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A new look and fresh direction for OnlineShoes.com

January 9, 2015 11:17 AM
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Web-only e-retailer OnlineShoes.com is hitting the ground running in 2015, debuting this week phase one of a web site redesign. It includes a more modern-looking logo, new search and navigation capabilities and personalization features designed to show returning customers products attuned to their tastes so they can move through the buying process quickly. More refinements will roll out in the coming months, many of those based on the results of A/B tests the e-retailer is currently running, says CEO Roger Hardy.  

The redesign comes on the heels of a busy 2014 for the e-retailer, its new owners and new senior management team. Hardy Capital Corp., along with a small group of Canadian investors, acquired OnlineShoes.com this summer for an undisclosed sum from the Gerler family, who started OnlineShoes.com in 1996. Co-founder Dan Gerler was looking to retire, Hardy says, and Hardy was looking for a new opportunity as he had early in 2014 helped sell the e-retailing business he co-founded, Coastal Contacts Inc., to Essilor International, a Paris-based manufacturer and marketer of eyewear, for about $385.7 million. Coastal.com, with $218 million in 2013 North American web sales, is No. 127 in Internet Retailer’s Top 500 Guide. OnlineShoes.com, with an Internet Retailer-estimated $141 million in 2013 North American web sales, is No. 181.

Hardy says the shift to footwear came about through his connections to another ex-Coastal Contacts employee, Sean Clark, who in 2013 had started Shoeme.ca, a web-only footwear e-retailer selling to consumers in Canada. Hardy and his investment firm were considering buying Shoeme.ca and part of the process involved discussions with its suppliers; OnlineShoes.com was one of those suppliers. Hardy Capital bought both companies this summer, and in December further acquired Shoes.com from Brown Shoe, No. 190 in the Top 500 Guide.

Many members of the senior leadership team Hardy worked with at Coastal Contacts have moved to the e-retail footwear conglomerate he is piecing together. OnlineShoes.com’s chief marketing officer, chief information officer and chief technology officer, among others, came from Coastal. “Almost our entire team joined up with this business,” Hardy says, and that’s helped speed what otherwise might be a slower transition along. Essilor’s offer to buy Coastal Contacts, Hardy says, was unsolicited and the sale cut short projects the Coastal team was working on. “We were all deeply engaged in what we were doing at Coastal, and the feeling was that we had a lot still do.”

Now those projects are about selling footwear instead of eyewear. The team is contending, though, with the category differences. “No one has ever said, ‘Hey, those are great contact lenses. Where did you get them?’” Hardy says. “In footwear, it’s the opposite. You have the opportunity to tell a great story about where you got this new pair of shoes.” Consumers buy shoes more often than they buy contacts, too.

The team is bringing to bear some of the know-how it developed at Coastal to OnlineShoes.com. Coastal, for example, manufactured a lot of the products it sold. Now at OnlineShoes.com, the team developed and brought to market in 45 days its first own-label brand of boots, Pika, in time for the holiday season. The boots sold beyond expectations, Hardy says, contributing to what was a solid period for holiday sales. Sales in November and December at OnlineShoes.com were up 23% year over year, and up 250% at Shoeme.ca, off a much smaller base. Collectively in dollars, November-December sales for the two sites were up over 30%, Hardy says. With an additional 25% to 30% in revenue from Shoes.com factored in, Hardy says the target for 2015 gross sales is more than $300 million.

Beyond the acquisition activity and the OnlineShoes.com redesign currently underway, which includes progressively moving some site pages to use responsive design to make the site mobile-friendly, the e-retailer’s technology team will be bringing Shoeme.ca and Shoes.com onto OnlineShoes.com’s e-commerce platform, which was built and is maintained in-house. Shoeme.ca currently runs on Shopify Inc.’s software and Shoes.com on an in-house platform developed by Brown. Hardy says the goal is to complete that conversion by March 1. Hardy says he expects to keep managing internally as much of the technology work as possible because “we want to be able to move fast” to make changes.

More change may just be coming down the pike too. When asked whether more acquisitions were likely, Hardy responded: “We’re having so much fun, why stop now?”

 

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