Vans can’t skate by on its pre-pandemic reputation

Discussion
Photos: Vans
May 24, 2021

Vans’ streak of robust double-digit annual gains ended with the novel coronavirus pandemic and an expected relatively modest recovery has stoked concerns that the skate brand has fallen out of favor with teens.

The company had been on fire pre-pandemic. Piper Sandler’s semi-annual “Taking Stock With Teens” survey in the fall of 2019 ranked Vans as the second favorite footwear brand, cited by 20 percent of teens, below only Nike (42 percent) and above Adidas (nine percent) and Converse (four percent).

The brand’s share slid to 16 percent by Spring 2020 and 12 percent in Fall 2020 amid the pandemic, losing share to Nike, Adidas, Crocs, Dr. Martens and Converse.

Vans’ sales fell 16 percent in its recently-completed fiscal year. For the current fiscal year, sales are expected to generate seven to nine percent growth compared with the pre-pandemic fiscal year, well below gains of 26 percent seen in 2019 and 27 percent in 2018.

On a quarterly call last week, Steve Rendle, CEO of VF Corp, Vans’ parent, said the brand has been disproportionately hurt by restrictions facing its broad store base, many of which are located in California, as well as supply chain delays.

He sees three catalysts returning Vans to double-digit growth.

First, the reopening of stores is expected to fuel demand as physical locations drive higher loyalty member enrollment, greater purchase frequency and higher average order value. “We know that the deep connectivity of Vans stores and associates are a distinct competitive advantage for the brand,” said Mr. Rendle.

A second growth catalyst is the return to normal social usage occasions, such as in-person school, dining out and attending concerts and sporting events, Mr. Rendle said,  “We know Vans has remained top of mind for its core consumers who are ready to re-engage with the brand as they return to a normal cadence of lifestyle activities.”

Third, beginning in June, Vans will initiate a cadence of weekly, globally-coordinated drops that marry both product and experiential demand creation to drive energy, excitement and brand heat. “A key learning from the past year has been the importance of flowing new product and associated storytelling to deepen engagement with existing consumers and attract new consumers to the brand,” said Mr. Rendle.

DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: Has Vans lost some of its cool or is its underperformance a pandemic casualty? What do you think of management’s plans to reignite demand and growth?

Please practice The RetailWire Golden Rule when submitting your comments.
Braintrust
"Leadership will be key, but unless they fall out of touch with their core segments the loyalty built over many years will keep Vans relevant."
"Sitting here asking my 13 year old — who was all about Vans a few years ago — I am hearing “they’re just not popular anymore.”"
"They are second only to Nike, double the share of Adidas, and five times the share of Converse. Nope, not worried. Sounds to me like they are on their game."

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11 Comments on "Vans can’t skate by on its pre-pandemic reputation"


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Jeff Sward
BrainTrust

Mr. Rendle said the magic words: “…flowing new product and associated story telling…”. It’s not just new “stuff.” The storytelling is key. They are second only to Nike, double the share of Adidas, and five times the share of Converse. Nope, not worried. Sounds to me like they are on their game.

Christine Russo
BrainTrust

The teen market is fickle — it sounds like their June programs will be a good gauge of popularity. I would expect them to lean on TikTok and Snap a lot because that’s where their customers are. Anecdotally, there was a huge line outside of the Vans store in the Meatpacking District in NYC this weekend.

Neil Saunders
BrainTrust

The problem with fashion is that, by its very nature, trends and preferences can be fickle. So it is with Vans. I don’t doubt that the lack of social occasions has driven down sales, but I also believe the brand has waned somewhat over the past year or so. Vans went through a resurgence back in 2017/18 and had been riding high. However it now seems a bit ubiquitous and has fallen out of favor a bit. I think it can get back on track with more drops, more exclusives and a bit of innovation – but it needs to work on all three as there are a lot of alternative out there.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Precisely! A fashion business is all about trends. If a company takes that route they must accept the ebb and flow of the changing tastes.

My first sneaker was a pair of Chuck Taylors high tops. That was more than 70 years ago. All the kids wore them, then they didn’t. Then about 10 years ago my grand children gave me Chuck Taylors for Christmas, because they were all wearing them.

Richard Hernandez
BrainTrust

I feel so old – I remember seeing movies like Fast Times at Ridgemont High and Clueless and thinking those shoes are way out there and no one will wear them. Boy was I wrong. I believe they are using social media to advertise their product heavily. I have definitely seen an uptick in people wearing Vans over the pandemic time period. Something must be working.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

What struck me the most was “Taking Stock With Teens” survey indicating Nike was a teen favorite by a huge margin, 42 percent. That just doesn’t make sense. Nike’s overall market share is in the low 20s. Converse at 4 percent also does not ring with its national market share of 12 percent to 15 percent. From observation only, I would say that Converse indexes much more to teens versus adults and Nike much more to adults than teens. Hmmmm?

Chuck Ehredt
BrainTrust

It is true that fashions come and go, but Vans has built a solid base of customers and been able to innovate over time, so I think this is a temporary dip. They have strong online communities that keep customers engaged, and sales professionals at store level that reflect their target customer. Leadership will be key, but unless they fall out of touch with their core segments the loyalty built over many years will keep Vans relevant.

Gene Detroyer
BrainTrust

Vans is a 50-plus-year-old company. It has done a lot of things right in its recent history to grab the niche it occupies today, but that niche is fickle. And please, how long can any company continue with double digit growth?

Vans became hugely popular in China even before they boomed in the U.S. My students even thought they were a Chinese company because they were so ubiquitous. But today, they are on a downtrend as new unique fashion sneakers take their place. (A downtrend doesn’t mean they are doing poorly.)

Vans will be fine if they don’t get too heady and understand what they are and what they are not.

Venky Ramesh
BrainTrust

“Third, beginning in June, Vans will initiate a cadence of weekly, globally-coordinated drops that marry both product and experiential demand creation to drive energy, excitement and brand heat.” – this should have been in June, 2020.

Laura Davis-Taylor
BrainTrust

Sitting here asking my 13 year old — who was all about Vans a few years ago — I am hearing “they’re just not popular anymore.” But this is the same kid drooling over the influencer collabs Converse is dropping. These kids are about cool, new and hard to come by. They also follow trends and influencers and often get dressed starting with their feet — I’m not kidding. Kicks are a huge identity statement, and brands have to keep on the outer edges of cool to stay ahead. I love Vans and hope they can get back on track, but they had better move fast.

Rich Kizer
BrainTrust

Vans has definitely not lost its cool! We will all watch this wave come to life. With their tribe more and more frequently showing up wearing them, Katie bar the door. I’ll bet my Vans on this.

wpDiscuz
Braintrust
"Leadership will be key, but unless they fall out of touch with their core segments the loyalty built over many years will keep Vans relevant."
"Sitting here asking my 13 year old — who was all about Vans a few years ago — I am hearing “they’re just not popular anymore.”"
"They are second only to Nike, double the share of Adidas, and five times the share of Converse. Nope, not worried. Sounds to me like they are on their game."

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