Executive Retail Insights: An Interview with Mark Lardie of Rack Room Shoes

Executive Retail Insights: An Interview with Mark Lardie of Rack Room Shoes

Executive Retail Insights:
An Interview with Mark Lardie of Rack Room Shoes

This month FDRA interviewed Mark Lardie, the President and CEO of Rack Room Shoes about this summers top selling brands, footwear sales during the back-to-school season, his opinion on how online sales have changed the footwear retail business.

FDRA: What are the top brands selling this summer?
Lardie: We have had a great summer and a very strong sandal run with Yellow Box among our standouts performers! However as everyone knows it is a crazy sport time so Nike, Converse, Vans and Skechers have really driven our increases!

FDRA: Rack Room has been building a new headquarters in Charlotte – how many employees will be housed there and when is it scheduled to be opened?
Lardie: We have actually completed the new construction and now we are just about done with the remodel work on our existing building. We basically built an exact duplicate of our existing building and connected the two with a beautiful atrium. We effectively doubled the size of our headquarters with enhanced showrooms and meeting facilities. The building was designed to meet our needs for expansion of our existing concepts and for the potential to add to our portfolio. We have over 77,000  square footage with the ability to office over 600 associates comfortably.

FDRA: It’s back-to-school season, what are your expectations for the coming surge of shoe buying? Are the tax free weekends a huge help to drive sales during BTS?
Lardie: Back-to-school is certainly our Christmas! As retailers continue to face declining traffic numbers we tend to get especially excited around these built in buying seasons. After a terrific summer we look forward to a very strong back-to-school surge. The later positioning of the tax free holidays in many of our key states and some later back-to-school start dates have August looking to be an all time record for Rack Room Shoes. It remains a mystery but a pleasant one that our shoppers continue to be driven by the tax free weekend events!

FDRA: How has the growth of online sales changed your BTS strategies?
Lardie: We have integrated our digital strategies with our traditional marketing efforts to drive traffic at both our online shops as well as our stores. Our goal has been to provide our customers with a media appropriate experience that represents our brands promise. We try to avoid words like “consistent” as we have found that while the pillars of our trusted brand remain the same the best visual way to communicate that message is not always identical. These tweaks to our approach have driven triple digit increases in traffic at our online sites this Back-to-school season translating into improved traffic in our stores as well.

FDRA: Rack Room has been an FDRA member for years. As a retailer, what are the benefits of membership other footwear retailers might not realize?
Lardie: We are proud of our long and valued relationship with FDRA. Our US footprint would never allow us the luxury of a voice in Washington. We rely on FDRA to represent the footwear industry there and supply a consistent voice to our needs. FDRA has also been a valuable resource for a consistent approach in the industry on such things as  product safety, testing standards as well as a consistent measure of factory safe working conditions. Finally we believe the FDRA Retail Sales Survey is the most unbiased, accurate measure of the health of the retail footwear industry in the US.

FDRA: We ask everyone about their personal footwear…what shoes do you wear to work, and what do you wear on the weekend?
Lardie: I wear suits to work, they are easy and consistent! Answering a question about the shoes I wear with my suits can only cause me problems among our many fine partners so I will choose to answer with my two favorite brands right now that are not part of our product offerings. Donald Pliner makes a terrific shoe, and I try to pick up a pair of Fratelli Rossetti shoes whenever I am in Italy. Weekends are all about comfort so it’s usually something from one of our great athletic partners Nike, Asics or Skechers.