For too long have office workers been forced to wear dress shoes which are heavy, uncomfortable to wear with little grip. Could Nike come to the rescue, or will they miss out on this potential opportunity to merge the technology of sports shoes with the luxury of leather dress shoes?
For those who are constantly on the move outside the office, we appreciate a good pair of dress shoes. They need to look smart, be polishable to a shine and most importantly, are light and actually have decent pavement grip to be practical.
Despite the obvious, such shoes are immensely difficult to find. Even the most expensive shoes with the most well known brand names often have designs rooted in the Victorian past.
There are two main problems. Many of them are immensely heavy compared to your average sneaker, making walking more tiring than it should be, especially since some models feel as heavy as an ACME Anvil of Bugs Bunny fame. The soles are also slippery: those with leather soles function like ice-skates, while shoes with rubber soles provide only fair grip until confronted by a wet pavement.
Some shoe companies such as Florsheim have tried to introduce lighter shoes with better soles, which have addressed part of the problem. But why is it that the experts in light, comfortable shoes that have amazing grip are sitting on the sidelines, calling a time-out?
I’m looking at you, Nike.
A Missed Opportunity
Manufacturers of sports shoes such as Nike, Adidas or Reebok obviously have the technology to make the perfect dress shoe. They’ve proven that their know-how is extensive and can be applied in different ways: the bounce needed for running shoes, the grip needed for basketball sneakers, the cushioning to reduce foot shock. Why is it that we haven’t yet seen dress shoes using sports shoe technology?
These companies are missing a very lucrative market to expand their portfolio up-scale, where a good pair of dress shoes can cost several hundred US dollars.
Nike itself can’t go directly into making dress shoes, as the image and branding simply is too casual to be taken seriously in the classy world of fine leather loafers. Instead, they could take one of three approaches.
1) Form a Joint Venture
With this model, it provides Nike with quick market access without the need to build a completely new brand, while Florsheim would gain from an infuse of sports technology which can be adapted to produce better shoes.
Any agreement needs to be negotiated carefully, as any form of technology and know-how transfer is risky if the scope of the venture is not intricately defined.
2) Open up a New Subsidary
The second model would involve Nike going it on their own, and creating a completely new subsidiary with a new luxury shoe brand to promote their new line of leather shoes. It would be similar to what Toyota did with Lexus: it’s still a Toyota, but much more upscale and expensive.
This model is good for Nike as they are able to gain all the profits that would be generated from such a venture. They would need to spend a significant amount of money on marketing to promote the new brand and to give it its own distinct feel and image completely separate from the sports line that Nike is well known for.
Nike will have to consider carefully whether they want the new dress shoe line to have any association with Nike, on an image-level. If Nike chooses to make the connection, then people could perceive it positively, relating positive aspects such as comfort and lightness to the new line of shoes. Alternatively, it could damage the brand as the new line may not be perceived to be as classy enough when compared to its well-established competitors.
3) License the Technology
The third model involves the least amount of risk, but also the least amount of potential gain. Sneaker manufacturers could license out specific aspects of their technology, perhaps cushioned designs or high grip but low profile soles, to traditional dress shoe manufacturers. Nike would be able to ease into the market carefully by gaining know-how and exposure first prior to making any new investments.
They could also use the opportunity to build brand recognition among consumers, and get them used to the idea that Nike is also involved in polishable shoes. It will also provide them with the opportunity to move on to a more committed model, or pull back with little investment risk in terms of capital and branding.
A rough Google search reveals that Nike has already done this to some extent by allowing Cole Hann to use their Nike Air technology, so perhaps they are slowly moving towards this direction?
Sport shoe manufacturers have much to gain if they decide to enter the market. Their marketing and design prowess would allow them to design a dress shoe with the realities of today’s world in mind: one which is light, stylish but still grips the pavement well.
If they are able to do that, they would have landed themselves on an inexhaustible gold mine, and an inexhaustible source of gratitude from the tired feet of workers today.