Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Traditional goes Casual – An Important Trend

A year ago I posted an entry I called Shoe Time of Yearand since then have participated in a dozen Retail Sell-Through Boot Camps put on by PGA Magazine around the country. The point of the article last year was the following:

Preparing for the new season involves identifying the categories that are most affected by new beginnings. Everything starts with the staff understanding the product and the importance of the category and wanting to discuss their knowledge with the customer.

There are a number of consistent topics that have come up at all the boot camps but the two I want to tie in to this years version of Shoe Time of Yearare the fact that the game of golf is generally becoming more casual and that life-style categories are becoming more important to properly identify as to which are appropriate for your clientele and how best to merchandise them. I was discussing these more casual/lifestyle topics and their significance as points of conversation among everyone in the industry with Greg Lecker at Sawgrass Country Club and he asked me if I was familiar with Canoos. I was not, but quickly became a fan. Boat shoes designed to play golf in made immediate sense to me not only because they perfectly fit the above equation of casual and more life-style product, but because boat shoes have been in my closet and a go-to shoe for me for forty years. Greg introduced me to Matt Freedman and Josh Hannum and this interview is the result.

Matt, Josh we want to talk about the product and the retail potential, but first tell us what inspired you to consider building this timeless and yet unique product?

Craig, like yourself and millions of other Americans, we wear boat shoes and loafers every day of our lives.  Boat shoes as a category have been the #1 selling shoe style in the US for quite some time.  As young professionals, there was rarely a time that we wore anything else.  We found ourselves at times going right from work to the driving range or to our club to try and sneak 9 holes in after work, and there were times when we didnt have traditional golf spikes with us to change into.  So I (Matt) one day got so fed up with both not always having golf spikes with me, or not really WANTING to change into golf spikes that I would never wear otherwise.  So I began playing my rounds in the very boat shoes and loafers that I would wear to the course.   I was very comfortable, and felt like the shoe completed my outfit because it was what I was wearing anyway, but due to the bottoms being flat they would slide severely as I would swing.  So after a rogue hot round in early March in the Northeast in 2009, I went home to my garage and ripped apart every pair of boat shoes I had, went to Home Depot to get the proper tools and began to screw golf spikes into the bottoms.  At first I failed miserably, except for one pair, which I wore for about three weeks worth of rounds and that held up fine.  I shared the idea with Josh, who was a close friend, golfing buddy and worked in the fashion business.  We hit the ground running making pairs for each other and then friends & family who were asking.  After a few months, the orders got to be too large to fulfill making in our garage, so we found several manufacturers around the world to help us.  About 3 years of prototyping, editing and patent filing later, Canoos was born on October 31 of 2012.

As Ive mentioned I dont ever remember being without a pair of docksiders or boat shoes in my closet, the style is as classic as any you could name. You mention on your web site that “Canoos will make sure that if you choose leisure golf apparel, it will be the highest quality hand crafted apparel there is.” Speak to the quality of Canoos if you will and to the obvious comment from the low handicapper about support and grounding.

The quality in our current product the Tour 2.0 is truly second to none in golf.  We can say this confidently as well about our Made in Maine product (launching Fathers Day 2016) because we personally have met the families of the folks who hand sew every pair of our shoes.  The leather is sourced diligently by the founders and so is every component.  From every stitch of thread, every eyelet, every inch of lace, every ounce of rubber, the suede for the shoe bags, the corrugate for the boxes, even down to the last (the mold that the shoe is built around) are all hand chosen. 

The reason it took us so long to build the prototypes and bring the product to market is because boat shoes were not made to play golf in, originally.  The difficult part was taking a shoe that has such a low profile, is so malleable and so casual and totally reconstruct it to stand up to the performance demands of tour professionals.  We made a number of design enhancements to a traditional camp moc style boat shoe like adding an Ortho-Lite insole for added comfort, protection and arch support.  We made the bottom spike-less, but made the bumpy bottom pattern in such a way that it will give you more grip than most spiked shoes in the marketplace.  We can say this, because our tour pros have tested side by side at our HQ and publicly.  We chose a leather that will stand up to dew, and be water repellent.  In summary, the current Canoos Tour 2.0 Shoe as you see it, and the Made in Maine Canoos Clubhouse Shoes will be performance marvels as well as casual travel companions.

 I mentioned your web site which I think is not only well done and informative but fun. The monthly featured club write-up is a particularly unique feature. What other marketing plans can we look for and how do you see your distribution and customer base fleshing out?

