Merrell decides less choice equals greater sales

Jacques Lavertue, CEO of Merrell, the darling division of the Wolverine Inc. corporation, took a look at all the shoes adorning his trade show booth walls last year and he didn't like what he saw -- too many choices with no rhyme or reason as to which shoes went with what buying program.
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Jacques Lavertue, CEO of Merrell, the darling division of the Wolverine Inc. corporation, took a look at all the shoes adorning his trade show booth walls last year and he didn't like what he saw -- too many choices with no rhyme or reason as to which shoes went with what buying program.

"We had gotten to a point where we would fill in a product and then it would not tie in logically with anything else in the line and it became virtually impossible to explain the relationships of one product to another," Lavertue told SNEWS®.

In order to simplify the process of purchasing outdoor footwear for consumers, while providing retailers with a clean, easy-to-understand product line, Lavertue and his team decided there had to be a better way -- product silos otherwise known as Merrell Continuum.

Lavertue told us the change was the most radical and largest development project in the company's history. To get to Continuum, Merrell completely revamped the Outventure product line with footwear groupings now organized by end use and level of intensity. In addition, Merrell decided it was time to partner with Vibram and Gore-Tex in the process so the two venerable companies could offer design advice early enough to have an impact.

Merrell Continuum features four product categories: Hiking (wet/dry), Active Speed, Multi-Sport and Aqua Sport, and a progression of the traditional Merrell favorites: Wilderness, Chameleon and Pulse in the Evolution category, also part of Merrell Continuum.  

"If we couldn't even explain our line to retailers, how could we expect them to understand it, let alone buy from us in any kind of logical and organized manner? What Continuum does is simplify the process by which retailers and then consumers buy outdoor performance footwear," Lavertue said.

Color also plays an important role in understanding the Continuum line.

"Normally you design, color it up, decide on the best colors and go to market," said Lavertue. "That was not good enough, so we developed a color system that retailers have told us makes so much sense."

Essentially, Merrell has four distinct color palettes throughout the product line: Timeless, Modern, Progressive-Men's and Progressive-Women's. Timeless is a unisex color blend consisting of classis colors like brown, navy, black and gray. Modern is also a unisex color scheme that provides on-trend, contemporary colors including charcoal, taupe, orange and blue. For bold, unexpected colors, Merrell offers Progressive men's and women's palettes that include "unexpected, vibrant upper and accent combinations such as red, lavender, yellow, blue and orange."

"Now the features and benefits of a particular product group are clearly visible to a retailer, and then they can also select the color palette based on the consumer they are trying to attract," Lavertue told us.

More important to Lavertue than the initial Continuum introduction is the fact that his division now has a plan it can replicate.

"Once you have given yourself an understandable framework in which to work, you work more intelligently. We have clear goals and mandates to meet now," said Lavertue. "Down the road, silos will be updated and it will make sense to everyone. We will even add silos, and those will make sense."

SNEWS® View: Retailers we spoke with about Continuum are very upbeat and told us that it has just become much, much easier for them to buy Merrell product -- and that is certainly what Lavertue and gang intended. Lavertue is on record saying he expects Continuum to help Merrell sell up to 25 percent more shoes -- a heady increase that many other footwear companies would give their "sole" for (sorry -- couldn't pass that one up). What Merrell's challenge will be is to convince specialty retailers that they should give up space on their already limited shoe walls at the expense of perhaps another brand. Naturally, the argument will be to give more room to Merrell on the grounds its line simply merchandises better, makes more sense collectively, and is easier to understand hence easier to sell. And while retailers we spoke with felt Merrell's new structure makes complete sense, not all of those retailers are willing to buy into devoting huge chunks of wall space for the Merrell brand. The risk of putting too many eggs in one basket is one reason, and yet another is the fact that Merrell footwear, though very good, is also so popular there are very few stores where you can't buy Merrell these days, and that just isn't special enough for some. Our bet is that Merrell sees the sales increase it wants, and that most retailers do opt for going whole Continuum. After all, even if you can find the product in nearly every store, if it sells easily, who can argue with success?

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