The Athlete’s Foot (TAF) is going hyper local.
On Friday, the sneaker retailer celebrated the grand reopening of its store in Atlanta’s Atlantic Station shopping district, featuring an updated design that will become the new model for the franchise.
The “neighborhood” concept is meant to capture a community vibe with customized art elements, local brands and engaging activations. It also reflects the chain’s more diversified merchandising strategy by featuring more apparel options from labels such as Polo, Kappa, Sergio Tacchini, PRPS and Gudlyfe, as well as deeper offerings for women.
“A year and a half ago, we were only about 9 percent women’s business, and right now we are about 18 percent, so we’re slowly growing it,” said TAF president and GM of the Americas Matt Lafone. “We’ve had great responses on some of the new brands we’ve brought in in women’s, and we’re looking for more new brands to get that going as well.”
To give the Atlantic Station shop a localized feel, TAF is stocking merchandise from area sports teams and local designers. TAF president and GM of the Americas Matt Lafone said about 80 percent of the company’s open-to-buy is directed at the corporate level to key brands, leaving the remaining 20 percent available to support small or local brands. For instance, GudLyfe is an Atlanta-based, black-owned streetwear label founded by HBCU-graduate Frank Knowles, who has been partnering with TAF for the past three years.
“There are thousands of Franks out there in local communities,” said Shady Dahir, franchise owner of the Atlantic Station store. “So it’s important to give these guys an opportunity to be in a retail space. And you know, they do all the work.”
The retailer also commissioned two custom art pieces for the Atlanta shop: a 3D sculpture by L.A.-based artist TYP (Troy Murray) that hangs behind the cashwrap and a colorful, three-piece mural on its outside wall created by visual artist Lisette Correa. “We wanted to have an extension of our brand and our partners — and a real representation of the people of Atlanta,” said Darius Billings, VP of marketing and community engagement at TAF.
To celebrate the official opening, TAF hosted live performances by Baby Tate and Kxngpxn skating alliance, plus Crep Protect product giveaways and a WOOD U sneaker customization class with Adidas footwear designer Aric Armon.
And the retailer has a full roster of openings in the works. In addition to the Atlanta location, Lafone said a second store in Dallas on MLK Boulevard also debuted the new neighborhood concept last week, and its third launch will be in Greenville, S.C. Another five stores will be converted in June, followed by five more in September. “Then we’ll open up two new stores in December, four more stores in January and convert another five in February,” Lafone said. “By next year, we’ll have roughly about 25 [of these new concepts], between new stores and converted stores.”
The exec noted it targets neighborhood centers and commuter hubs, and going forward will require 2,500 square feet of selling space for new locations. The retailer also prioritizes underrepresented communities that are at least 30 percent African American or another minority.
TAF was acquired by Arklyz Group AG from Intersport International Corp. in July 2021 and has been in rapid turnaround mode. In 2022, the sneaker retailer reported full-year retail sales of $555 million, a 10% increase from 2021, which saw sales of $503 million. And Arklyz Group CEO Param Singh said the momentum is continuing in 2023. “This year, we’ve grown in the first quarter about 30 percent,” he said. “It was down to getting the right people on board, making sure that the vision is clear and that it’s communicated properly.”
Singh recalled that Lafone was his first hire and was tapped to shape the company’s strategy. His tasks so far have included modernizing and streamlining the merchandising, investing more in marketing and now updating the look of the stores.
And in April 2024, Lafone said TAF will relaunch e-commerce with a more omnichannel approach. “We won’t have a central distribution center or third-party logistics company; it’ll be 100 percent fulfilled out of stores,” Lafone said. “We wanted to do that for two reasons. No. 1, our franchisees are the heart blood of our business, and it would make no sense to have a separate division competing with our stores. And I wanted to get their skin in the game. I wanted them to have the opportunity to further their growth.”
Singh and Lafone admitted that it took time to convince TAF’s franchisees of these changes.
“But now, luckily for us, the vision and the mission is bringing us the results and the guys are believing it even more,” said Singh. “In fact, they’re telling me we should do even more. They’re hungry. They were chugging along and they needed to be shaken a little bit, which is what we ended up doing when we bought the business.”