How Rockport President Steve Holt Uses Data and ‘Subtle’ Change to Engage Younger Consumers


As Rockport celebrates its 50th anniversary this year, new president Steve Holt is capitalizing on the brand’s strengths to attract the next generation of fans.

Holt was promoted to president in May after spending nearly 18 years with the brand at various times, holding several positions focused primarily on growing Rockport’s overseas business. In his new role, the UK native learned the ins and outs of the US market and helped refine branding using a data-driven approach.

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“We need to reach a slightly younger consumer to move our brand forward,” said Holt, who is based at the headquarters in Waltham, Massachusetts. “So we did a lot of work, dig into the data and put together a strategic playbook to seize some of these great opportunities.”

Like many shoe companies, Rockport has been challenged by the pandemic, which decimated sales in clothing fashion categories last year. However, Holt said the brand has rebounded this year, driven by stronger demand for casual dress styles. “We learned from The NPD Group that Rockport has outperformed the [fashion footwear] category over the past six months, growing approximately 50% faster than our competitors, ”said the CEO.

He attributes this to a gradual return to work, as well as more events and social occasions that require dress shoes. “I think the world is starting to emerge and go back to some form of normalcy, we’ve positioned ourselves to be the brand of choice across a number of significant wearing opportunities,” said Holt. “We have capitalized on [that by] developing casual dress styles rather than just, you know, formal clothes. Are we playing in the evening wear category? Of course we do. But the casual outfit really gave us an incredible boost. “

Rockport Total Motion DresSport Shoes.  - Credit: Courtesy of Rockport

Rockport Total Motion DresSport Shoes. – Credit: Courtesy of Rockport

Courtesy of Rockport

He is also encouraged by the great interest in the walking and Outside categories, which increased during the lockdowns and have remained strong so far even as the world has reopened. “We’ve been a leader in these spaces throughout our 50 years,” said Holt. “As we look to 2022 and beyond, we undoubtedly continue to expand our collections and innovate in these two high growth categories. “

Here, the brand manager shares more information on how he is expanding his customer base, as well as his outlook for retail and supply chain headaches.

You said that a key objective is to target young consumers. How do you go about it – through marketing, product design, or all of the above?

Steve Holt: “You don’t mean all of a sudden, ‘We’re going to go with a younger consumer.’ You can not do this. Your approach should be very subtle. We’re partnering up with First Insight to collect data, and it’s created a really interesting journey. We can get this data on certain styles that we are confident in. But is this slightly younger consumer drawn to these styles, to the aesthetics, to the technology of our shoes? And the answer is yes. The good news for us is that we are starting to engage this slightly younger consumer, without alienating our primary consumer. And in fact, we are starting to see our sales volume increase with the primary consumer as well, as they are engaged in our new marketing approach and the ambassadors that we use around the world.

What US retail channels are working best for Rockport right now?

SH: “I am really excited and energized about the American side of the business, for a number of reasons. Our digital platform is doing very well and [has doubled since 2019]. Given the brand value of Rockport, we’re really starting to propel this side of the business. We are also seeing great strength in the top department store channel. Our business works extremely well with all the key players. And with our online selling business, the feedback we have received from our online merchant friends is that we are crushing it. And these are not my words, these are the words of e-merchants. And then we also have the family chain and the bottom chain. We do a lot of work in the United States on all of these channels to make sure we have the right product in the right place for the right consumer.

Rockport ProWalker Trainers - Credit: Courtesy of Rockport

Rockport ProWalker Trainers – Credit: Courtesy of Rockport

Courtesy of Rockport

Given your expertise in international markets, do you see other opportunities abroad to further develop the brand?

SH: “We are now in 60 countries. Asia-Pacific is strong. We have a presence in Central South America and our coverage in Europe is quite good, but I would say there is more to exploit there. The most important thing for the Rockpool brand is to make sure that we engage Class A partners in our brand. And COVID has somehow held back the expansion of that distribution. But before COVID in the UK, for example, we had a partnership with the UK-wide # 1 retailer, so our positioning is very, very good. But we still have a great opportunity to propel this business forward. “

Speaking of the impacts of COVID, how have you dealt with global supply chain issues?

SH: “We’re being told this will last through 2022. So what we’ve done is work around the clock to make sure this has minimal impact on our customers. Agile and agile are two words we use a lot here at Rockport Group – because we have to be. We know there have been delays at factories due to COVID or power outages, and the lack of containers. So we started to identify the product collections we needed to deliver that were most meaningful to our retailers. On top of that, we have used our consumer knowledge and tested our products throughout this pandemic. We said, “OK, we think this product is very relevant now, but we can’t just go on a knee jerk reaction or be in a room with five people where everyone has a different opinion. “We have to look to our knowledge of consumers, and if consumers are attracted to a product, then it behooves us to make sure that we bring that product to market for our valued retailers, but also, which is very important, for our consumer.

Rockport celebrated its 50th anniversary this year. From your perspective, how has the brand changed – or hasn’t changed – in the two decades or so since you first joined?

SH: “One of the reasons I came back to Rockport [four years ago] was the brand value it has – its 50 year heritage. It hasn’t really changed. What is constant is our style of comfort, our technology, our innovation and our stories to tell. Now wWhat has changed is that we are more agile. We are more agile. We focus on branding, which is really essential. We focus on consumer insight and make sure the consumer talks. The consumer and our retailers have a say, but it will always be on this solid foundation that this brand has for many years. We’re not going to turn away and go somewhere we shouldn’t be. But what we want to do is illuminate the brand, create the wow factor and continue to do so with all of the attributes of the Rockport brand. “

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