The Athlete’s Foot (TAF) is investing in its Americas Team.
The footwear retailer has tapped Matt LaFone as its new U.S. president and GM of Americas, effective immediately. LaFone will manage operations in North, South and Central America and will report to Param Singh, the company’s owner and global executive chairman.
“I’m super excited about the opportunity to work for such a strong brand with rich history in this streetwear, footwear space,” LaFone told FN in an exclusive interview. “I think it’s one of the most iconic brands in the world, a global platform.”
TAF, which was acquired by Arklyz Group AG from Intersport International Corp. in July, is on target to hit $500 million in global retail sales in 2021, with $60 million of that projected for the U.S. The company has grown more than 40% in the first half of 2021 year-over-over and 14% compared with 2019.
LaFone comes to TAF after a one-year stint as the COO at Payless ShoeSource, where he managed supply chain, marketing, development and franchising for the chain’s 750 global stores until March 2021. LaFone previously held various product and merchandising roles at Dick’s Sporting Goods, Sports Authority, Crocs and Puma.
In his new role, LaFone will oversee leadership and strategy for TAF’s Americas team. One of his goals involves expanding the company’s franchisee network and opening up between 50 and 100 corporate-owned stores through acquisitions or organic growth. The first of these stores is targeting a Q3 opening date. TAF currently operates 12 different franchisees across multiple states, which totals more than 50 stores.
To open new stores, LaFone will leverage resources from TAF’s recently launched Strategic African American Retail Track (STAART) program, which gives candidates from diverse backgrounds the tools and education to start their own TAF franchise. TAF is currently working with three candidates who are targeting opening dates in the back half of 2022. The program aims to facilitate the opening of at least 50 stores over the next five years.
“We have a strong point of view on Black ownership within the space,” LaFone said. “And it’s really exciting to be part of a company that has such strong values and missions in this space. I’m really looking forward to moving the business forward.”
LaFone also plans to oversee the relaunch of the company’s e-commerce business, Taf.com, within the next year and a half. He hopes to eventually see this digital arm make up about 15% to 20% of the chain’s business.
“While The Athlete’s Foot is without a doubt a global company, the U.S. and the Americas are critical to our foundation and our future,” said Singh in a statement. “And I am confident that with Matt’s leadership we can continue to grow this well-respected legacy brand into a global powerhouse.”