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News Every Day |

JD Sports Execs Reveal Gameplan to Win Over America and Female Consumers at the FN Summit



JD Sports entered the U.S. market in 2018 with the purchase of Finish Line, and in the years since has made further inroads stateside via store openings and splashy acquisitions.

A pair of execs from the U.K.-based sportswear retail powerhouse opened its U.S. market playbook on Tuesday to a room of footwear industry execs at the FN Summit in New York City in a conversation titled “Conquering America: JD’s Gameplan.”

The talk featured Ronnie Jefferson, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of Finish Line at Macy’s, and Paula Daniel, senior vice president and general merchandise manager of buying for JD Sports/Finish Line. It was led by FN senior news editor Ian Servantes.

Jefferson — who has worked at Finish Line for nearly two decades — discussed the nuances of the Finish Line at Macy’s consumer, and revealed details on the relationship, which hit 11 years on Feb. 13. (He said the partnership was recently extended for another five years.)

The exec attributed much of the success of the partnership to the power of the female consumer.

“I’ve been with Finish Line for 17 years and a lot of time the stores when you walk into malls were heavily dominated by a male presence. The deal we did with Macy’s was fantastic because they own their consumer and we learned a lot walking in and understanding how much power she possess. She was a lot more fashionable than we thought,” Jefferson said.

Because women are becoming a larger part of the conversation, JD is careful in how it speaks to them.

“She’s leading the way,” Daniel said. “She’s more curious and she’s doing a great job styling looks. She’s actually telling us how to wear it. Particularly in our business, we see a lot of trends leading with her, translating to kids.”

Daniel continued, “She moves quick, so we need to be on the cusp of how she moves and move with her as well. She is definitely making some statements “

Jefferson added, “From a fashion standpoint, she has always led the way. What we’ve seen is she can move the needle, but also she can make somebody want to move off a trend and move on to something else.”

Diving deeper into the company’s consumers in the U.K. and the U.S., Daniel explained that there are minimal differences in the European female consumer compared to those in the U.S. However, she did state one of the biggest key differences she has seen in North America consumers is the culture of basketball and the love of Jordan. “What basketball and Jordan is in the U.S. is what soccer-football is in Europe,” she said.

And while many of the same shoes that are trending in the U.S. are also popular in the U.K., Daniel said they are being marketed quite differently. Because there is such a diverse consumer base in North America, Daniel said JD is making sure it is paying attention to all of the relevant cultural references.

Brand mix, too, is more important than ever, with today’s consumer open to wearing an array of top labels. Daniels believes JD has long been ready for this moment.

“JD has always been a house of brands, it’s something that we pride ourselves in, it [distinguishes us] in the market,” Daniel said. “We need to make sure that we are relevant, that we capture new brands, emerging trends, seeing what the consumer wants.”

Jefferson added, “The consumer now is open to newness, new brands. The consumer right now is open to something different, fresh. It’s also how you show up, it could be the experience. Certain brands you can buy anywhere, but the experience when you walk into a store, how they’re showcased creates an organic experience.”

Daniel highlighted both the T-Toe and retro tech trends as what’s most sought after today, with Adidas and Nike, respectively, as the trend leaders. She also noted New Balance, Hoka and Asics as market disruptors. Jefferson also stated the recovery trend has been a hit with the retailer, which has been led by Birkenstock.

The two execs also addressed the softening of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI) conversation in the footwear industry. “I call it the ‘ice effect.’ [It’s easy to] be present, but the moment you take your eye off, you start to see [people] sliding off,” Jefferson said.

Jefferson, however, applauded the efforts of his employer when it comes to DEI, especially its ongoing Community Voices initiative, which JD described as a commitment to amplify and fund underrepresented voices.

The exec also stated both he and JD have a responsibility to uphold these values since Black culture has largely shaped what sneaker culture is today. This, Jefferson said, includes mentoring others.

“Outside of Finish Line, I’ve been in the industry for a long time and also champion some of the things you go through in life, ups and downs, and how to move past things. It’s been great to talk with people about it and show them that you can still move forward,” said Jefferson, who stated he mentors roughly 30 people.

About the Author

Peter Verry is the Senior News and Features Editor for Athletic and Outdoor at Footwear News. He oversees coverage of the two fast-paced and ultracompetitive markets, which includes conducting in-depth interviews with industry leaders and writing stories on sneakers and outdoor shoes. He is a lifelong sneaker addict (and shares his newest purchases via @peterverry on Instagram) and spends most of his free time on a trail. He holds an M.A. in journalism from Hofstra University and can be reached at peter.verry@footwearnews.com.



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