There’s a lot to look at when you visit ComplexCon, a two-day pop culture extravaganza that takes place in Long Beach, California, whether it’s art from the likes of Takashi Murkami, head-turning attendees like Jaden Smith and a marketplace full of hot designer brands. Jeff Espersen, however, couldn’t stop staring at the sneakers everybody was wearing.
“Some of it very consistent and classic, but how they were dressed was totally different,” Espersen, vice-president of merchandising at online footwear retailer Zappos, recalls.
“What you found was all these guys excited and waiting in line two hours to get a pair of shoes. It was this social gathering of folks who were all talking to each other.”
To replicate that same energy and enthusiasm, Zappos recently decided to take a more thoughtful — and physical — approach to selling sneakers, which already represents one of its strongest categories. Earlier this month, for example, Zappos launched The Ones, a microsite that featured its curated selection of sneaker style staples such as Vans, Converse and Addidas, along with stories about sneaker collectors and designers. This was extended through social media via the #WeAreTheOnes, which allows sneakerheads to find and shop for their kicks directly on Instagram. Maybe most unexpected, though, is the series of “pop-in” showcases that allow style-hunters to look at the The Ones collection in real-life.
“You have to tell a different story around these classic running and performance shoes than you would with just regular dress shoes,” Epersen said, admitting that Zappos hasn’t done much in the way of in-store activations in the past. “We though, why not offer this collection and surface something that we don’t really surface on a daily basis?”
‘Beyond,’ for example, opened in New York on Nov. 15 and was designed by Tarek Hassan, who created and owns a chain of streetwear retail outlets called Concepts.
Epersen calls Hassan one of the best independent retailers in the U.S. footwear space who shares Zappos’ values with a track record of doing sneaker drops and other collaborations with Nike and New Balance. Other locations to shop The Ones collection will include Bird Brooklyn, an indie boutique selling modern designer apparel, shoes and jewelry that has been a downtown staple since the late 1990s.
The point, according to Epersen, is that Zappos is reinforcing its mission to make sure anyone can get the best sneakers at the best price — no matter how they chose to browse.
“If you think about Millennials, for example, they’re looking to find a shoe versus finding a retailer,” he said. “They’re looking for a Stan Smith. This is a way to introduce them to Zappos in a way that speaks to them, along with conveying our value proposition and what we do from a service standpoint.”