.”

How, if at all, could you quantify the financial impact you expect to incur from the coronavirus crisis?

DJ: “I can’t answer that question because we don’t know about the length, the duration. If we use our business in Hong Kong as the barometer, they’re probably eight weeks ahead of where we are in the U.S. We started to see traffic come back to our Hong Kong store. Is that the pattern that will be followed in the U.S.? I don’t know. Is that the pattern that will be followed in Europe? I don’t know. Quantifying whatever the financial impact is, we’ll review that daily as we understand what the sales impact there is — and how the closing of the physical stores [compares] with an increase in digital business, assuming that we can continue to deliver packages. There’s no realistic answer to that question [of financial impact] until we understand the duration and the magnitude of some of the closures.”

How specifically are you working with vendor partners?

DJ: “We’re working very closely with our vendor partners. Each of them is in a little bit different position, and we’ll work through each delivery and each launch in a one-off situation. If we continue to be able to do business digitally, I would expect that we would keep a fairly consistent launch calendar. But I think the truth is the situation changes hour by hour so everything I told you through the start of this interview will likely have changed by the time we finish it. We’re just trying to stay as flexible and as connected with our associates and our partners as we can.”

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