The chief executive of MBT tells Laura Weir about dealing with imitators and his vision for growing the comfort footwear brand
What is your career background?
I started at MBT 18 months ago, after working for Timberland for 15 years. I had 11 roles in my time at Timberland, the last being chief operating officer. Initially, I did an assessment of the MBT supply chain and worked on the budget on a consultancy basis before the brand asked me to lead the company.
What was it that attracted you to MBT?
My passion is footwear with a function, and I thought MBT was an innovative idea which combined these two facets. It’s a brilliant concept with lots of intellectual property behind it. My challenge is to help the business catch up with the concept.
What is the MBT concept?
We try to help people live healthier lives. People assume that the best way of making shoes is making sure they are flat. Our belief is that instability at the sole leads to greater muscle activation.
Which retailers are getting the best sell-through on the product and why? Harrods is a great example. We sit on the fifth floor in a fashion retail space, but MBT is the top brand
in terms of sales per square foot. The volume of traffic is extraordinary. We also cherish our independent accounts because they are the best at explaining the product and its benefits.
Who is your target customer?
We don’t target a specific age range. You can be health conscious if you are 25 years old or 75 years old. Our customers are open-minded, performance-oriented people. We have more female customers than male but we are getting closer to a 50/50 split.
There are now lots of MBT-style shoes on the market. How do you deal with the competition?
We wonder what has taken them so long! We will continue to innovate on product and evolve the retail experience. We want people to understand why they are paying what they are paying for a premium product.
You’ve introduced some styles with fashion-led uppers for autumn 09. Is it a challenge that MBT is not seen as fashion footwear and is that what you are striving for? I think MBT is rooted
in function, not fashion, but we are making the shoes accessible to fashion-forward people.
How will you maintain market share and positioning once the ‘phenomena’ aspect quietens down?
I hope for steady growth. MBT has grown year on year since its launch, and I want that to continue without spurt or decline. The way we manage that is by controlled distribution which allows for incremental growth.
How do you see the MBT business evolving in the UK?
We have 230 UK accounts and I feel we can double that; 80% of our distribution is to indies. We’d love to grow by investing in shop-in-shop concepts with partners who will give a dedicated focus to the brand. We also have a big opportunity in the brown shoe market [US term for mainstream workwear shoes] here, which is the bulk of our business in the US.
Which is your favourite city to shop in? Amsterdam. I love its mix of independents and the number of designers who have their own stores. You can also get a good coffee.
Who do you find inspiring in the market? David Hieatt, the founder of Howies. I think he is a genius and I love his ethics. It is a special brand.
What’s the most treasured item in your wardrobe? My patched-up Levi’s jeans. I wear them all the time.
What’s the last thing you bought? A Mophie Juice Pack – I love my iPhone but the one flaw is the battery life. The Mophie extends it by five hours.
- Ken Pucker is chief executive of comfort footwear brand MBT