Store of the Future   //   April 19, 2024

Kizik plots major retail expansion and national marketing blitz

Nearly one year after opening its first physical retail store and dabbling in wholesale, hands-free shoe brand Kizik is launching its biggest-ever marketing campaign and plotting three store openings this summer.

Shoes, like other products where fit and feel are essential, tend to sell well in person. But Kizik CEO Monte Deere said the in-store experience at its Salt Lake City, which opened last May, has proven to be a game changer for Kizik. At least seven in 10 customers who try on a pair of Kizik shoes walk out with a pair. For comparison, the website sees an average conversion rate of 3% to 3.5%.

“We can see from their eyes that they’re experiencing hands-free for the first time,” he said.

That success has led Kizik to continue its retail expansion. The next Kizik location will open this May in Mall of America, then another in June in the King of Prussia Mall outside of Philadelphia. In August, a store is slated to open on Boston’s Newbury Street, with deals in two other undisclosed cities in the works. To further promote this push, the brand is launching a national marketing campaign consisting of online and connected TV ads as well as a slick New York pop-up that invites attendees to try on Kizik and walk through a colorful light display.

Last summer, Kizik told Modern Retail it aimed to open four to five stores by the end of 2024. But this month, Deere said Kizik is on track to have six open stores by the end of 2024 and 15 by the end of 2025. On the wholesale front, it’s expanded its target from 200 doors to about 500 by the end of the year. In addition to an ongoing Nordstrom pilot, Kiziks are on shelves in 74 Brown’s Shoe Fit stores in the midwest and plans to launch in Scheel’s and Van Maur this summer.

Kizik, which launched as an online-direct-to-consumer business in 2017, sells “hands-free” sneakers. Though they have the look of a stylish sneaker, they can be put on without sitting, bending or tying. In 2023, the brand passed the $100 million sales mark driven by its e-commerce businesses, and generated a 44% increase in net revenue compared to the year before. Moving forward, it hopes to see 20% of its sales from wholesale and 15% to 20% from its own brick-and-mortar locations.

But getting there requires an intentional focus — and Deere said Kizik is being selective about the locations. “Location, space and co-tenants are non-negotiable,” Deere said. That means looking at premium high-traffic locations such as where brands like Lululemon or Warby Parker are located. Additionally, the newer stores will be 1,500 to 2,200 square feet — slightly larger than the Salt Lake City flagship.

According to Deere, the company has been able to shoulder its way into prime real estate thanks to the success of its earlier stores — as well as its latest national marketing push called “Motion is Magic.” “When you want those spaces, it’s not ours for the taking. We have to show them,” he said. “But the landlords are seeing our performance online, our performance in store number one and our brand and the beauty of our brand [marketing] launch ‘Motion is Magic,'” he said. “That’s helping us get where we want to be.”

When it comes to wholesale, Deere said that Kizik wants to ensure its products are sold in stores where associates can help customers. “I think learning about our brand would go fine if people were, in the wild, pulling it off the shelf, among other shoes,” he said. “It will go better if people aren’t exploring and finding out for themselves, but somebody is saying, ‘Have you seen how Kiziks work? You’ve got to try this,” he said. In addition to its pilot at Nordstrom, Kizik has launched in 74 locations at Midwest retail Brown’s Shoe Fit.

Roland Figueredo, director of business development for King Retail Solutions, said customer service is the key component to success in retail when online brands build stores. Beyond getting customers to understand the product, there are opportunities for upselling and higher tickets. “It’s a lot more organic and natural for a salesperson to suggest, ‘Hey maybe you need socks to go with those shoes,'” he said.

Additionally, having solid inventory levels is critically important when online customers are used to searching through a wide assortment. If someone’s chosen style and size isn’t available and has to be ordered, “It kind of defeats the purpose of going to the store,” he said.

But as the brand expands, Figueredo said brands like Kizik need to combine its first-party data with the broader cultural context. Opening shops in neighborhoods that match with the brand along with having an aesthetic that fits the culture — like outdoorsy brands in Seattle or Portland — is one way for online startups to ensure their new stores can tap into a bigger audience.

“It’s about knowing the trend and knowing where the population is,” he said.

The “Motion is Magic” brand campaign aims to raise awareness for Kizik as it plots out its future retail footprint. While past ads have focused on the technical fit and accessibility of Kizik — like being a good choice for travel — the new campaign is more zoomed out and aspirational.

“We’ve launched our brand describing the technology and the functionality,”  said Deere. “But there is more to Kizik … it’s intended to spark the freedom to go and to do and see and feel and explore.”

Over in Austin, Texas, Columbus, Ohio and Portland, Maine, Kizik is launching out-of-home, radio and airport ads for three and a half months. Deere said the sales data derived from the campaign will be used to show future commercial real estate owners what Kizik is capable of as it competes for premium space in high-end shopping centers.

“We want to see the difference between what’s happening in these markets that we saturate,” he said. “And [say] here’s the data to prove it.”