Foot Locker and its New Culture

Foot Locker, the largest U.S. specialty athletic-shoe retailer, no longer wants you to think of it as just a sneaker shop. Instead, try identifying it as a place for “youth culture empowerment.”

Changing consumer behaviors have brands of all kinds scrambling to respond, and Foot Locker is no different. The New York-based retailer is transforming itself at its fastest pace since it opened its first store in 1974.

Since January, Foot Locker has invested in four startups: kicks resale business Goat, sneaker design academy Pensole, online children’s clothing subscription service Rockets of Awesomeness, and kids’ shoe and apparel brand Super Heroic. Last year, Foot Locker also took a minority stake in women’s luxury activewear brand Carbon38.

“We’ve changed a lot,” Richard Johnson, Foot Locker president and CEO, said in an interview. “The pace of change isn’t going to slow down. The consumer moves fast. We’ve got to be agile to adapt to it. … All these things we are identifying to invest are capabilities we want to add to the ecosystem that serves youth culture. … None of them are distractions.”

A case in point: At Foot Locker’s Times Square flagship, Super Heroic and Rockets of Awesomeness are already featured in Kids Foot Locker while a design from a Pensole creator has been turned into an Adidas shoe sold exclusively at Foot Locker. Johnson said Foot Locker is in the early stage of growth with Goat.

In the company’s home market in North America, Foot Locker this year opened the region’s first “power stores” in Detroit and Philadelphia after first introducing them in cities including Liverpool and London. These stores feature exclusive products and touches tailored to local tastes. They also aim to deliver on the retail buzzword of the day: experience. Meant to be “a hub for local sneaker culture, art, music and sports,” in the company’s words, they have space to host traffic-driving community events like pop-up nail salons and Xbox gaming sessions.

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