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DSW’s New President Doug Howe On His First Few Months Leading the Retailer

In the three months he’s served in his new role as president of DSW at Designer Brands Inc., Doug Howe has come to appreciate the power of a store.

Though familiar to working with a large store fleet — Howe served as the chief merchandising officer at Kohl’s before joining DSW — the executive is now overseeing a plan to optimize its stores as fulfillment centers and platforms of discovery for its company-owned and partner brands.

Howe is based in Columbus, though he’s spent the last 90 days “completely being immersed” in store visits and team meeting as he orients himself at the helm of the footwear chain. He’s even dropped in twice to the chain’s “laboratory” store in Hedwig, Texas, where the company is testing its “warehouse reimagined” store concept that consolidates the retailer’s 20,000 to 25,000 square foot-stores into more efficient 15,000 square-foot locations and uses digital technology to tell brand stories.

“There’s just nothing like that experience when you’re in a store, talking to the sales associates who interact with the customer in real time, every day,” Howe said. It’s just a great place to gather feedback and their observations about opportunities.”

Getting to know the chain at the store level is essential for Howe, who joins a company that views its stores as a key channel to drive sales, elevate brands and fulfill orders. Same-store sales for DBI were up 6.2% in Q2, on top of same-store sales growth of 84.9% in Q2 of 2021.

Via the company’s more than 500 stores, DSW is able to fulfill digital orders for customers across the country. But these stores also bring the company’s broad assortment of owned and national brands “to life in a big way,” Howe said, referring to in-store merchandising plans and shop-in-shop concepts.

DSW store mock-up
DSW’s “store of the future,” will consolidate stores into more efficient 15,000 square-foot locations.
CREDIT: Designer Brands Inc.

In April, DBI announced a goal for brand-owned sales to double from 19% of the company’s revenue to almost one-third by 2026. In 2018, DBI acquired Camuto Group, which designs and develops the Vince Camuto brand and licenses footwear for Jessica Simpson and Lucky Brand.In Q2, owned brand sales grew 40% compared to 2021.

DBI’s current portfolio of brands with licensing deals also includes Reebok, Hush Puppies, Crown Vintage, JLO Jennifer Lopez, Mix No. 6 and Kelly & Katie. And in July, DBI made an investment in Le Tigre 360 Global to exclusively design and produce Le Tigre footwear that will be sold through DSW and The Shoe Company sales channels and through some wholesale accounts.

When it comes to national brands, DSW’s athletic assortment has continued to grow, despite Nike pulling out of the retailer earlier this year. New Balance, Skechers, Brooks and Ryka have been among the retailer’s big sellers in the athletic category.

“What excites me is the duality of our assortment,” Howe said. “We have a very large national brand portfolio, but then we continue to grow our own brands. And each of them has a role for the customer and they serve a different need.”

As the Hedwig store test out new concepts and layouts, DSW is still learning what resonates with customers. For example, Howe mentioned the company testing out organizing the store by trend or occasion as opposed to by brand.

“That’s what’s really powerful about having the agility within one store,” Howe said. “You can shift and pivot to be able to respond to where customers are kind of migrating. I think there’s gonna be a lot of opportunities, a lot of learnings, in that format.”

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