This is the most fun I get to have in my professional life other than designing the shoes themselves.  The fact that were in an industry where were able to celebrate relationships, partnerships and folks who respect the heritage of the game we love makes us the luckiest guys on the planet.  Were two young guys who have grinded in corporate jobs for the first 10 years of our careers praying that one day we could work in the golf industry with a product that we both obsess over.  That dream has come true for us, but with that comes an overwhelming responsibility to uphold the traditions, the respect and the honor of the game.  So, the best way we know how to do these things is to research, surface and report on the best parts of the game both on and off the course.  We think it’s equally important for us as a brand to celebrate the things that we love about the game even when were not playing. The best cocktails, the best cigar lounges, the best poker rooms, the best hotdog at the turn, the best cart girls. The little details that we may remember long past the 96 we just shot.  There are clubs, people and elements of this game that the masses dont know about, yet deserve to be celebrated.  Our duty as a brand is not only to give our customers the absolute best quality product and customer service that we can, but to celebrate the lifestyle that were so privileged to live.  We deem this initiative the Canoos Country Club.  It is the digital version of your real life Country Club, where we can virtually go around the world and see things that remind us of why we love this game.  Our goal is to make this website a collection, a general store or mercantile if you will that functions as a digital pro shop based on all of our findings from around the country.  All folks have to do is subscribe to our newsletter to receive content updates like this, and stay tuned on the website for some incredibly big happenings in 2016.

Josh, what are some of the ideas as to how you see this being best merchandised in the shops and what are some of the promotional programs we can expect to see?

As a boutique company heavily focused on our green grass partnerships, we are very sensitive about who the shoes are merchandised with and how. Everything we do from a point of sale display, to our catalogs that ship with our orders, to supporting collateral is “on brand” for us and reflects the nautical and leisure roots of the company. Our best successes have been when our shoes are merchandised with other boutique brands embodying the lifestyle and fashion of the shoes.

Our customers are blown away over the comfort and functionality of the shoes once they try them on, so we are focused on creating seeding programs, trunk shows and fit trials. In addition, we are very excited to partner on tournaments where we can outfit the participants or offer the shoes as gifts for winning long drives and closest to the pins. Most importantly, we aren’t going to spread ourselves thin. We want to create an industry best experience both for our partners and their members.

Canoos has developed product in categories other than shoes tell us about those and perhaps any planned for the future?

Canoos is a shoe company first, but over the years our customers have always asked for more ways to spread the word via product.  We are incredibly humbled and blessed to have folks who actually care to do so!  Joshs background is in global apparel sourcing for one of the largest houses in the world, so he has spent his career honing his expertise for this role.  We take a very similar approach to making other products as we do making shoes.  There are times where we manufacture things ourselves, in some cases we like to partner with other similar type brands who are best in breed to co-label a piece or two.  Our goal is to take our time and only launch things when were as proud to get it on our customer as we are with our shoes.  Things to look for in the future are more styles, colors and types of shoes for men, women and children as well as socks & other companion products for our shoes.  As the brand grows and listens to our customers for feedback and product suggestions,  were really taking an organic, customer first approach by observing what guys are wearing on the course and around the club when we visit our retailers.  The best outfit is the one that the gentleman or lady is confident in.  As our brand grows, you can expect pieces that will be classic & coastal inspired with a focus on fit and comfort.

Canoos were invented to look your best while being incredibly comfortable on AND off the course. In that spirit we vet partnership opportunities to introduce product in core categories that complement the shoes. Moving forward, expect more of these partnerships introduced and more American made products.

Matt, Josh this has been great, tell us about your sales plans going forward and the best way to contact you in order to become partners on Canoos product. What are you plans for upcoming shows?

The trajectory of this brand is 100% a direct result of the talent on our team.  We have a culture of winners that is bred by hard work, family atmosphere, and the tireless focus on our customers.  We put a very strong emphasis on relationships, and focus on strong green grass and independent retailers who really take their brand seriously.  We have always gone above and beyond to support our partners in wholesale with customization options, quick turn arounds, low minimums and a vast display catalog to support sell through and end-consumer experience.  Our goal is to build a personal relationship with each Pro or shop owner who carries us so that person is comfortable having the Founders cell phone numbers in their phones as well. 

There is a wholesale page on our website which goes directly to both founders Matt & Josh & AJ our President for those who are interested in learning more about Canoos. Our emails are also listed below for readers of this blog to reach out directly:

Matt Freedman -
Josh Hannum -
Anthony Lopardo -
Craig Kirchner –

I’ve partnered up with Matt and Josh to provide retail consultation and merchandising ideas to the Canoos sell-in effort at the green grass level and so I’ve added my email to the list of contacts. We want to make the vendor partnership much more than just ship the shoes and hope. The golf boat shoe is a natural at resorts and is certainly a great new idea as a tournament favor. Shoes sales at most clubs are somewhat cyclical until something new happens. Something new that has an incredible heritage is by definition worthy of being taken serious by green grass shops. Once you’ve tried a pair on you will want to teach in them and tout them as this year’s traditional/casual/lifestyle item. Please call (443-309-3005) or email me if you would like to discuss the different programs and ideas that we have to help drive your retail effort.

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