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    February 21, 2022

    Matt Krueger of KEEN: How To Build a Digital-First, Omnichannel Business

    Written by: Satta Sarmah Hightower
    “We started on this journey and [focused on] ‘how do we make this a vertical category — a digital vertical category inside [our organization] — so that we can leverage expertise, share insights, and work together to make our digital go-to-market strategy a unified approach.”          — Matt Krueger, Vice President of Global Marketplaces & Pure Play at KEEN

    If the last two years have offered any lesson for brand manufacturers, it’s that those who have a digital shelf game plan in place are empowered to better serve their customers. Despite massive disruption, companies that made strategic investments in their digital channels were better equipped to deliver engaging omnichannel experiences.

    Shoe manufacturer, KEEN, was one of them. The company invested time and effort in its digital channels by building its data teams and creating business processes to support these efforts on a global scale. This allowed for success across both online and offline channels during a time of massive disruption. 

    Matt Krueger, vice president of global marketplaces & pure play at KEEN, joined a recent episode of the Unpacking the Digital Shelf podcast, “People + Process + Tech: How KEEN is Driving Omnichannel Success in a Digital-First World,” to share how KEEN has built an omnichannel-driven business — and provide tips on how other brand manufacturers can achieve digital shelf success. 

    Harnessing Digital to Tackle Disruption 

    During the pandemic, many people wanted to spend more time outdoors. KEEN’s business benefited from this shift in consumer behavior, but it wasn’t just because the company manufactures outdoor boots. 

    Krueger says KEEN already had an established digital infrastructure in place, but it still wasn't fully prepared to handle the massive influx it saw during the pandemic. The company quickly pivoted, relying on existing hiking inventory from both its direct-to-consumer (DTC) wholesale and Amazon businesses to quickly meet customer demand. 

    Thanks to this strong foundation, KEEN can now respond better to changing trends it’s seeing in the market. 

    Krueger says the company is noticing a casual comfort trend, especially with the rise of remote work. With more federally supported infrastructure projects coming soon, the company also expects to see increased spending on work boots. But whatever the future portends, KEEN is ready.

    “We see that business being extremely opportunistic in the future for us through all channels, but especially our digital channels, which have upticked very positively for us,” Krueger says.

    Confronting Supply Chain Issues

    Like most companies, KEEN faced supply chain issues during the pandemic, but it was better positioned to address them because the company is vertically integrated and owns some of its manufacturing facilities, Krueger says.

    For KEEN, lead times have increased from 50 to 85 days. The company has tried to manage these shifts by boosting inventory levels. It’s also relying on data to understand the true demand, ensuring it doesn’t overcorrect. 

    KEEN’s inventory includes Amazon FBA inventory, future orders from wholesale partners, and merchandise for its own DTC channel. 

    Krueger says that, in the future, brand manufacturers likely will have to invest in technology and stand up their own fulfillment centers to meet growing customer demand and maintain more control over their inventory. 

    “I think the biggest investment we can make with technology, data, and warehousing fulfillments is to invest in doing it ourselves or partnering with a three PL [partner],” he says.

    Putting Digital at the Center of the Business

    Whether it’s supply chain issues or a surge in online sales, KEEN has been able to effectively weather all this disruption because digital is so deeply integrated into its organizational structure. 

    Krueger says KEEN’s digital journey began in 2019, when the organization really started to work together in a brick-to-click way to drive omnichannel success.

    “We started on this journey and [focused on] ‘how do we make this a vertical category — a digital vertical category inside [our organization] — so that we can leverage expertise, share insights, and work together to make our digital go-to-market strategy a unified approach,’” Krueger says. 

    Kruger’s global digital DTC team encompasses KEEN’s own stores, its DTC website, and global marketplace businesses, which include Amazon and other marketplace platforms in countries like China and Japan. The team also includes KEEN’s pure play organization, which encompasses most of the pure play retailers that are solely ecommerce-focused.

    “This marketplace, pure play, and direct-to-consumer website[s] are really key for our strategic growth initiatives over the next three years,” Krueger says.

    KEEN’s Secret Weapon? Data

    Data underlies so much of KEEN’s omnichannel business. The company is constantly looking at what performs well across its online and brick-and-mortar channels to uncover synergies between what’s selling on its own DTC site and on marketplaces like Amazon and Zappos. 

    Many pure-play retailers also sell on marketplaces, so there’s a lot of cross-pollination that allows KEEN to amass more data that helps the company maximize the return on investment (ROI) of these channels. 

    The company is also well aware of channel conflicts and shares data with its brick-and-mortar partners to nurture these relationships and optimize sales across all its channels. 

    KEEN also has invested in retail media, dedicating some of its media spend to marketplaces and pure-play retailers. The company has leaned on its technology partners and used artificial intelligence (AI)-driven automation to scale its paid media spend globally.

    “A lot of those partners are bringing in multiple marketplaces, whether that's Walmart, Target, or eBay,” Krueger says. “When you can merge all of that together, own the data in-house, and then start sharing insights, you can leverage where your money's going and you can turn on a dime at any point.” 

    “Right now, we own all the media spend in-house and I see that continuing in the future, especially with the returns that we're seeing right now,” Krueger adds.

    Staying Ahead of the Competition

    KEEN is using data to build its competitive advantage — beyond just keeping track of key category players and challenger brands on Amazon.

    “One of the biggest challenges about analyzing your competition in this space is really understanding how much business is done in each kind of product sector,” Krueger says.

    Instead of spinning its wheels to solve this problem, KEEN has focused on using data to design new, high-quality products that meet consumers’ expectations. The company also collects customer review and feedback data to determine how to better serve them. 

    “We have to take that [customer] data and then build that into the next product we have, so we can service that customer in the future,” Krueger says. “It's one thing to collect all the data. It's the next thing to use it to create your next product opportunity.” 

    From marketplaces and brick-and-mortar stores to its own DTC channel, KEEN has built a digital-first, omnichannel business. The company has capitalized on its previous investments in digital to overcome massive disruption, learn more about its customers, and develop better products. 

    Effective cross-functional collaboration has also been a key enabler of KEEN’s digital strategy. Along with data, it might be the secret weapon that positions KEEN for even greater success in the future. 

    “We all have to be hand in hand,” Krueger says. “I think that's why we’ve built this digital vertical, because it's important that every sector [within the company] works together.” 

    Check out the full podcast episode for a deep dive into how investing in your digital channels and data teams can help you drive success both online and in-store. ​​