Executives on Coronavirus: Concepts’ Tarek Hassan Predicts the ‘Strong Will Become Stronger’

In a new series, top leaders from across the footwear industry discuss the deep impact of the coronavirus crisis and the challenging road ahead.

Tarek Hassan said Concepts was built to be a brick-and-mortar retailer. However, without being able to see his staff at the office or in store, the veteran retailer is getting creative — and he expects the team’s fresh focus to pay dividends.

“Social distancing has made the Concepts team very close, closer than we’ve ever been before,” Hassan told FN. “As a leader, my job is to keep everyone motivated and try to bring the best out of our team. This is an opportunity for everyone to step up and show their creativity in many ways.”

During this time, Hassan’s staff has created the “#StayHomeThrowDown” campaign, which asks followers to share how they’re making the most of their time in isolation, with five winners receiving Concepts gift cards and apparel.

The retailer has also been donating to local health-care facilities where its two U.S. stores are located: Boston and New York City.

Concepts is sending sneakers from its inventory to Boston organizations. In addition, the Zappos-backed retailer is partnering with its apparel vendor’s factory to shift production from private label clothing to CDC-approved masks for New York City health-care institutions.

Below, Hassan talks about his new daily schedule and challenges ahead.

Footwear News: How have you been spending your days now that everyone at Concepts is working remotely?

Tarek Hassan: “We’re on the phone literally six, eight, 10 hours a day with everybody from marketing to the staff. Also, we have a constant dialogue with our vendors — especially the key brands such as Nike, Adidas, A Bathing Ape — trying to figure out how we can be creative and get through this tough time. But not only that, It’s also planning on what we will be doing after this crisis is behind us. What I have been experiencing in this crisis is everybody is coming together. It seems to me like everybody wants to support each other.”

How have you been able to decompress?

TH: “I work all the time; I don’t know if I know how to wind down. I love what I do. I’m driven by challenges. This is when you step up and you start to make a difference, this is a moment where you go 150% on your business and capitalize on every opportunity. It forces you to be creative. It forces you to come up with ideas and to continue to build on the business and your team. But I crash at night, by 8 p.m. or 9 p.m. I’m burnt out usually. And I did buy a gym for the house. I do work out, get all my frustration out on the weights.”

How have you been working with your vendor partners to ensure that you both come out of this in the best shape possible?

TH: “It’s about understanding the planning moving forward once we get back — what they’re going to be able to support us on with products or marketing or projects. It’s how we can be better partners. It seems that the brands are getting closer to retailers and want to help and support them. As you know, our world is driven by hype and by having hyped products that keep the consumer coming in and coming to your site.”

Has your release calendar for Concepts product been impacted by the health crisis?

TH: “Of course. But with the relationships that we have with vendors, we were able to push some of those projects to another date further out. These were things we’re able to adjust so we’re in a good place in terms of our projects and our collaborations. And certain collaborations we’ll release in the next few weeks because our e-com continues to be very strong. But for some others, we want to be able to tell a much larger story within the brick-and-mortar.”

How would you assess the current state of your e-commerce business?

TH: “Right now, we’re definitely seeing growth. And again, it goes back to support that we’re getting from the brands. Also, our team is being creative with the social media and it’s getting more traffic to our site. We definitely have seen it increase. This crisis has sort of pushed us to be creative and be more engaging with our consumers.”

How are you protecting your delivery and your warehouse workers who are keeping your digital operations going?

TH: “Of course, we’ve taken every caution that there is — distancing, making sure they’re wearing the masks, making sure they’re doing everything that needs to be done for their safety. We’re on calls with them every day making sure they’re in a good place. We make sure that they’re healthy and they are safe. This is our number one priority and so far, knock on wood, it’s been good.”

Where will the industry be six months from now?

TH: “I think the strong will become stronger. It’s going to be very interesting — depends on how long this will last. But I believe if your brand is strong — and you’re doing the right thing and you continue to engage and to service consumers and give them what they need — that is only going to make you stronger and better moving forward. But if you’re not doing that and not getting the support that you need, it’s going to be a very challenging issue for those retailers.”

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