Keen Footwear took the industry by storm at its first Outdoor Retailer show just two years ago, with retailers (and the competition) crowding the aisles to get a look at the companys cornerstone product, now known as the Yogui. Keen quickly established itself as a brand to watch in the footwear business.
According to point of sale data collected by SportScanINFO, Keen currently has five of the top ten top selling sandals in the Sports Retailer sector. Keens Targhee approach shoe is making its way up the top seller list for outdoor footwear as well. With all of this momentum behind the brand, many in the industry have been curious about why the company chose to move from Oakland, Calif. to Portland, Ore., leaving behind many top managers, and where the new management team will take the brand.
From March of 2005 until the beginning of this year, Keen lost its CEO Angel Martinez; the brands president, Jim Van Dine, and 23 other Keen employees, including Scott McGuire, Jacqueline Lenox, Jenny Fredericks, and Mario DiFalco. All of these executives are now working for Keens primary competition, Deckers Outdoor, which owns the Teva, UGG, and Simple brands, with Martinez the president and CEO and the others serving as consultants.
For many companies, losing six top managers to a direct competitor could spell disaster, but from all accounts the company barely stumbled for a single step through this process. Keen closed down their Oakland offices on a Thursday and re-opened with a new management team, headed by Nike vet Kirk Richardson, that following Monday.
During an interview with The B.O.S.S. Report, Mr. Richardson said that the success of the transition was due to his predecessors hard work. “We have made the move pretty smoothly and a lot of that is due to good planning and good work on behalf of the folks at Keen before I came on board. I am new so, certainly Im not taking credit for it. I think there was a good planning process to the move, and the consequences of that are that we have been able to keep it going,” he said. Sources within the company also attribute much of this smooth transition to the professionalism of Van Dine and several of the other departing executives who worked tirelessly to insure the brands future health, even after they decided to leave Keen.
Moving forward, the consensus from Keen employees and retailers alike is that the company is in good hands. “Keen is just a remarkable brand, especially since they just came out of nowhere,” said Danny Wasserman, President of Tip Top Shoes in New York City, who recently was able to meet with some of the new management team. “This new team really has the Keen heritage in their head. So often, these new executives come in and try to change everything, but I felt very comfortable that they understand the brand.”
Mark McKnight, the marketing director of Rock Creek Outfitters agrees with this sentiment. “I really havent seen much change at all in the brand. We are still seeing tremendous growth out of Keen.”
In many ways, Richardson was put into a unique position with his new post as CEO of Keen. Executives often inherit a company that needs to be fixed, but in this case, Keen is still growing at a rapid rate.
While much of the management team decided to stay in California, two key senior executives are still with the company in Portland. Keens VP of marketing, Bobby Parisi, kept his position and VP of finance and CFO, Chris Hamper, also made the move.
Mr. Richardson said that the primary reasons behind the move related to lifestyle, talent, and recreation. “The Pacific Northwest is a great environment, a great lifestyle for Keen and the people at Keen,” he said. “Portland has become a center for excellence in footwear and having access to talent in the industry that surrounds Portland is positive. I think the last reason is, and its hard to put a dollar value on it, but just the recreational opportunities are so good here relative to some of the other places in the world you could have picked. Thats not to denigrate Oakland or put it down in any way, there are great opportunities there too, put I think that for people looking for outdoor activities, like Keen employees, the Pacific Northwest is a pretty nice place to be.”
Moving forward, Richardson plans to keep Keen on its original tracks with most potential for growth coming from international markets and product extensions. Keen will be attending both ISPO and the Friedrichshafen OutDoor show to introduce the Keen brand to new markets in Europe.
“I dont think there will be any major differences going forward. I think Keen is going to continue to pursue pretty original design language. I think youll see us expand our product line to compete in other segments and niches within the outdoor footwear and outdoor lifestyle markets, but its not going to deviate from what you think already with respect to the Keen brand We are going to grow very organically. We are going to stay focused on the types of customers we are doing business with. We have no plans to expand distribution,” he said. “The other area for growth, Id say is Keen has principally been a USA phenomenon-a company that has done a vast majority of its business inside the U.S. A comment Id make about the future is that I think we need to devote more energy towards developing our business overseas.”
Overall, retailers who spoke with BOSS both on and off record are happy with the direction Richardson is pursuing with the brand. The only gap that Richardson feels that needs filling is customer service. “We feel like dealer and customer service is a big area of development and opportunity and focus for us. We feel that that is an area where there are fundamental things we can do in order to become a better partner for our retailers,” he said.