2020 was a year that introduced numerous unchartered territories.
But for some companies, Sperry among them, the New Year has yielded new momentum for re-calibrating to reflect current challenges and opportunities. The Waltham, Mass.-based brand is embarking on a course in 2021 that is aimed at fueling growth after a difficult year and focusing on new product, leadership and distribution.
In the most recent third quarter, Sperry, which has seen several years of uneven growth, saw it sales decline 45% as it shouldered the impact of a coronavirus-plagued retail landscape as well as pre-existing challenges. Nevertheless, global president Joelle Grunberg, who was tapped to take the helm last February, remains bullish on the brand’s future. And despite lingerings of COVID-19’s economic impact, which she admits will lead to a difficult start to the year, she’s optimistic that the second half 2021 will see positive trends.
“We need to capitalize on the existing consumer because from [my] past experiences at Lacoste and other brands, I’ve learned you never want to neglect your existing loyal consumer. That’s the foundation of who you are. But we also want to go for the younger consumer,” Grunberg said of the company’s revamp strategy. “The first months of the year are not going to be easy. But we’re confident that with the new products that we’re launching, we’re going to be able to weather that situation and weather that storm.”
For spring ’21, Sperry is introducing the Float, a new, colorful interpretation of the classic Authentic Original Boat Shoe made from injected EVA material.
Other product will include the retro-inspired Soletide sneaker, also launching in spring, to further its reach in the sneaker category. The brand is also engaging in a range of collaborations, including with the Netflix series “Outer Banks,” designer Rebecca Minkoff and Good Humor Ice Cream.
As for fall ’21, Sperry has plans to debut the Moc-Sider, which is a unisex style designed to appeal to the comfort trend, featuring fleece-lining.
As the brand charts a course for long-term growth and relevance, product expansion is key, according to Steven Marotta, equity research analyst at C.L. King & Associates.
“Very deft and forward-Looking tactics that Wolverine management has used is knowing that they shouldn’t be reliant on the boat shoe look for their entirety of sales for the year,” he said, noting that current style trends are not in favor of Sperry’s signature boat shoe style. “They’ve done quite well in the boot category and endeavoring to dovetail the brand into new silhouettes with more casual looks like sneakers and other types of water shoes. And those have done OK. COVID, obviously, has been a huge problem this year for both their boat shoes as well as a bit with boots, not because of any issues at all on a design basis, but more about uncertainty.”
As for boot sales, Grunberg is leaning in on the popular Saltwater style, which has helped bring in the female consumer for the brand whose heritage has relied on male boat-shoe wearers. Part of this includes investing into its own DTC website and digital capabilities. It’s an area where the brand has already seen traction: Sperry.com grew in the “high teens” in Q3, driven by new consumer acquisition and a 65% increase in social media engagement, Blake Krueger, president and CEO of parent firm Wolverine World Wide Inc. said during a call with analysts in November. While its wholesale strategy remains important, Grunberg is narrowing the focus to tighter partnerships with key accounts and doubling down on the brand’s own e-commerce.
Recently, Sperry asked consumers to select, from several colors, their favorite hue for a duck boot. The brand turned around the winning colorway, windsurfer blue, in two weeks and made it available for purchase. The style sold out in two weeks. “Collaborative and participative work with our consumer will continue. Even if it’s in December, they’re going to buy product like this full price just because it’s their color. They chose it and they want it,” said Grunberg.
In addition to fresh product, Grunberg said new leadership at Sperry will help with the much-needed refresh. The brand has recently hired former Walmart fashion exec Elizabeth Drori as its new chief marketing officer; former Nike and Converse executive Sean McDowell as VP of design; and Allison McCarthy as its new creative director.