Tom Berry is only a few weeks into his role as president and CEO of Ecco USA and already has a plan for attracting new customers to the nearly 60-year-old Danish footwear brand.
The energetic industry veteran took over leadership in January following the retirement last year of former president Dave Quel. His resume includes leadership roles at The North Face, Tecnica, Salomon and, most recently, Levi’s.
Berry believes the key to strengthening the Ecco brand here in the U.S. is to get closer to the consumer.
“We are absolute craftspeople and we’re as good as it comes from a quality and innovation perspective. But sometimes we’ve done that without putting the consumer in the center of that conversation,” he said. “Today we need to be brand led and consumer obsessed.”
That mission starts with Ecco’s new office and showroom in Brooklyn, N.Y. The space, which opened at the end of 2021, is currently home base for Berry and several members of the design team, but in the next few months, the brand will also open a “consumer center of excellence” there that will be focused on its DTC experience, as well as sales, marketing and PR.
In addition, its longtime U.S. headquarters in Londonderry, N.H., will remain in operation as part of a hybrid work model for employees. And Berry noted an office on the West Coast is a possibility as well. “We want to make sure that we’re meeting our retail and brand partners wherever they are,” he said.
Aside from connecting with the customer mindset, Berry said his other top priority in the coming months is “to define and refine the brand value proposition,” adding that the goal is to connect with younger consumers.
“It’s no secret that we have, generally speaking, an older clientele — and the people who know us absolutely love us,” said Berry. “But certainly in the U.S., but also globally, we haven’t done as good a job as we should have of bringing new fans into the brand.”
He said perhaps the strongest selling point for Ecco is its sustainable and ethical manufacturing through its owned tanneries and factories.
At a time when consumers — especially younger customers — are demanding transparency about what goes into products, Berry said the company is in a unique position to deliver that. “To my knowledge, it’s the only footwear brand at scale that truly is farm to foot,” he said. “We’ve got complete transparency in our value chain and we know exactly what’s happening. And we’ve got the ability to arrange our production and respond quickly to the market and to the inevitable challenges and speed bumps that are happening out there.”
One of the key innovations to emerge from Ecco’s leather experts is DriTan, a process introduced in 2019 that reduces the use of water and chemicals in leather tanning. That should help the company reach its goal for net zero water discharge by 2030. Other targets in its environmental plan include recovering 90% of its waste by 2026 and being energy-neutral by 2028.
“Today, [environmental transparency] matters to the consumer. They demand it and they’re willing to pay for it,” said Berry. “So it’s a massive advantage that we have versus anyone else out there.”
As a player in multiple footwear markets — including dress-casual, outdoor and golf — Ecco has at times struggled to shape a clear identity that customers understand. While Berry said he has no intention of walking away from any categories (especially golf, where Ecco is a market leader), he will look for what he called “the red lines” that connect its various products.
One common denominator is Ecco’s fundamental focus on comfort, which he believes can appeal to today’s customers who have a more hybrid lifestyle and want versatile footwear that transitions easily between home and office.
Berry also will lean into the brand’s country of origin and its design associations. “We want to really pump up our ‘Danish by design’ messaging,” he said. “It’s a very attractive proposition to Americans, whether it’s Scandinavian furniture or Scandinavian ready-to-wear. Scandi is having a moment right now.”
As for Ecco’s retail strategy, the new U.S. chief said it will remain a multichannel player and continue to wholesale to its key retail partners while also operating its DTC business that includes both digital and brick-and-mortar. Berry noted Ecco’s e-commerce division has seen big gains (up 70% from 2019), but changes are needed in its store fleet.
“We’re not in all the right locations,” he said. “We’re aggressively repositioning the fleet to make sure we’re in the right key cities, the right MSAs, but also the right brand-building locations. We probably are going to go into more high street locations and not be so exclusively mall based, but we’ll have a thriving full-price offer that’ll be about defining the brand.”