wars are shifting to the smaller sizes
June 18, 2008
Sneaker makers are
seeing big dollars in little feet.
New Balance Athletic Show Inc., which has shied away
from paying star athletes to shill its shoes, is rolling
out a lineup of celebrity endorsers: Elmo, Cookie
Monster, and Oscar the Grouch. The Sesame Street
collection of infant and preschool sneakers debuts next
month, the first of four lines New Balance is planning
as part of its largest children's initiative. The
undertaking is projected to bring in $10 million over
the next two years.
Rival Reebok International recently launched a line of
toddler and children's shoes featuring the Incredible
Hulk and Iron Man. Payless ShoeSource, meanwhile,
unveiled an infant-only collection this spring from
designer Lela Rose known as Teeny Toes, and a new deal
will soon expand the line to toddlers.
Once an afterthought, toddler sneakers are now a major
focus for brands. Sneakers for infants and toddlers are
the fastest growing segment in athletic footwear, with
sales over the past three years soaring 34 percent to
$1.35 billion in 2007, according to market research firm
NPD Group. Sales for adults grew just 3.5 percent over
the same period.
The shift has accelerated as teen demand for basketball
shoes - once the cash cows of the industry - has waned
and discounters have taken a growing share of the adult
sneaker market. The toddler segment is more profitable
because more sneakers can be sold at full price, unlike
those sold in more competitive markets aimed at adults
The race to lace up toddlers makes sense because they
need new shoes more often for their growing feet and
parents are willing to spend more on children than on
themselves, retail analysts say. Moreover, brand loyalty
can begin at the earliest of ages.
Meredith Armbrust, of Waltham, buys sneakers every three
to four months for her toddler, the latest a $40 pair
purchased last month at Stride Rite. Over the past year,
she has spent twice as much on sneakers for 2-year-old
Luke as on herself.
"Toddlers can spontaneously decide they don't like shoes
and aren't going to wear them," Armbrust said. "And I
would rather pay a little more and get a shoe that I
know fits him well."
But some critics raise questions about the brands'
marketing tactics to lure very young consumers.
"Pulling young children into the 'must have' shoe market
is one more way to turn tykes into hyperconsumers,
creating an entirely new generation of overspenders,"
said Lisa Wise, executive director of the nonprofit
Center for a New American Dream.
New Balance said its campaign is geared toward mothers.
The Sesame sneakers - designed on New Balance's heritage
running shoe the 574 - feature a furry tongue lining,
peeking eyeballs, and vibrant colors. The 30-second
commercials hawking the shoes, developed with Kids
Footlocker, will air on Nickelodeon during Nick Jr.
programming which skews younger viewers like the
demographic of the Sesame collection.
New Balance, which struck a multimillion dollar
sponsorship deal with Sesame Street in 2006, already has
a spot during the Sesame Street episodes promoting its
sponsorship, but it cannot display products because of
program restrictions. The Nickelodeon ads will feature
shots of Sesame Street characters' feet with a
voice-over singing about the different feet and ending
three times in a shot of a child's foot in the New
Balance shoes. Ads will also run in two parenting
The co-branding of kids sneakers - a first both for New
Balance and Sesame Street - is aimed at jumpstarting New
Balance's US kids business, which had been growing at a
rate of about 2 percent for several years until staying
flat last year. At the same time, the licensing deal
will help the private business make inroads into
lucrative emerging markets in Asia, Latin America, and
the Middle East.
"You're seeing a lot of brands coming into this space
more aggressively because it is a profitable business.
Because people are having fewer kids and they're
spending more on each child, the average selling price
is going up," said John Shanley, an analyst with
Susquehanna Financial Group.
New Balance's Sesame Street line will start at $43 for
infants and $53 for preschool, some of the highest price
points in the segment, said Brad Miller, New Balance's
strategic business unit for kids manager. New Balance's
infant shoes have typically sold for about $30, while
New Balance's 574 shoe for adults retails for $60. The
average infant/toddler shoe retailed for about $16.89 at
the end of December, according to NPD.
"We felt this was a unique opportunity to bring two of
the most trusted brands by moms together and position
this as more of a premium product in the kids business,"
Miller said of the Sesame Street partnership.
Reebok, meanwhile, recently launched its exclusive line
of children's footwear at Kid's Footlocker as part of a
licensing deal with Marvel Entertainment that features
two of the most renowned superheroes in the Marvel
Universe. The shoes retail for $45 to $65.
"For the most part, the mother is still making the
buying decision, but she's more influenced by her
children than ever before," said Neil Hernberg, head of
Reebok's kids division.
Even designers like Guess are getting into the toddler
game, unveiling a tiny sneaker last fall that featured
soft leopard print lining, cushioned collar, and heart
and gem-like accenting that cost about $60.
"People tend to throw out the frugal button when they
buy products for their adorable little toddlers. They
tend to communicate their taste level, their status
level and their image even more so by how they dress
their toddlers," said Marshal Cohen, NPD's chief retail
Subscribers receive no more
1-2 emails per week
This article is copyrighted material, the use of
which has not been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We
are making such material available in our efforts to advance
understanding of environmental, political, human rights, economic,
democracy, scientific, and social justice issues, etc. We believe this
constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided
for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without
profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes. For more
information go to:
you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your
own that go beyond fair use, you must obtain permission from the