Fancy footwear raises the tone

Skechers USA and other makers of toning and shaping shoes may be poised for faster sales growth if they can figure out how to lure men.

Volume sales of walking shoes rose 15.3 per cent in 2009 from a year earlier, to $US712 million from $US617 million, driven by an eightfold jump in sales of the new footwear from companies such as Skechers and Reebok International Ltd, a unit of Adidas AG, research firm NPD Group Inc. reported yesterday. The shoes are marketed as toning and shaping muscles when worn during everyday activities.

The gain came in a category with limited choices for men, whose footwear accounts for 50 per cent of overall revenue in the athletic-shoe market, NPD said. That compares with 30 per cent for women's shoes and 20 per cent for children's footwear, the data show.

"This is a phenomenon that really hasn't scratched the surface yet," Marshal Cohen, a chief analyst for Port Washington, New York-based NPD, said in an interview "It's done very well in women's, but hasn't penetrated the men's market yet. Those brands and retailers that get focused on men's are the ones that are really going to reap the benefit."

Skechers, based in Manhattan Beach, California, released a men's version of its Shape-ups shoes in July to pair with a women's version that began selling in January 2009. Reebok, based in Canton, Massachusetts, offered EasyTone for women in July. It doesn't have an option for men. Nike Inc, the world's largest seller of athletic footwear, doesn't sell a toning shoe.

Better Legs

Toning shoes simulate the feeling of walking on sand and makes wearers stabilise their steps, leading to stronger leg, buttock, back and abdominal muscles, Skechers said on its Web site. A Reebok advertisement on its Web site said EasyTone can bring "better legs and a better butt with every step."

The marketing of toning shoes has largely focused on women and exercise, neglecting the comfort and wellness attributes that will appeal more to men, Cohen said. Women had a 62 per cent awareness rate of the footwear, compared with 37 per cent for men, NPD said.

Sales of toning shoes rose to $US145 million in 2009 from $US17 million a year earlier, while overall athletic-shoe purchases dropped 1.4 per cent to $US18.6 billion, NPD said.

Purchases of women's athletic footwear grew 0.6 per cent in 2009 on the strength of toning shoes and outdoor boots such as the Ugg brand from Goleta, California-based Deckers Outdoor Corp., Cohen said. That compares with a 6.4 per cent decline in 2008. Revenue from men's athletic footwear fell 3 per cent in 2009 after a 0.4 per cent gain the previous year.

"In a challenging economy, newness constitutes interest and then promotes sales," Cohen said. "There is nothing really new and exciting within the men's market."