Keds Looks to DM, CRM to Bolster New Retail Presence

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Women's casual footwear manufacturer Keds Corp. will increasingly rely on direct marketing as it presses ahead with its new focus on opening retail stores across the country.


With its first two stores opened last month in Georgia and four more planned by year's end, Keds is looking to create and maintain a retail customer database and build a communications program.


To this end, Keds has named PreVision Marketing LLC, Lincoln, MA, to handle direct marketing and database management. PreVision already does similar work for the Stride Rite brand, owned by Stride Rite Corp., Keds' parent. Stride Rite Corp. also owns Sperry, Munchkin, Street Hot, Tommy Hilfiger and Grasshoppers.


"The challenge is to successfully launch a store, so they expect us to hit a home run, especially in this recessionary market when you're launching a whole new store concept and new stores," said Deirdre Girard, principal of PreVision.


"So they really need to make sure they're integrating their general advertising efforts with their customer efforts, but they're putting a strong emphasis on direct marketing and CRM through their initial launch dates," Girard said.


The new Georgia stores, one in Alpharetta and the other in Kennesaw, come two years after Keds inaugurated its direct sales channel, keds.com. Each store is 1,200 square feet and sells women's and children's shoes.


The stores will be in malls and regional shopping centers, and each store will reflect Keds' brand positioning: fresh, honest and spirited. While the store will have floor staff to assist in sales, it also will allow consumers to serve themselves in an area for basic sneakers.


The self-service model, more common in the apparel retail market, is relatively new to the footwear industry.


The stores will allow Keds to test new products, offering an insight into consumer reaction to new lines or styles.


"The stores will open up a lot of doors that haven't been open for us before," said Kathy Doody, marketing manager at Keds. "Not everyone has been able to view our full line."


But, as a company whose main source of income is making shoes, Keds has little expertise in talking to its end-consumer. Before hiring PreVision, the company supported its direct-to-consumer marketing and communications inhouse, particularly for keds.com.


Now, with its retail operation scaling up, Keds has tasked PreVision with creating and executing a contact strategy and integrating offline direct marketing with online. Other services will include providing analytics of what offers consumers respond to, creative, test plans and list rentals.


"We have a very broad base of customers [and] to speak to all of them is a challenge, but with PreVision, we'll be able to know them better and relate with them better," Doody said.


A subsidiary of Valassis Communications Inc., Livonia, MI, PreVision also boasts clients such as Toys "R" Us, Stop & Shop, Talbots, Bose Corp., Monster.com and Qwest. It was founded in 1993 as a specialist in customer relationship management issues.


For Keds, PreVision recently dropped 25,000 mailers to consumers who live within 20 miles of each Keds store in Georgia, for a total of 50,000 mailers. While the number may fluctuate, the agency will rent lists or cherry-pick from the keds.com database to inform consumers about new store openings.


E-mails to consumers living within 20 miles of the planned stores and local and regional media advertising are other components of the marketing plan.


The agency also will use its new PreVisionWare suite of marketing software to help maintain Keds' customer marketing database.


"We've embedded strategic insight on CRM in this campaign management software that actually helps you prevent common marketing errors," Girard said. "It also searches for opportunities you may not have seen in your data."


Meanwhile, Keds is on schedule to open new retail locations, mostly in its Southern stronghold.


In mid-August, a Keds store will open in Pembroke Pines, FL, followed a month later by one in Plantation, FL. In October, Keds will debut its Columbus, OH, store in conjunction with the opening of a new mall. A Coral Springs, FL, store is planned for December.


"The direct marketing campaign has been keyed into the launch date, so [it will begin] the first couple of weeks before a store's launch," Girard said.


Keds' mandate to PreVision is simple.


"We're looking for results," Doody said. "We want to drive traffic and ultimately drive sales in these retail stores. We want to build really strong relationships with our customers.


"We're able to obtain all sorts of information and be able to interact with our customers through these stores," she said, "and we need to learn more about them so that we can offer them valuable information and offers and help them understand us as a brand."


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