On June 15, Scott Briggs was named the new president of New England Footwear, the parent company of GoLite Footwear and the new Z7 Footwear brand.
Briggs has more than 25 years of experience in the footwear industry, including a 16-year stint with Timberland. Most recently, he served as COO of Geox USA, a global footwear brand based in Italy.
Briggs now heads a year-old company that is trying to establish itself in the outdoor and wellness markets. New England Footwear (www.newenglandfootwear.com), based in Portsmouth, N.H., was established in 2008 by Doug Clark, former vice president of Timberland's Invention Factory, after Timberland discontinued production of the GoLite and Mion footwear brands. In June 2008, SNEWS® reported that Clark had acquired GoLite footwear's intellectual property, tangible assets and remaining inventory from Timberland (click here to read the story "GoLite footwear set for re-launch under new ownership"). With the hiring of Briggs, Clark retains the title of founder and CEO of New England Footwear, but his focus will now be on product design rather than running the company's day-to-day operations.
Briggs said that GoLite Footwear will continue its focus on shoes that feature the brand's unique Paw Pads sole, which is designed to provide a cushioning suspension system. "We'll continue to bring this 'soft against the ground' technology to the market and refine it," said Briggs. "We've seeded that on a lot of hikers and have gotten excellent responses back."
Of course, this is a tough time to establish a new footwear brand -- particularly one that includes a design concept that is not familiar to the market. "The biggest challenge is the macro-economic conditions," said Briggs. "Retailers are pretty conservative right now, and they're taking fewer risks. And, it will be up to us to tell a compelling story to retailers and consumers."
He said that a priority right now is driving brand awareness. While Briggs said that the GoLite brand brings some instant credibility, consumers really only associate the name with gear and apparel. "It's less known for footwear, and we have a lot of work to do to build that aspect of the brand," he said.
To increase brand awareness, GoLite Footwear plans to work hard in developing relationships with outdoor retailers. "We really have to work one-on-one with the retailers to make sure they understand what we're bringing forward. If we do a good enough job of that, we'll get additional placement going forward," he said.
Briggs said that over the next six months, his priority is to build a strong sales force. The company has five sales agencies now, and is looking for four more to serve the U.S. market. "We have to build, and in some cases rebuild, relationships literally one at a time. A big part of our focus has to be getting our products on buyers' and sales associates' feet."
Briggs said that trail running and fast packing will remain the brand's core categories, while its primary market target remains people ages 30 to 40. He added that the brand could especially appeal to aging athletes. "Because our platform is so stable and causes less wear and tear on the joints, we're starting to get that consumer who has put a lot of miles in and can appreciate what stability will do, especially on the ankles and the knees. As outdoor athletes age a bit, they get more concerned with stress on the joints, and the product gives them more confidence," he said.
Briggs said that GoLite Footwear would also broaden its offering of hiking shoes, but he said you probably won't see traditional boots with a stiff outsole and cushioning midsole. "All of our hikers will be built with the soft-against-the-ground platform. That will also allow us to do some unconventional silhouettes for day hiking or overnight hiking," he said.
When Timberland first established GoLite footwear, it positioned it as primarily a trail running brand, but Briggs wants to go in new directions. "With our technology, we feel the line can be much broader," he said. So, at this summer's Outdoor Retailer trade show, GoLite Footwear will debut travel shoes that will have different lasts and materials from its trail runners and fast-packing shoes, but offer the same cushioning and stability. "They'll be a bit more youth oriented," said Briggs. "You'll see interesting lasts and toe character, and they will have full-grain leathers and fabric materials and will be lightweight."
While GoLite Footwear is exploring new market segments, Briggs said the brand would not lose sight of the idea that its customers are people on the go. "Everything we produce keeps in mind that the consumer has a limited time in the outdoors, and we're trying to maximize the performance and enjoyment while they're there."
As for the Z7 brand, there will be a soft launch this fall. "We'll have a handful of accounts, like The Tannery in Boston and Tip Top Shoes in New York City. It will be in your better independent stores and catalogs," said Briggs. Z7, which includes dress casual and casual shoes for the wellness market, is named for the 26th letter in the alphabet and the seven major muscle groups in the leg. "The shoes are intended to activate all 26 bones and the seven muscle groups as you walk," said Briggs.
For both Z7 and GoLite Footwear, Briggs wants to grow the brands carefully. This means providing retailers excellent service and paying attention to consumer demands. "We are a small, lean organization, and we are very nimble," said Briggs. "Everyone in the organization understands consumer feedback, exactly how the products are working, and what changes, if any, we need to make."
SNEWS® View: There's no doubt that GoLite Footwear has challenges ahead. Its sole technology didn't exactly get out of the gate smoothly while at Timberland, and the brand has been in a sort of limbo since being dropped by Timberland and then acquired by New England Footwear. But one thing in its favor is that a strong team with plenty of experience now guides the brand. Through his work with Timberland and Geox, Briggs built a proven track record of developing effective marketing messages. Clark brings his extensive knowledge to product development, while Tom Montgomery -- who has more than 25 years in the footwear business, having worked with Kenneth Cole, Reebok and Timberland -- will lead manufacturing. If this team can't pull it off, it's hard to imagine who could -- although it's not lost on SNEWS that there are plenty of monuments erected to failed companies created and staffed by teams that, on paper, looked to be top of the class in terms of talent. That alone will not get it done. In his favor, Briggs seems very eager to listen to retailers and learn from them. He said he would bring the GoLite Footwear designers to Outdoor Retailer, so they can get direct feedback from retailers as well. And Briggs himself wants to have a lot of interaction with dealers. He understands that retailers desire to have personal relationships with company leaders, and he plans to be very open and accessible. If the technology the company is pushing proves worthy, GoLite Footwear just might have a fighting chance.