Footwear Insight

January / February 2018

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s &OOTWEAR )NSIGHT ^ *ANUARY&EBRUARY FOOTWEARINSIGHTCOM Rechner's Rules By Jennifer Ernst Beaudry S ue Rechner is ready for a shakeup at Merrell. "The company is going through a lot of transitions. It's clear, and it comes with some aches and pains, [but] that's ultimately why I joined," Rechner says. For Rechner, who joined Merrell last June after a decade at paddlesports brand Confluence Outdoor as CEO, and a prior seven years as CEO and chairman of Victorinox Swiss Army, the new posi- tion has come with some shifts. There's been a move to Merrell parent company Wolverine World Wide's Rockford, MI, location, and acclimatizing to once again reporting not to a board but to a person — in this case, fellow WWW newcomer Todd Spaletto, former global president of The North Face who assumed the presi- dent role for the Outdoor and Lifestyle Group at Wolverine last February. "It has been an interesting, interest- ing six months. On a company level, the organization has been incredibly sup- portive. Blake [Krueger, Wolverine's CEO and chairman] is awesome, Todd is awe- some," she says. "The biggest challenge [for me] has been getting used to a large corporate environment — that's not the world I lived in. But it's a very small large company for its size and I've found that to be very beneficial. There aren't big hierarchies. Everybody's on the same page, everybody understands what we have to do. There's a lot of people rowing the boat in the same direction." Rechner takes her place as the Wolverine organization as a whole seeks to transform itself into a faster, consumer- focused organization, aims that Rechner fully embraces. "Consumers want rela- tionships with [companies]. They want emotional, soulful relationships. They want to understand who's running a brand and what your stance is," she says. While she acknowledges the difficulty of the work ahead, Rechner says her team is fully engaged. "There's a lot of positive energy around," she said. In this Footwear Insight Q&A, Rechner sounds off on what consumers want from brands today, brand identity and what it means to be a soulful brand. You joined the Merrell brand six months ago — what's been your priority as you've taken the reins? "Merrell's doing a lot of things right, [but] we've articulated a very clear vision on how to sustainably build this brand for future growth. That's job one. To embrace moving from a wholesaler model to a con- sumer-facing model is the price of entry today. And today, as you know, consum- ers want relationships with [companies]. They want emotional, soulful relation- ships. They want to understand who's running a brand and what your stance is. They need to know all that stuff. We need to open the kimono and share that this is who we are. We have the people and the passion, but we haven't had that two-way consumer conversation as much as we needed to." What challenges do you see in the marketplace? "There's a lot of brands out there that you would come up immediately with what they stand for. Merrell is challenged to have that [identity] be as prevalent out there. We've probably been a little been disparate in what we approach the market with, and there needs to be focus: We need to pick our spots where we want to win." What does that focus look like from the con- sumer's point of view? "We're going to own the trail. It's not necessarily a consumer-facing [position], but our north star is owning the trail and we'll build around that. We have five con- sumer territories that we've architected: Hike; Nature's Gym, which is our trail and training category; Outdoor Life, which is pre- and post-hike and mountain town product; Urban Trail; and Work, which is a different consumer segment, but a prod- uct category that is clearly defined." The outdoor industry as a whole took a more political stance in 2017. As Merrell looks to develop a more two-way relation- ship with its customers, will expressing distinct points of view on divisive topics be part of the stance? And if so, how do you prepare for the responses? "As a board member of the OIA for the past seven years, I truly believe that you have to stand up for how you feel about things. But the reaction can be intense. [At Merrell], we publicly support that the lands belong to the people. You've got to draw a line there. I don't want to alienate [people] but I don't want to be a brand that has no point of view — being nothing, standing for nothing is not neces- sarily a recipe for success. You have to be transparent and be who you are, and not everybody's going to agree. It's not an easy thing, but that's what consumers demand today." The retail environment was choppy, to say the least, in 2017, and the challenges facing brands and retailers will likely be just as acute. Does further consolida- tion and additional pressure affect your strategy? "I think you have to deal with the things you can control. You stay focused on the consumer and build that consumer rela- tionship. That way, whatever happens, we have a stable, solid, direct relation- ship with the consumer and that helps everybody. The more powerful the brand becomes in the consumers' eyes, [the more] they'll walk into a retailer and buy it. It's taking a page of Jeff Bezos' play- book — it's all about the consumer, it's all about what they're gonna do." O Merrell's new president Sue Rechner wants people to get to know the brand behind the brand. Merrell Chameleon 7 Storm hiker EXEC Q&A

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