Feetured Players

Running Channel Stalwart Feetures Sees Opportunities in the Footwear Independent Channel.

Left to right: John, Hugh and Joe Gaither.

For Feetures, business is a family affair. And for 2020, the Hickory, NC-based sock brand is preparing for its newest frontier: Expanding its sock story in the independent shoe store channel in a significant way.

The brand was founded in 2002 by Hugh Gaither, a 27-year veteran of the Ridgeview sock and hosiery company, who saw an opening in the market for a better premium, technical performance sock. Today, the Gaither team at Feetures includes sons John Gaither, the SVP of product, and Joe Gaither, the VP of marketing, as well as daughter Catherine, who works as an executive assistant. Working together, the Gaithers have built the brand into a run specialty powerhouse: 50 percent of the firm’s business is done in the channel, and it’s consistently a top seller in run shops.

“The edge we have in this highly competitive business is that we’re completely focused on socks,” John Gaither says. “It’s the first thing we think about every day and the last thing as well. We are completely focused on moving the category forward and finding new ways to innovate, and I think that’s what really resonates in the retail marketplace.”

And this year, the Gaithers want to bring that focus to the footwear channel in an even bigger way. It’s no newcomer: the brand has had a presence in the independent market since the 2016 launch of its Everyday product, its first foray into a more casual line.

“Three years ago, we made a major update to our product line and created the Everyday product. The idea was that we were going to take our running sock technology to socks designed for dress and casual use, bring performance to that category and create some differences,” Joe Gaither says. “We thought there was an opportunity to use and create a synthetic dress sock line — it’s moisture-wicking with different fibers — and use the compression and fit that makes our performance socks so unique in the running market.”

It was a formula, they say, that resonated.

“When we began to introduce ourselves in footwear stores that we did not have distribution in, they understood our success in the run market,” Hugh Gaither says. “And that gave us an immediate level of credibility.”

Today, the Everyday line has grown to include a variety of lifestyle socks in a variety of weights and patterns, with 33 men’s styles and 41 for women, and has placement in shoe accounts including Schuler Shoes, Footwear Etc., Dardano’s, Alan’s Shoes, Karavel Shoes, and Comfort One. And it sees an opportunity to grow that share.

For its 2020 push, Feetures promoted an in-house sales representative to solely focus on the footwear channel and has established a series of grassroots events to establish more brand traction and build store traffic for the Everyday range and the entire sock segment. A program, created with approximately 30 footwear stores in Fall 2019 will be expanded in 2020. It centers on creating weekend store sales events, similar to a trunk show where customers who show up to try on a pair of shoes can receive a new pair of Feetures.

Key to the initiative is the with the February introduction of the Everyday No Show line of low-cut socks for men and women, with 15 SKUs styles retailing at $14.99.

The channel is a natural fit, Joe Gaither says, because the specialty market consumer is looking for product with real benefits — and the independent channel has the right model to demonstrate it to them. The try-on and fitting experience in store by educated staff associates, he says, is crucial. “In a big box environment where customers are self-shopping, it’s much harder to tell the difference between a $16 sock and a 12-pack for $15. The benefits are certainly explained on the package,” Joe Gaither says. “But it’s really hard for some consumers to understand that value proposition without someone there to explain it or the ability to try on the sock.”