Merrell is opening the company's first U.S. retail franchise store in Huntington, N.Y., on Dec. 9. The 1,100-square-foot store, located about 40 miles outside New York City and in the heart of Huntington Village, will carry more than 350 styles of men's, women's and kids' footwear in addition to Merrell packs and bags.
"We have been selling Merrell for eight to 10 years through the Renarts store and Merrell customers are the most loyal customers we have come across," said Ankur Amin, co-owner of the Merrell store.
While this is a first for Merrell in the United States, the ground is not new for the company. Currently, it has franchise stores in Argentina, Venezuela and Taiwan.
Jacques Lavertue, president of Wolverine's Outdoor Group, told SNEWSÂ® that Merrell has had numerous suitors.
"We're are not retailers, but we have had quite a few folks come to us in recent years wanting to open Merrell-branded stores," Lavertue told us. "When the Amin brothers came to us though, they had a very good plan, a very good location and the timing was right. We now have the line that can carry a store."
While Merrell does not own the store, it does own the fixtures, the POP displays, the signage and it helped with the store layout. The Amin brothers provided the building and they are responsible for buying and selling the product.
"The store gets no special pricing just because it is a Merrell-branded store," Lavertue told SNEWSÂ®. "They have to buy like everyone else at wholesale."
When SNEWSÂ® pointed out that this new store seemed to be a natural expansion of Merrell's existing shop-within-a-shop program, Lavertue agreed.
"We currently have 135 stores, like Paragon for example, participating in our program and it has proven to be very successful for us and for our retailers. This new store is, as you point out, essentially a 'shop-within-a-shop without the other shop.'"
As for plans to open company-owned retail stores in the future, Lavertue told us he has learned never to say never, but it was not in the plans for the company at this time.
"I've said it before, we are not retailers, we are wholesalers and we need to focus on what we do best and let our retailers focus on what they do best," said Lavertue.
He did allow that the company would consider other franchise stores in other locations if it makes sense for the brand and the location.
SNEWSÂ® View: Huntington is a good first location for Merrell to try this experiment because the surroundings fit the outdoor culture and there are several colleges nearby. The brand will be celebrating its 25th anniversary next year and has certainly come quite a long way since it created the iconic Jungle Moc, a shoe that many credit with officially establishing the "after-sport" shoe category. While there may be retailers that raise eyebrows over Merrell allowing a branded store to open, economic history is on the company's side as demonstrating that, if done well, this should help any Merrell retailer if the retailer is a good one. First, the opening of a store does help with brand recognition by exposing the entire brand to more customers. Secondly, and we believe Merrell is such a partner, if Merrell takes what it learns about assortment planning, product styling and design, and merchandising from its own store, and then shares that knowledge with its other retailers, that benefits everyone.