Wear-Sneakers-Everywhere Trend Upends Shoe Retail, Aldo CEO Says

(Bloomberg) -- The rise of the fashionable sneaker -- the result of casual Friday’s inexorable creep across the rest of the week -- has footwear retailers scrambling to adjust.

Comfier shoes appear here to stay: Walmart Inc. announced on Wednesday that management can now join other employees in wearing sneakers to work, and casual attire is increasingly accepted at many companies. The trend means that closely held Aldo Group Inc. has found itself competing against footwear giants like Nike Inc. and Adidas AG.

“Our customer is spending more and more of their wallet share on what we would traditionally think of as athletic wear: The Pumas, and the Adidas and the Nikes,” Aldo Chief Executive Officer David Bensadoun said in an interview. He referred to the broader trend as the “casualization of fashion footwear.”

Wear-Sneakers-Everywhere Trend Upends Shoe Retail, Aldo CEO Says

The shift in consumer preferences is an additional challenge for brick-and-mortar footwear retailers that are already struggling to respond to the rise of e-commerce. The stakes are high for the $68.5 billion industry: Rockport Group LLC, Nine West Holdings Inc. and Walking Co. Holdings Inc. have already filed for bankruptcy in recent months.

Spending on footwear rose less than 1 percent last year -- the least since 2009 -- according to data from the Bureau of Economic Analysis. That modest gain masks the widely divergent scenarios among different segments of the market: High-heel sales dropped 12 percent, while those for sport-leisure shoes climbed 16 percent, according to NPD Group.

Social Media

Demand for work-appropriate sneakers means that Aldo, which is based in Montreal and has more than 430 stores in the U.S., now has to contend with Germany’s Puma SE and its social-media campaigns that include celebrity influencers such as Rihanna and Selena Gomez.

Aldo, which also sells accessories such as handbags and was founded by Bensadoun’s father in 1972, wants to counter with a celebrity of its own and is looking for the right fit, Bensadoun said on the sidelines of Montreal’s C2 conference last week. It’s also expanding its “athletic casual” offerings.

Wear-Sneakers-Everywhere Trend Upends Shoe Retail, Aldo CEO Says

The company, which has a footprint across more than 100 countries, gets half of its revenue from its own stores, 15 percent from franchises and another 15 percent from e-commerce. The rest comes from selling private labels and its own brand to retailers such as Macy’s Inc.

‘Retail Culling’

The decline in foot traffic at U.S. malls, where most Aldo stores are located, is also a drag, according to Bensadoun. Aldo is in the process of shutting some mall-based stores and opening new ones in other locations, including downtown areas and malls with entertainment and attractive food options, he said.

But there’s still too much square footage per shopper in the U.S., he said, where a “retail culling” is needed to get closer to levels of Canada or Europe.

“That’s what’s missing right now in the U.S. shopping experience,” he said. “You’re in a big mall that has too many tenants, that has too much space, there’s not enough shoppers -- you feel like you’re walking through a ghost town.”

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