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Fifteen years ago, a small US footwear brand called Skechers unveiled its first ad campaign. A limited budget meant family members took part in the photo shoot to showcase the then-embryonic sports-utility footwear brand.

These days, Skechers can afford to employ top US celebrities in its ads. It turns over more than US$1 billion (£493 million) globally; an extraordinary achievement considering the brand’s relative youth. Ever aggressive, it is ploughing ahead with plans to hit US$2bn (£986m) by 2010.

Skechers’ UK arm is run by UK and RoI managing director Peter Youell, who joined from Umbro International two years ago and has grown the UK business from a standing start to become the biggest earner among the international subsidiaries, turning over more than £15 million, with profits of £334,000.

Despite its US heritage, sugary styling and all-American celebrity endorsements, the brand has been a huge success in the UK. Its high-profile marketing campaigns feature US stars such as singer Ashlee Simpson, rather than British talent, making Skechers’ UK penetration of 500 accounts, 300 of which are indies, all the more impressive.

“When I started at the brand, I was told that if I freed my mind from opinion on product and got shoes on the shelves I wouldn’t believe the success,” says Youell. “The marketing works in the UK because people do connect with the US.”

Since its inception the company estimates it has spent about US$300m globally on marketing, but Youell insists sales are not pinned solely to the back of loud marketing; it is down to product as well. He believes it is Skechers’ interpretation of trends that drives sales and claims that less than 10% of the range is designed with the UK in mind, helping to dismiss arguments that what works in the US will not translate to the UK.

With 2,500 SKUs in its range, Skechers spans the entire market from newborns to the over 60s. Its Bikers range, which has men’s, women’s and kids’ styles, is by far its bestseller, with 50m pairs sold worldwide to date.

Skechers’ founders, the Greenberg family, have been dubbed by people inside the company as ‘the icebergs’, in reference to their formidable management style. Chief executive Robert Greenberg is said to sign off every new product.

In addition to safe black and brown styles, for spring 08 the brand has patent Mary Janes for women, and for kids there is Cali Gear, a moulded style that was new for autumn 07. The brand’s constantly evolving product has helped to lift like-for-like sales by 30% this season, says Youell.

While its distribution among UK multiples including Barratts and Schuh has now been capped, Skechers is on the lookout for more independent stockists. “We have less than 500 accounts and that is a lot less than we could have,” says Youell. “At one time we were the last brand retailers would see in a buying season, but now we’re among the first.”

Skechers 01707 655 955

The year Britney Spears signed as the first celebrity face of Skechers
160: Number of shops globally
2001: The year Skechers opened its first UK store
5: Number of Skechers footwear brands in the UK: Skechers, Zoo York, Ecko Unltd, Red by Marc Ecko, and 310

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