Despite its staggering number of styles, SKECHERS is arguably best known not just for a shoe, but for a shoe category: the “toning shoe.” According to the American Academy of Podiatric Sports Medicine, the toning shoe “has become one of the most talked about products in the footwear industry.” Toning shoes alone are likely to become a $1 billion a year market. While the Academy credits a small company called MBT with inventing the toning shoe, it is the $2 billion SKECHERS that popularized the concept with its Shape-Ups brand.
To build awareness for Shape-Ups, SKECHERS has connected the brand with high-profile personalities, including Joe Montana, Wayne Gretzky, Brooke Burke and Kim Kardashian.
SKECHERS snagged major publicity for its sexy Kardashian television ad that ran during this year’s Super Bowl, in which the celebrity is seen dumping her personal trainer in favor of Shape-Ups. This was followed by the launch of SKECHERS’ “Kardashian Collection.” SKECHERS employed Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and the company website to do a blitz associated with the ad. According to iCrossing, the digital marketing agency that worked with SKECHERS, friends of the SKECHERS Facebook page were able to watch the Super Bowl ad as well as “take a poll on a bad habit they would like to break… and get immediate results from all other participants in a single post.” The agency says SKECHERS saw a 300 percent increase in the number of its Facebook fans due to the campaign.
SKECHERS has built an entire “SKECHERS Fitness Group” around Shape-Ups, creating an array of shoes that can be bewildering. To add to the confusion, at least fifteen other companies, including such well-known brand names as Avia, Champion, New Balance, and Reebok, offer competing toning shoes. It has gotten so out of hand that, in March, SKECHERS brought a suit against Sears for infringing upon its patents, trademark and trade dress rights. Sears, which sells SKECHERS, sells competing brands as well.
The toning shoe category has also created a certain amount of controversy, so much so that it has led to a cottage industry – attorneys who specialize in injuries caused by the product. One such attorney, California law firm Estey Bomberger, actually uses http://www.skechersshapeupsinjurylawyer.com/ as its web address. According to the firm, “Skechers is currently facing a federal class-action lawsuit filed in California that that accuses the company of exaggerating claims about the effectiveness of the shoe.”
That isn’t the only controversy surrounding SKECHERS. Last fall, through its SKECHERS Entertainment division, the company launched a cartoon show on Nicktoons called “Zevo-3” that raised concerns because it featured superheroes taken directly from ads targeting children. At least one activist group petitioned the FCC to block the show, but it remains on the air. SKECHERS promoted Zevo-3 in January by inserting a DVD preview in some five million children’s shoeboxes.
Leonard Armato, president-CMO of SKECHERS Fitness Group, told Advertising Age in a January interview that he felt Zevo-3 was “really about the characters and the content and not trying to market anything to anyone. Any show that has significant popularity ultimately will become marketable on various levels.” Clearly, Armato has no issue marketing to children – SKECHERS recently announced a tie-in between its Twinkle Toes sneakers for girls and McDonald’s Happy Meals.
When asked about SKECHERS extensive product line, Armato said SKECHERS’ success was all about “messaging to the different targets and how you do that most effectively. When we reach out to Twinkle Toes customers, they’re probably not aware that we’re marketing to others about athletic footwear, and when we’re building a Shape-Ups campaign, we’re talking to a different consumer and have to speak with them in a way that’s different and engaging.”
It must be working. According to the company, SKECHERS saw net sales in fiscal year 2010 increase to $2.006 billion from $1.436 billion in 2009. Gross profit was $911.9 million compared to $621.0 million the year before. Domestic business increased by 48.3 percent and company-owned retail sales increased by 27.6 percent. SKECHERS was named Company of the Year for 2010 by Footwear Plus magazine, the fifth time in six years that SKECHERS has claimed the top prize.
In the race for footwear superiority, it won’t be easy for competitors to catch up to SKECHERS.