Allen Edmonds is polishing up its act.
Starting this month, the upscale Port Washington, Wis.-based men’s footwear brand will unveil the results of an ambitious re-branding strategy that will touch all parts of the business. Everything from product and marketing to store design will be updated as the 96-year-old American heritage brand seeks to widen its appeal with younger men.
The re-branding process was instituted shortly after the St. Louis-based Caleres Inc., purchased the Allen Edmonds brand for $255 million from the private equity firm Brentwood Associates at the end of 2016.
At the time of the acquisition, Diane Sullivan, chief executive officer, president and chairman of Caleres, said the addition of Allen Edmonds to Caleres’ portfolio, which includes Dr. Scholl’s Shoes, Vince and George Brown Bilt in men’s wear, “allows us to rapidly increase our exposure in men’s footwear, solidifying a new revenue stream to drive overall growth. Allen Edmonds is a strong brand operating with a proven business model and we feel it is well-positioned for growth. Not only does Allen Edmonds have brand equity and a loyal customer base, its appeal extends beyond this base to yet untapped consumers. We think we’ve acquired one of the great gems in men’s footwear.”
Caleres’ other footwear brands are mainly women’s focused and include Diane von Furstenberg, Fergie and Via Spiga.
Allen Edmonds’ sales at the time were believed to be in the $100 million range.
For the past year, Allen Edmonds has fallen under the purview of Malcolm Robinson, president of Caleres’ men’s and international divisions.
The crux of the program is that Allen Edmonds will now be targeting the “discerning man” rather than the “practical man.”
How that is defined, Robinson explained, is that the discerning man is more drawn to brands with “authenticity and authority,” both of which he believes are hallmarks of Allen Edmonds. That consumer spends $1,200 a year on footwear, is younger — age 35 to 44 — and is more stylish than fashionable. There are also more of them: 5.3 million in the U.S. versus 3.5 million “practical” guys who spend only $270 a year on footwear.
To appeal to the discerning man, Allen Edmonds is shining more of a spotlight on its craftsmanship and heritage.
“We still make 80 to 85 percent of our shoes in America,” Robinson said.
More updated models are being offered such as Chelsea boots, a waterproof collection and sneakers. Comfort and performance attributes were added to all models. Prices average $250 for sneakers and boat shoes, $345 for casual shoes, $425 for dress shoes and $495 for boots.
A key initiative that will launch later this month within the Allen Edmonds stores is the Artisans of Freedom program that will offer an assortment of high-end apparel and accessories from other American-made craftsmen. These will include Cockpit USA jackets, Civilianaire jeans, Gitman shirts, Southwick sport coats, Weiss watches, Alan J eyewear and Korchmar bags.
“They’re the authorities in each category,” Robinson explained. “And they’re all made in America.”
The brand has created videos around each of the artisans that speak to their expertise and “tell the story of their origin, craft and materials,” Robinson said.
Allen Edmonds had offered apparel and accessories in its stores to complement its footwear, but Robinson said the products were inexpensive and included such things as baseball beer bottle openers and “cheap shirts and ties. So you saw these well-made, higher-priced shoes, belts and bags and a lot of inexpensive stuff around it.”
With 90 percent of the brand’s sales coming from its 79 U.S. stores, web site and catalogue, Robinson saw a “bigger opportunity” to increase sales by partnering with more-upscale brands.
Each of these products will be sold under their own name rather than Allen Edmonds, he stressed. “We don’t want to homogenize or pasteurize things by putting our names on things where it doesn’t belong. The customer doesn’t believe that.”
The Artisans of Freedom program is an “evergreen,” he said, and will continue beyond the fall season. For example, for holiday, the brand is teaming with Three Kings Tattoo on a collection of small leather goods, and then for spring 2019, artwork from Logan Maxwell Hagege — “a modern-day Georgia O’Keefe,” Robinson said — will be used on bags and small leather goods.
“We’re taking this from an aspirational brand to an inspirational brand,” he said.
To drive the message home even further, the old shield logo has been jettisoned and replaced by an hourglass that incorporates the date of the founding: 1922. It is intended to reference the timelessness of the brand, Robinson said.
In addition, there will be new packaging, which will include a waxed black matte box with copper accents and a cobalt blue lining for shoes.
The store design has been modernized. The first glimpse came this spring when new exterior branding was unveiled on the Raleigh, N.C., unit. By the end of the year, the Rockefeller Center store in New York, South Coast Plaza in Costa Mesa, Calif., Sutter Street in San Francisco, Michigan Avenue in Chicago and Cherry Creek in Denver will be given complete facelifts. This will include floor-to-ceiling video screens, more updated imaging and displays.
The remainder of the fleet will immediately be given new signage that is “more museum or gallery-like,” Robinson said, until they’re completed renovated, which will happen over the next three years.
The brand’s catalogues are being revamped to be more content-focused and will feature a mix of real people and models for the first time. “Our catalogues could have been Home Depot tool catalogues,” he said. “Now they’re more editorial and are serving up style, performance and craftsmanship.”
The company mails six catalogues a year to as many as 2 million people at a time.
The web site is being revamped and will relaunch in mid-September.
Allen Edmonds is also launching its first national television campaign this fall featuring Baker Mayfield, the quarterback for the Cleveland Browns. Called “Real Shoes,” the campaign will run through November on national cable news and sports networks.
Robinson said the brand has performed well since joining the Caleres family and he expects a further uptick after the re-branding takes hold. The plan is to add four to five new stores a year going forward as the company continues to focus on its direct-to-consumer business. “This is a high-touch, high-quality business and we believe we’ve got to do it ourselves,” he said.
That being said, Allen Edmonds does have a “very small wholesale business” with such large retailers as Nordstrom and Von Maur as well as better specialty stores such as Larrimor’s in Pittsburgh. “There’s an opportunity to grow that again,” he said.
Further international expansion is in the cards, he said, for Canada, the Middle East, Australia, Europe, Asia and South America. “We’re exploring that for 2020,” Robinson said. He said that although the brands does now sell “a little overseas,” the focus going forward will be on more-upscale stores such as Harrods.
Overall, Robinson said the plan going forward is to grow Allen Edmonds “judiciously and intelligently. Caleres spent $255 million to buy this brand and wants a return on its investment. I see the potential to double sales over time. But whether that’s five years or eight years, I don’t have that answer yet.”