By Aimee Chanthadavong

“The only problem we have is not many people no about us,” Ted Baldock, executive director at RCG Brands, told RetailBiz as he spoke about the launch of a new line for footwear brand Merrell.

In fact, only 7 to 10 per cent know who Merrell is but those that do 97 per cent of the time is returning customers who also inform at least one of their friends about the brand.

But those numbers are expected to change with Merrell’s official launch of the Winter 2013 Barefoot Collection range – M-Connect Series – which is the company’s first step beyond the average range of hiking boots and into the less niche ‘outside athletic’ market.

Merrell has taken the features of its Barefoot Running product and extended the range into a full footwear offering, from hiking boots to leisure and lifestyle shoes.

According to Baldock, the launch and the expansion of the brand’s range was a logical progression.

“We’ve always been innovators and leaders in outdoor but we have moved into active lifestyle and this was our first real launch that we’ve been working on for two years,” he said.

“What we’ve learnt from our consumer is they want the right tool for the right job. This means if you’re climbing the mountain with clamp-on you’re going to need different shoes to the one you would wear if you’re going to walk the streets of the city. So you’re going to need a different tool for each and this was the complete launch where M-Connect connects every one of those categories.”

The launch extends beyond catering to customer needs and into improving the company’s position as a distributor and retailer. The company has five Merrell stores with plans to open 10 more by 2015 across a number of high profile centres. Its shoes are also stocked in Rays Outdoors, The Athletes Foot, David Jones and over 500 footwear retailers across the country.

The key to driving a sale is ensuring the sales person is technically trained to assist its customers.

“The message to our retailer is when you’re sitting down with the consumer you’re no longer just trying to sell them the pair of shoes, you need to ask them questions like what they’re going to use it for and where are they going,” Baldock said.

“What we’re finding is our key partners are starting to do this and change the way they think and all of the sudden customers are walking out with twice as many shoes.”

Despite being a fairly young brand Baldock appears unfazed by the online space.

“My gut feeling is we’re such a small brand, people still need to fit, smell and touch our shoes. I think online in everything is like a bit like taking an Asics Cumulus and everyone knows it so people would buy it based on price. But we’re such a different brand so people need that physical touch.”

Baldock believes sticking to the company’s four principles will help drive success. These include: having the best people in the industry; merchandising planning by never compromising on comfort, fit and durability; distribution by working with its retail partners; and sticking to budget.

So far, the company reported a 23 per cent year-on-year growth for the last financial year and already expects the “biggest Christmas [they’ve] ever had”.