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DNA Distribution Discusses Habitat Footwear Launch

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TransWorld Business tracked down DNA Distribution’s General Manager, Chris Carter; Habitat’s Creative Director/Brand Manager, Joe Castrucci; and Apparel/Footwear Design Director, Aaron Hoover to find out more about the brand’s decision to launch a footwear line.  The announcement comes roughly nine months after Burton acquired the Dayton, Ohio- based company. Find out all the details of the product expansion and how the company is evolving under Burton’s ownership below.

How long has this footwear line been in development?

JC: We started developing the Spring 2010 line and direction in late summer 2008.

Have you added a footwear-specific team of designers, merchandisers, and product developers or is this line being handled by employees who were already in place?

JC: We have not added any footwear specific employees here in Ohio, but we do have some shared service’s through Burton.  Many of us are dividing time between categories.  Aaron Hoover joined DNA to work specifically on clothing in 2008 while we waited on the green light for the footwear program.  He is now split between apparel and footwear.  His footwear experience was key in developing the new category.

Team Rider Alex Davis. Photo: Malfa

Team Rider Alex Davis. Photo: Malfa

Can you explain the decision to expand into footwear?

CC: We have seen a lot of potential in the footwear category for years now, and believe it is a great platform for Habitat to expand into. The brand message lends itself well to footwear. With our expanded sales and distribution network coupled with the manufacturing and development resources available via Burton and Gravis this became much more feasible.

JC: We have been producing and marketing boards for a decade.  We were honestly ready to try something new and more refined.  Habitat has a very cohesive image and an iconic logo that works well for shoes.  There have been many Habitat collaborations with shoe brands over the years so it seemed pretty natural to offer our own line.

Why does it make sense now in the current economic climate?

CC: I am optimistic that the economy will grow and strengthen in the coming two year period.  We believe the diversification into footwear will help strengthen Habitat and DNA as a whole.  There is always room to add a category if it’s well executed and those behind it are inspired to create something more compelling than those that precede them.

JC: Even in the roughest economy skaters will need decks and shoes to take part in daily skating.  We have committed all of our time and energy to promoting our decks through teams, videos, tours, and advertising.  We plan to do the same for the footwear line, creating more hype for all of DNA’s categories.

How many styles/ SKUs will be included in the initial offerings?

AH: Our initial collection will consist of 6 Styles / 18 SKUs. It’s a well-balanced offering that gives the retailer solid options for their customers.

Ibex In Gray

Ibex In Gray

How is your team set up, and will there be pro models included in the line?

JC: We started the shoe division as all amateurs: Guru Khalsa, Austyn Gillette, Marius Syvanen, and Alex Davis.   This allows the riders to be apart of something new from the beginning of their careers. There will be pro models available in upcoming seasons as these guy’s become Habitat’s next generation of pro riders.

What’s the story and inspiration behind the line from a design standpoint?

JC: We’ve established a strong reputation in the skateboard world through raw street skating, graphic design, films, and inspiration from the natural world.  There is a definite “Habitat Look”  to the brand and riders that we are staying true to from the color palette to the artist collaborations.  Most of the offering consists of timeless, traditional skate shoes, with the exception of the Basin.  The Basin is a hiking inspired shoe that was created for the time spent off the board.  We are also taking a more sustainable approach to the manufacturing of the shoes.  Water based glues, natural gum rubber, recycled materials, and less petroleum based fabrics are all integrated into the line.

Basin In Brown

Basin In Brown

AH: The inspiration of the shoes come from the team and the board graphics, which both have defined Habitat Skateboards.  Our riders play a big part from submitting color ideas, proto concepts, to their personalities that help characterize the brand.  Austyn and Guru both have specific colorways this first season.  They have each selected the style, colors, materials, and patterns used on their signature colorway.  Both styles are finished off with a custom branded label on the inside of the tongue and footbed graphic. In honor of Guru turning pro, we’ve tied his debut pro board graphic into the footbed art.

What tradeshows will you be premiering the new line at, or will it be a soft launch through your rep network?

CC: We will be attending Agenda, the Moat Show, Crossroads, the Cherry Hill NJ regional rep show, and will be hosting a regional rep shoe show tentatively here at DNA on 1/21.

What’s the distribution plan?

CC: We are launching footwear via our global network of self owned sales and distribution offices in Canada, most of Europe, Australia, and Japan.  We will use independent distributors in geographies where we do not have our own sales and distribution facilities. It will be sold in the U.S. by our inside and outside sales force and distributed by DNA out of Dayton, Ohio.

Habitat's Quest

Habitat's Quest

Have retailers seen the line already, and if so what’s the initial response?

AH: Yeah, retailers have seen the line already. It was important to get that first impression right. The response has been overwhelmingly positive. Now we have a perfect platform to build from. I’d like to thank all the retailers who support what we’re doing.

CC: We have had great feedback from retailers and skater’s alike.  We all know how critical and judgmental our customer base is and have had extremely positive feedback.

When will the product hit retail?

AH: First delivery will be February 2010.

How will it be priced?

AH: We are priced competitively with the other quality brands that share the same standards as we do.

What will make it stand out on a store’s shoe wall?

AH: Our signature orange shoe shelves. Ha, honestly, I think our shoes will stand off wall based on design, quality, and consistent branding among the styles.

JC: The shoes are all tightly constructed, super light, and have a pretty distinct look. I think it’s visibly clear that they skate good.

Has this been something that you considered before the Burton Acquisition, or something that made since because that happened?

CC: Yes.  We have wanted to enter the footwear category for years now but until now we never felt we had the proper resources to be effective and competitive.

JC: We have been plotting and proposing this since late 2004.  The Burton Acquisition definitely made it possible.

Habitat team rider Guru Khalsa. Photo: Goto

Habitat team rider Guru Khalsa. Photo: Goto

How has the integration of DNA Distribution into Burton been?

CC. The integration process has been very beneficial to DNA.  We are able to utilize Burton’s vast global sales and distribution network.  This allows us more control of the sales, marketing and distribution in the foreign markets. There obviously is a learning curve and some growing pains with the process.  Our global supply is now one of the best in the action sports industry.

From the “front end” it appears that you’ve remained relatively autonomous. On the “back end” have you incorporated running SAP for DNA’s operations? If so, how has that transition been and what tools does it provide you? If not, why?

CC: The SAP switchover is planned for 2010.  We are currently in the process of upgrading our hardware and network infrastructure in preparation for SAP integration.

Are there any other categories you’re currently considering expanding into?

CC: We developed a line of skateboard specific pads and helmets through the Red brand, which has incredibly product quality and years of experience in the safety equipment business. We have also expanded our range of softgoods for both Alien Workshop and Habitat. I think we have a great catalog of brands and categories and are set for the time being.