Shoe Maker Targets Executive Sneaker Lovers : Retailing: Company plans to introduce a model that combines the feel of an athletic shoe with a corporate boardroom look.

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<i> From Associated Press</i>

The maker of those lounge-around Hush Puppies wants to slip into some posh new markets, betting that corporate America has a secret desire to wear sneakers to the office.

Wolverine World Wide Inc. hopes corporate honchos will want to stride softly through the executive suite in a shoe that mates business shoe uppers with high-tech athletic-shoe soles.

The stealth sneaker might work, says John Molloy, the author of “Dress for Success” who viewed a slide of the product. “My guess is you can probably get away with it.”


Wolverine hopes the dress version of its Hush Puppy Bounce shoe will expand its share of a market where a growing number of buyers expect athletic-shoe comfort.

“Many young people, from the time they are born to the time they go to college, have never worn anything but--I hate to use the term--sneakers,” said Geoff Bloom, Wolverine president and chief executive officer.

Hiking shoes, sandals and casual shoes with the Bounce sole already are on store shelves. The wingtip, straight tip and tassel dress-shoe versions will appear by midsummer. They range in price from $70 to $90 a pair.

They offer weekend comfort, Bloom said he told Wolverine representatives at a recent sales meeting at company headquarters in Rockford. But come Monday, he said, “They look like shoes you would expect to see on a guy with a pinstriped suit.”

It’s Wolverine’s latest rebound attempt after down-at-the-heel days in the early 1980s when the Reagan administration lifted quotas, and low-cost shoes from countries like Taiwan, Korea, and Brazil flooded the U.S. market.

A consolidation that closed stores and factories left the company poised to grow by focusing on core brands like Hush Puppies, Brooks athletic shoes, Bates Floaters and Wolverine boots and work shoes, the company said.


Wolverine’s $322.2 million in 1990 sales gave it only about a 2.4 percent share of the $13.7-billion-a-year U.S. shoe market. It hopes to grab more by using its athletic-shoe technology in the Bounce line.

“The whole walking-shoe, the mall-shoe trend has been extremely successful for companies,” said industry analyst George Zagoudis of Barrington Research Associates in Barrington, Ill.

So-called comfort shoes carry 40% to 60% of the sales at many stores, according to Footwear News magazine.

Molloy said it remains to be seen whether soft shoes will replace the clatter of leather heels that punctuate businessmen’s and lawyers’ chatter.

“I wouldn’t wear it if I were going to go for a job interview, or to meet the chairman of the board and make a presentation,” he said. “But for everyday use, I don’t see anything wrong with it.”