Skechers USA Inc. is trying on new shoes.
The Manhattan Beach-based company, which four years ago was the darling of Wall Street with its hot, skateboard-inspired footwear, is offering up a slew of product lines in an effort to rev up sales and investor interest.
Its stock was trading at $40 a share in 2001. But in the shoe business, customers' fickle preferences can quickly make or break a company. By 2003, the stock had skidded toward $5.
Since then, the company has updated the look of its shoes to make them more appealing to its core customers of teenagers and young adults.
Skechers, which is now trading above $13 a share, recently inked a deal with Robertson Boulevard boutique Kitson to sell that store's branded shoes. The company is also rolling out urban brands 310 Motoring, Unlimited by Marc Ecko and Red by Marc Ecko to more stores nationwide.
The newest brands have the potential to extend Skechers' reach into boutiques and high-end department stores, where Kitson shoes will be sold, as well as mass footwear retailers such as Foot Locker Inc. and Finish Line Inc., where Skechers has little presence. The company is marketing Hurricane by 310, an athletic shoe under the 310 Motoring label, to Foot Locker and Finish Line retail stores for the holiday season.
"As each of these brands gain market share and consumer acceptance, Skechers believes they will continue to positively impact its domestic sales," David Weinberg, the company's chief financial officer, said during the third-quarter conference call.
Some of the troubles have been self-inflicted. The company dabbled in Britney Spears products that got mired in litigation, and it peddled designer footwear brands Michelle K and Mark Nason that saw a sales pickup in the third quarter but only after two years of slow growth.
Investors remain wary, especially after the company's disappointing fourth-quarter outlook, in which it anticipates earnings of 2 cents to 7 cents per share. Analyst expectations are 6 cents per share.
Despite investor reaction, Skechers' business appears basically healthy. Four out of six analysts covering the company have a "buy" or "strong buy" rating.
Some of the newer brands are off to good starts. In its third-quarter conference call, the company attributed a jump of more than 5 percent in domestic wholesale revenue partly to 310 Motoring, Unlimited by Marc Ecko and Red by Marc Ecko.
Deena Friedman, an analyst with Brean Murray & Co. Inc., forecasts that the new brands will generate $50 million in revenues this year. That's only a fraction of the $926 million racked up last year, but Skechers is still widening the urban brands' store base and building consumer awareness.
"The non-Skechers brands are significant growth opportunities as they gain additional distribution," Friedman wrote in a research note.
The stylized, car-inspired look of 310 Motoring shoes is aimed at young African-American and Hispanic males. The suggested retail price is $95 to $150.
To make the shoes credible to these customers, Skechers has signed on hip-hop artist The Game to market his own 310 Motoring line. (Skechers' frequently taps celebrities in its ads, and "American Idol" winner Carrie Underwood hawks Skechers-brand shoes.)
"If you can capture those particular consumers, they have a tendency to be leading edge and other kids mimic whatever the fashion that those particular shoppers are looking for a season or two down the road," said John Shanley, an analyst with Susquehanna Financial Group.
Shanley noted that the new brand could be big sellers at mass retailer Foot Locker. "There wasn't much of a relationship between Skechers and the world's largest footwear retailer. That is where it has been very crucial for them," he said. "If you can capture those particular consumers, they have a tendency to be leading edge."
The Kitson shoes, which are expected to hit shelves this quarter in the $85-$95 price range, are designed to appeal to young women shoppers who follow fashion magazines and celebrity trends. The buzz factor may draw customers to Skechers that previously wouldn't consider picking up the company's shoes.
"As these brands gain traction, it could mean additional exposure for the core Skechers brand," Friedman wrote.
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