Inside Brendan Hoffman’s Plans for Wolverine: Rapid International Expansion, In-House Collaborations & More

Wolverine Worldwide’s new CEO Brendan Hoffman is laying out his plans for the company’s future.

Hoffman, who joined the company in 2020 from Vince and took the helm as CEO at the beginning of the year, noted that the company plans to prioritize its biggest brands that can generate the largest financial payback, while also investing in international markets where there is a “long runway for growth.”

“As we become more global, we will continue to invest in key international regions, including China, with joint ventures for Merrell and Saucony and expand e-commerce capabilities globally,” Hoffman said on Wolverine’s fourth quarter and fiscal 2021 earnings call on Wednesday. “For Sperry, we are adding 14 new distributors in EMEA, where we are seeing incredibly strong demand for boat shoes. The potential for Sweaty Betty (internationally) in 2022 is also incredibly exciting.”

Hoffman said that at the end of 2021, over one-third of Sweaty Betty’s sales came from outside the UK. “Following the launch of its first stores in Singapore and Ireland, the brand will continue to grow globally, with confirmed retail expansion plans in several markets, including the US,” Hoffman noted.

There was no clarification on the call, however, if these US stores will be freestanding locations. The London-based athletic brand closed all 12 of its standalone stores in the U.S. in 2020. Sweaty Betty now relies on wholesale in the region with Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s as its retail partners.

Sweaty Betty
Wolverine acquired Sweaty Betty in Aug. 2021 in an all-cash deal valued at about $410 million.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Wolverine Worldwide

Staying with Sweaty Betty, which Wolverine acquired in Aug. 2021 in an all-cash deal valued at about $410 million, Hoffman added that the company plans to leverage the brand’s expertise in apparel through the sharing of best practices across its portfolio of brands, which includes Saucony, Merrell, Sperry, and Keds, among others. “We remain excited about the growth potential, product collaborations and operational synergies in front of us with Sweaty Betty,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman noted that Sweaty Betty will be introducing a hiking footwear collection with Merrell this year, which was in the works before the acquisition. This footwear capsule comes as Sweaty Betty makes a push into outdoor apparel with an expanded ski and snow collection. “This will be the first time Sweaty Betty is partnering with one of our brands, and we see additional collaborations within the portfolio to come.”

Another key focus for Hoffman as the company enters fiscal 2022 is driving higher unweighted awareness in Wolverine’s leading brands, with a focus on driving top line growth. “We will shift marketing investments to more top-of-funnel programs, including media placement as well as social and influencer strategies designed to accelerate growth in new customers,” he said. The company plans to spend 8.5% of sales in 2022 on marketing. Hoffman said the company’s marketing spend will continue to rise as it focuses more on direct-to-consumer business which requires greater emphasis on messaging brand values.

The company is also looking into “white space” opportunities by expanding into new categories that will broaden its customer reach and drive higher spend per customer, and has invested in agile testing capabilities to enable more informed product decisions, Hoffman said. “We will focus our efforts on categories that have attractive total addressable markets, no clear market leader and are a logical extension of our own performance brands where we can achieve leading market share position.”

Given this new focus, Hoffman ultimately concluded, “Our mission remains the same: To empower, engage and inspire our customers every step of the way. We remain committed to advancing our primary growth strategies with a more focused approach to execution as we capitalize on the sustained, favorable industry backdrop in outdoor and performance categories.”

This news comes as the company reported revenues of $635.6 million in the fourth quarter of 2021, up 24.7% versus the prior year. As for its full fiscal 2021 numbers, the company reported revenue at $2.4 billion, up 34.8% versus the prior year.

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