It’s been five months since Girl Distribution announced that it was bringing distribution of its footwear brand Lakai back in house from Podium Distribution. We caught up with Brand Manager Kelly Bird to learn more about the decision and its impact on the brand and Girl.
You guys have been working with Podium since you launched Lakai in '99. Tell me a little about how that relationship started and evolved over the years?
The Podium affiliation started with Tim Gavin. He was a member of the original Girl team, and the one who had the relationship with the Dunlaps, so when he heard that Rick and Mike might be interested in starting their own shoe brand, he orchestrated a proposal to bring both parties together. The deal was that Girl would handle the creative aspects of the brand (team, design and marketing) while Podium would take care of the logistical side of things (sales, manufacturing and distribution). The partnership worked well for several years, but towards the end we started to feel that we needed to give the logistical side a more singular focus in order for the brand to reach it's full potential, which is ultimately why we ended up where we are today.
When did you guys start thinking that it might be time to bring the brand back in house under Girl Distribution and what were kind of the pros and cons in your heads about doing so?
Throughout the process of Eric terminating his agreement with Lakai, some things were brought to light that made us start to wonder if there was a divergence in principles that could lead to recurring long term difficulties. That's when the idea started to get floated with some seriousness. The pros were that we would be able to brand it and steer it the way we saw fit and take the energy out of the back and forth between Girl and Podium on things we didn’t see eye to eye on. There was a pretty fair amount of heavy lifting to do in order to bring it in house at Girl, but I wouldn’t necessarily say that was a con.
Gavin mentioned that your crews had a bit different business philosophies. Would you agree and how do you think they differ?
That's an accurate statement. The easiest way to illustrate the difference in philosophies would be to say that at Podium the approach is something like 'if it makes dollars, it makes sense', whereas the thought process here is more along the lines of 'don't do it unless it makes sense.’
Girl dropped this video announcing it was bringing the brand back in house in May:
Are you guys still working together on production?
Yes, we still work with all the factories that we used during our time at Podium. They set up a subsidiary in China to help manage the manufacturing part of the business, so we still work with the supervisor and employees there on a daily basis.
What have been the biggest things that you've had to get up to speed on with taking on footwear distribution? What's been easier or harder than you expected it to be?
The biggest task was setting up the inventory and customer data infrastructure within Girl, then moving all the inventory to a new warehousing facility once that was complete. None of the logistical or accounting info from Podium (receiving, invoicing, AR, AP, etc) was compatible with the software systems we had in place at Girl, so we couldn't migrate any of it seamlessly. We basically had to start from scratch, hand keying all of the customer info into the system, then re-coding and re-labeling all the existing inventory so we could key that in before we moved it. Once all that was finished, so began the giant learning curve between us and the new warehouse in getting it expedited to retailers efficiently. That's probably been the hardest part so far, but we're making progress on it every day.
Have you guys switched up Lakai's retail partners at all around this?
No. Our objective was never about switching anything up, it's about fortifying what is already there.
Did you just roll up Lakai with your other brands' rep forces?
No. Again, the objective here is to strengthen the relationships we already have in place. A good amount of our reps have been dealing with Lakai since the outset of the company, so they know the brand better than anyone. After being with the brand for so long, these people undoubtedly deserve the opportunity to benefit from Lakai's new arrangement, and it only makes sense for us to afford them that opportunity if they want it, which is what we've done.
What has been the biggest benefit of taking this on yourselves?
Knowing that we now have all the pieces in place to chart and execute the long term goals of this brand with 100% certainty.
What's changed since you brought the brand in house and how it has affected sales?
I mentioned the new warehouse and inventory systems already- those were big changes for us. Outside of that, I'd say having sales and operations departments that are singularly focused from day-to-day has been the biggest and most beneficial change. When you have employees in those positions that have the same passion for the brand as the team riders, the designers and the marketing department, you're better suited to maximize the combined efforts of all these people. That is very reassuring, and has made a noticeable difference already.
And to say this is not a knock on folks that were in those positions over at Podium, it's just a fact of the matter- if you have to balance your workload between the objectives of several brands, and those objectives all differ to some degree, then inevitably you're going to have to make some sacrifices on a daily basis because there just isn't enough time on the clock to properly devote your undivided attention to all three sets of objectives.
We now have that undivided focus.
How has your job changed since May?
You know, it hasn't really changed all that much. I've always had a 'whatever it takes' approach with this brand, and as long as I'm here, that will never go away. The way I look at it, I just do my best to get the dots on the page and then do what I need to do in order to get them all to connect in a way that benefits the collective. The biggest difference is that making those connections has become a lot less onerous a task because the dots are all on the same page now.