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Famous Footwear puts its best shoes forward

Fri., Aug. 17, 2012, midnight

Isaiah Bush, 7, of Cedar Hill, Mo., browses the children’s options of shoes at the Famous Footwear store in Fenton, Mo., on Aug. 9.
Isaiah Bush, 7, of Cedar Hill, Mo., browses the children’s options of shoes at the Famous Footwear store in Fenton, Mo., on Aug. 9.

Retailer emphasizing athletic brands for back to school

ST. LOUIS – With back-to-school shopping now in full swing, the folks at Famous Footwear have been stepping up their game.

The chain of nearly 1,100 stores, a division of Clayton, Mo.-based Brown Shoe Co., is showcasing brightly colored, lightweight Nike running shoes – some of the hottest products on the market – on new lit-up display towers in the front of its stores.

It has launched a “Victory is Yours” advertising campaign with commercials featuring mothers celebrating after pleasing their hard-to-impress teenagers with the right shoes.

And in the past several months, it has been doing everything from adding touch screens to placing more emphasis on the first part of its name by making the “famous” larger than “footwear” in the giant signs above its stores.

Will Smith, senior vice president of marketing, said the company wants to make sure people know that the chain is up with the trends.

“When we talk to customers, they’re like, ‘We didn’t realize you have that and that and that,’ ” he said, referring to various brands such as Nike, Reebok, Vans and Converse. “We’re trying to erase the image that we’re an also-ran or whatever.”

Many of Famous Footwear’s latest marketing and merchandising initiatives have rolled out in the last month or so as the chain has ramped up for its most important shopping season of the year. While the holiday shopping season is the biggest for most retailers, “back to school” takes top honors for Famous Footwear.

The weeks from mid-July to mid-September account for about 25 to 30 percent of the chain’s annual sales – about 20 percent more than the holiday season, said Rick Ausick, the chain’s president.

Black Friday “has always been the biggest shopping day, but we’re starting to see some of these Saturdays in August approaching that level,” he said.

Industry experts expect this to be a strong back-to-school season, buoyed largely by the technological and style innovations in running shoes – from using lighter materials to splashing them in bright and neon colors.

The footwear industry has been in an athletic cycle for a little more than two years now, Ausick said.

“It doesn’t hurt that it’s an Olympic year,” he added. “That usually has an impact on people thinking about being more active.”

A decade ago, stores like Famous Footwear were not considered to be on the forefront of the latest trends, said Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource.

“They were trailing the marketplace,” he said.

“But mid-market retailers – and Famous Footwear being one of the better players out there – have really shown they can sell more sophisticated products.”

Christopher Svezia, an analyst with Susquehanna International Group, said major brands such as Nike used to not pay much attention to stores such as Famous Footwear. But they have started giving these stores better access to their products as they’ve seen rapid growth.

So now Nike has an in-house design team that develops products just for those stores. You won’t necessarily find the same Nike shoe as at Foot Locker, but you’ll see a very similar notched-down version at Famous Footwear, he said.

While athletic shoes have been seeing strong sales, Ausick said the company has been seeing softer sales than it would like for skateboarding shoes such as DCs and Chuck Taylors.


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