“South Africa has a substantial population and I see it as an opportunity,” said Marvin Bernstein, managing partner at Skechers Sàrl who oversees the footwear leader’s markets outside the United States. “As our brand gets bigger and bigger, we’re growing here at phenomenal rates – achieving double digit growth in nearly every recent quarter.”

“We love South Africa. It’s a great place with wonderful people,” he added. Bernstein is no stranger to our shores, having visited the previous Skechers distributor several times and he even spent his honeymoon in South Africa. “This place has just developed tremendously over the years.”

Overall, there is huge growth in the company. “The reason for this is that we’re big branded, we’re on trend, we advertise the heck out of it, and we’re moderately priced. The product is good quality and value. A lot of people underestimate our potential—especially in emerging markets. With us, the sky is the limit.”

Skechers won Best Brand of the Year at the 2019 Schuhkurier Awards in Germany. Here Christoph Wilkens (Skechers Germany managing director) holds the award and is joined by Marvin Bernstein on the far right. Photo: Business Wire.

And he points out that it’s not just one category that drives the whole company, “We are a true lifestyle brand,” he says. This means that Skechers can be in any category that’s trending, make the product important to consumers, whether it’s in footwear or apparel, present it to them through extensive marketing, and they will buy it.

Skechers, for example, also makes outdoor products and they showed their new hiking and trail products at ISPO earlier this year, where they attracted the attention of even the large retail chains. “The outdoor and trail look is trending, but you have to have technical product too that legitimises the rest — this includes our award-winning running collection, innovations in children, and comfort in our core offering.”

These categories are on the street as fashion, and they’re just getting bigger and bigger. And that’s what the business is about: lifestyle. Bernstein adds, “What’s happening now, which is really important, is that the world is really talking lifestyle. All of a sudden it’s a lifestyle thing, not a sweat thing.

“There were times when I would go into a global sports retail buying group and they didn’t understand lifestyle – and now it’s all about that. We’re lifestyle at the core, so the world is becoming our wheelhouse. It’s become a lifestyle fashion world and everyone is wearing sneakers.”

Skechers now has more than 3,000 styles and internationally they have more than 20 showrooms with over 20 different footwear categories. “When you’re in lifestyle, you can be in any category that’s trending and they’ll buy it from you.

“There are more and more people, even in the athletic specialty and sporting goods world, who are taking us out of silos and putting us all together as a brand, because they realise that Sport Lifestyle is a silo.”

Comfort is a really big deal for the brand, with its different insoles as well as the Max Cushioning and Arch-Fit features. “We’re backed into the comfort shoe business,” he emphasises. “The first 10 seconds after you put on a shoe are crucial: you feel good or you don’t feel good wearing it. Usually, if it’s comfortable, you buy it, and consumers love the comfort that is included in every pair of Skechers.”

Technology is such a small piece to the brand, he said, “People make a big deal out of it, but it’s not. Only around 10% of our consumer base use the footwear for its intended end use. The rest of them wear it because it’s cool. Technology breeds fashion. It always has. We promote features such as Max Cushioning along with our fit stories like relaxed fit, wide fit and arch fit. That’s what helps Skechers stand apart.”

Skechers identifies opportunities

While some brands choose to solely focus on the digital realm and move away from the television, Skechers is still a big believer in the medium. “We are on social media, but why do you give up TV?” he asks. “People just go oh no, that doesn’t work, and everybody overreacts, so we let them do that and take advantage of it. If they all run away, the space becomes cheaper.”

This is just one of many opportunities Skechers has identified. “Skechers sees a lot of white space that other companies don’t necessarily go for.”

The direct-to-consumer approach from the likes of Nike and adidas has also helped Skechers grow. “They’re pulling back a lot from retail, which creates tremendous opportunity for us.”

It’s cheaper to do go direct, he jokes. But why not do all of it? “We do it: our ecommerce business is growing tremendously around the world with various online retailers, we have our own ecommerce store, we have a huge wholesale business and we have over 3 550 retail stores.”

Skechers has a good, better, best strategy as well as a premium strategy, but they don’t turn anybody away, Bernstein explains. “We love independent retailers.”

Sometimes chains will have specific requirements, such as wanting to hit a certain price point, and Skechers will work with them to put together an offering. Most of the good products go to all retailers, however. “We try to get everybody the best products.”

The brand also expects to grow the number of its mono stores in South Africa, either as franchises or company-owned.

Marvin Bernstein

Bernstein has worked with Skechers chairman Robert Greenberg for close to 50 years in several businesses, including LA Gear, the athletic footwear business that Greenberg co-founded before Skechers. “It’s been a long time,” he muses. “I’m very lucky because he’s a brilliant guy, and it’s nice when you can work with somebody who knows you well and you know them.”

For the past 20 years, Bernstein has been keeping an eye on the Skechers international markets from Switzerland. “Skechers is doing good and we’re still having a lot of fun. We think there’s still a lot more to grow.”