Elan Polo

elanpolo

Elan Polo has been growing its footwear business for more than 40 years by staying one step ahead.

By Eric Slack

Founded in the mid-1970s as a specific business importing footwear from Brazil and India, Elan Polo has grown into a global footwear company. A mid-sized operation in its industry, Elan Polo designs, sources and delivers millions of pairs of men’s, women’s, and children’s shoes to retailers big and small around the world. The company distributes 40 to 45 million pairs around the world annually.

“The backbone of our business has always been developing high-volume, private-label programs for some of the largest retailers around the world,” says Troy Quinn, general manager and senior vice president of the comfort division. “Over the past 15 years, we have been evolving our business model by starting, acquiring, licensing, and sourcing global brands.”

Knowing the Customer

Headquartered in St. Louis, Mo. and Nashville, Tenn., Elan Polo manages several international brands representing the company’s product expertise in performance sport, casual lifestyle, men’s fashion and children’s. In addition, the company continues to operate a leading private label business. Elan Polo services the world’s best-known retailers from sales offices around the globe and through sourcing centers located in key production regions covering China, Brazil, Indonesia, Vietnam and India.

Elan Polo's strengths are different depending on the needs of its retail customers. For example, some may look for women's casuals and active products where others look for strong men's sandal or children's licensing programs. Over the years, new categories of footwear were brought into the organization, which has allowed the company to develop expertise across a broad base of product.

“Our success stems from a drive for providing exceptional service to our wide range of customers and providing them with relevant styles that will ensure their success,” Quinn says. “Diversification has been critical given the shifts in production regions, retailer need for increased profitability and finding opportunities to grow.”

Thanks to its various brands and retail partnerships, Elan Polo speaks to many different levels of consumers. Its underlying mission and obligation are to provide customers with a quality shoe that represents value to them, whether it is brand value or product value.

“Brand customers expect us to bring innovation, newness and purpose,” Quinn says. “Loyalty with a brand can only be expected if you continue to provide a continuation of the excitement or solution that brought them to you in the first place. For us, we have brands at different stages of the brand cycle and appreciate the challenge of either keeping one relevant or building one amongst a field of well-established players.”

As for its private-label customers, Elan Polo understands that they expect product solutions at a price. Many of these customers don't have the luxury of increasing retail price points to absorb rising product costs. Therefore, the focus is on navigating the global footwear production infrastructure as well as creating more efficient designs to solve this continuing challenge.

Continuous Improvement

Staying on top of trends, shoring up supplier ties and making investments into the organization are all parts of Elan Polo’s strategy for success. The main trend impacting the industry is finding balance between traditional retail and the fluidity of e-commerce. Having a firm grasp on inventory and understanding how it is bought and allocated will be critical in operating a productive business.

“This is the age of product fulfillment, drop-ship needs, omni-channel balance, quick-changing style trends and the decline of key promotional events like back-to-school and Black Friday,” Quinn says. “Buying ‘tight and right’ represents the pressure of retailers and wholesalers to do their homework and know what is going to make the season.”

Strong supplier relationships allow the company to extend further into its markets, learn about innovations that can enhance its position and take on a little more risk. Elan Polo has production partners that go back 30 years, and its partners are valued because of the expertise and results they provide.

“The value of a good partnership extends well past a price/delivery expectation,” Quinn says. “Strong partners will help solve problems with you and bring ideas to the table. These relationships are extremely valuable.”

On the investment front, Elan Polo has been making investments in building new businesses. Over the past three years, it has partnered with Sequential Brands for joint ownership in a premium action-sport brand called DVS, and it has signed long-standing licensing agreements with Tempur-Sealy and Wolverine Worldwide for rights to Tempur-Pedic and Hush Puppies. The company also opened the first new domestic footwear factory in the United States in more than 30 years, located in Hazlehurst, Ga., and is producing injected ethylene-vinyl acetate (EVA) footwear.

“These investments highlight our quest to diversify our sales base and evolve as a global footwear company while leveraging all the resources and expertise we have acquired in 40-plus years of doing business,” Quinn says.

In the end, product remains king. Without solid concepts and direction on where the marketplace is going or a firm understanding of the consumer's taste level, growth is impossible in a fast-paced industry. Elan Polo has an extensive team of product professionals focused on knowing what is next and designing products that anticipate the direction of shoe selling.

“This level of expertise is what our customers have come to rely upon and expect, which is a testament to the talent that is brought into our building and trained over the years,” Quinn says.

Opportunities ahead for Elan Polo include developing and building its core brand businesses with Tempur-Pedic, DVS, Crevo and others on a global scale. To do so, the company must be creative and purposeful in how it makes its styles attractive to buy.

“We have to continue learning and delivering a meaningful digital space for our consumers so they see us as a destination for their footwear needs and want to be part of our community,” Quinn says. “Our operational framework allows our talented sales and development staff to drive new ideas and deliver meaningful value across today's omni-channel space. And our sourcing, quality assurance and production teams provide retail partners with confidence that our product promise in the beginning of the season will be executed and delivered as shown and on-time.”

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