By  on September 6, 2008

With nearly two years under its belt as a national department store chain, Macy’s is gaining a stronger foothold in the shoe business and using its star power in the process.

“We’ve been working from a marketing perspective to give exposure to shoes,” says Muriel Gonzalez, senior vice president of Centercore, shoes, intimate apparel and accessories. “Jessica Simpson, Kenneth Cole [and] Carlos Santana have all appeared in our commercials….We’ve also been experimenting online, and the business has really responded to the exposure that we’ve given those brands.”

The chain, which boasts 100 footwear labels and the largest shoe department in the nation at the Herald Square flagship, cites shoes as one of its top-performing categories. And, thanks to the stores—and  labels—that Macy’s gained through the acquisition of May Co., the retailer now reaches more than 800 doors and has been upping its fashion quotient to keep up with the times. This fall, Macy’s is building upon its shoe-selling prowess by expanding the fashion footwear offerings from labels such as Jessica Simpson, Coach, BCBGirls, Calvin Klein and Michael Kors, although a sizable portion of its business rests in the comfort and moderate zone with brands such as Clarks, Naturalizer and Hush Puppies.

“We still have a historical strength in dress shoes, but the growth has come out of more casual footwear and more comfort footwear,” Gonzalez points out.

Historically, Macy’s in several cases was the first major retailer to latch on to new talent. The retailer still holds key accounts with footwear forerunners like Hush Puppies and the more modern-day Nine West Group, Kenneth Cole and Steve Madden, among others.

“Macy’s was one of our first accounts,” notes shoe designer Steven Madden of his namesake brand, which has done business with the retailer since the Eighties. “We feel the Steve Madden girl [still] goes to Macy’s.”

Vince Camuto, chief executive officer of Camuto Group, which holds the license for the Jessica Simpson brand, among others, says the benefits of his personal 30-year business relationship with Macy’s have been twofold, and date back to his days when he founded Nine West.

“When we started Nine West, Macy’s was very supportive,” recalls Camuto. “They needed [Nine West] for their stores and we wanted to maximize the growth. And they did, too.”

That partnership continues with Camuto’s Jessica Simpson, BCBG footwear, Arturo Chiang and namesake brands, all of which have found a home at Macy’s. “They are a great brand supporter,” Camuto adds.

The department’s private brand business, which includes Style & Co. and Alfani, also has been a boon for the retailer. A new INC International Concepts footwear line for women’s is slated to bow this fall under a partnership with Camuto. And for the next decade, Macy’s will be searching for more footwear winners, now that its coast-to-coast presence gives its merchants the buying power to go after hot items and the national
marketing clout to make an impact.

“Our big success this spring-summer was the FitFlop,” says Gonzalez. “It was something new, something exciting….We found it and we were able to get behind it [with marketing] in a big way.”

To that end, Macy’s has come a long way since 1875 when the company unveiled its first footwear department after shedding its dry goods image. Now, stores are rolling out shoe parties and shoe buyer rewards clubs to cater to footwear fanatics. “We just have to keep evolving with our consumer,” Gonzalez says.

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