I have to admit that MBT is not a brand I have ever really thought too much about until now. Yes, I was aware of its existence but like many other people, before I started covering footwear for Drapers, I knew them only as “those slightly strange looking shoes that are supposed to be good for toning and if you have back problems.”
I had seen all sorts of positive publicity about the associated health benefits of the footwear and had witnessed countless people wearing the brand. While they never really appealed to me (if it doesn’t have a wedge or a platform I don’t tend to wear it), they were certainly popular and also well ahead of the game when it came to the countless different brands of toning footwear that then followed.
When I was speaking to stockists about the demise of MBT this week a lot of them mentioned the advent of other competitors as one of the reasons why the brand had struggled somewhat in recent years but, that said, most still agreed that the competition in the form of Skechers Shape-Ups and Reebok Easy Tone didn’t come anywhere near MBT in terms of effectiveness or actual health benefits.
However despite this most stockists agree that it wasn’t the competition that was MBT’s ultimate downfall. All of the retailers I spoke to said, without exception, that the product had failed to move with the times. One retailer even said she had approached Masai Marketing and Trading AG, the brand’s Swiss parent company, putting forward some of her own ideas for designs and that they didn’t want to know.
The overwhelming feeling from stockists here is one of sadness that a brand that was once such a big seller for them has failed to retain its prowess although it must be said that none of them seemed particularly surprised by the news. Most said they no longer sell as many pairs as they once did and have cut back on their orders as a result.
All of them agree that the brand has a good reputation and is extremely effective at what it does but, as we have seen countless times in the last 18 months with the demise of many iconic brands and retailers, reputation alone is not enough to prevent the inevitable from happening.
Consumer confidence remains unstable and, as such, persuading shoppers to part with their hard-earned cash continues to be a challenge for retailers, a pressure that becomes even more difficult if they are trying to sell brands that have not moved with the times.
For the sake of those retailers who do believe in the MBT brand, I hope that a buyer can be found for its Swiss parent and production can be re-started, but whoever buys it must learn a valuable lesson from its demise.
A retailer said to me last week that a downturn is actually the best time to reinvent your business and this really struck a chord. Just because something once worked one way, it is a mistake to think it will be the same forever. Whoever buys MBT should think about that and look at what can be done to in terms of product development and indeed marketing to return the brand to the success it once was.
Ruth Faulkner, reporter, Drapers