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How Merrell’s Focus on Women and Product Innovation Earned It the 2022 FNAA Brand of the Year Award

On Nov. 30, Merrell will be honored as Brand of the Year at the 36th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 28 print issue about how its focus on women, innovative product and sustainability paid off and will lead the company into the future. 

After two years of discovery brought on by the pandemic, Merrell spent much of 2022 focused on promoting a more diverse vision of the outdoors, while also delivering compelling and accessible product to the marketplace.

That resulted in big sales gains. In the third quarter ended Oct. 1, Merrell posted total revenue of $198.6 million, up 33.6% year over year.

Here, brand leader Chris Hufnagel, who was recently promoted to president of parent company Wolverine Worldwide’s Active Group, reveals the ways Merrell stood out in 2022.

FOCUSING ON WOMEN

Merrell More Less
An image from the Merrell “More Less” campaign.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Merrell

Building on its strong women’s products, Merrell increased its focus on its female consumers this year through compelling marketing and organic community initiatives. One highlight was the “More Less” campaign that launched in March. It took aim at the gimmicks of the self-care industry and encouraged women to discover the healing powers of the outdoors.

“When we talked about the self-care industry, there was a strong sentiment that there’s noise filling people’s social channels, and people throughout the pandemic discovered or rediscovered the power of outside,” said Hufnagel. “It’s a great story that resonated with consumers.”

More significant, though — the campaign was 100% female led. “‘More Less’ was envisioned, architected and executed by women,” Hufnagel said.

The company also revealed the Merrell Hiking Club in August. Hufnagel said the goal was to help women connect around their shared love of the outdoors. “How do we provide tools in communities to help women of any ability talk to others who have passion for the outdoors?” he said. “This was an idea that germinated within the teams, and to their credit, it was executed in very short order — and we’re pleased by how consumers reacted to it.”

UPDATING AN ICON

Merrell Moab 3
Merrell Moab 3.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Merrell

There’s a lot of risk in changing your most iconic boot, but Merrell delivered the Moab 3 in September to much fanfare.

“We had hours and days of debates about how and when to change the Moab,” Hufnagel said. “It’s lighter, more comfortable, it’s got a new outsole and from a sustainability standpoint, it’s the most environmentally friendly Moab we’ve made.”

Hufnagel said the pandemic postponed the shoe’s launch date, which was delayed again by the supply chain. But that buildup eventually paid off.

“When we finally launched, we delivered one of our biggest advertising campaigns of the year with ‘Step Further, Moab On,’” Hufnagel said. “We turned on advertising when we knew the product would be there, and the consumer was ready to get it.”

BACKING NEW CAUSES

Merrell Big Brothers Big Sisters Jordin Sparks
Merrell and Big Brothers Big Sisters tapped multi-platinum recording artist Jordin Sparks for an event in Los Angeles.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Merrell

As part of a reinvigorated mission to become more purpose led, Merrell this year reevaluated who it was financially supporting and chose to commit to the National Recreation and Parks Association (NRPA).

Hufnagel said. “There are so many studies about green spaces in urban communities and how the lack of those places effects youth. We wanted to support the outdoors that’s right outside your door.”

Alongside the NRPA, Merrell launched the Changing Nature of Work Award in August, which will be presented annually and recognizes those who are making the outdoors better for all.

The brand also bolstered its partnership with Big Brothers Big Sisters, with a plan of helping more kids experience the power of the outdoors. In September for Big Brothers Big Sisters Month, the brand tapped multi-platinum recording artist Jordin Sparks to encourage youth participation in the outdoors with an event in Los Angeles at Franklin Canyon Park.

SETTING GREEN GOALS

To improve its impact on the planet, Merrell established a series of new sustainability goals in April.

“We made a series of commitments that we plan to reach by 2025. One of them was to keeps shoes out of landfills,” Hufnagel said. “Circularity is important, so we launched [a product takeback and resale program] ReTread.”

Merrell estimated ReTread could save 300,000 pairs of footwear from landfills. The effort allows consumers to give back Merrell footwear, and after it is received, the shoes will either be refurbished for resale, broken down for use in new products or recycled for alternative uses. Participating consumers will receive a discount to purchase new Merrell footwear or apparel.

“We’re doing it online, we’re testing it in our retail stores, and our hope is to roll it out with wholesale partners next year,” Hufnagel said.

For 36 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2022 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Caleres, FDRA, Merrell, Vibram and Volumental. 

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