Anne D’Innocenzio

NEW YORK:

Start with the shoes but move on from there. That’s the plan at Foot Locker Inc., long known for its sneakers, which is reorganizing its stores to further highlight top brands, designating areas to showcase trends, and adding more displays of full sports gear to encourage broader shopping.

At the chain’s redesigned midtown Manhattan flagship, set to open Tuesday, large digital signs display images of the shoes as well as social feeds like Twitter that mention the brand. Larger areas are devoted to big brands like Puma and Under Armour. A section in its store is devoted to showcasing emerging fashions for women. And next to the store, there’s an experiential area called NYC33 with a separate entrance that will host fashion shows and showcase other events and launches.

“Sneakers drive the apparel that goes with it,” said Foot Locker CEO and President Dick Johnson. Even with all the other areas, the 10,000-square-foot store near Macy’s stocks about 50,000 sneakers for men, women and kids at any given time.

The New York-based chain, which operates more than 3,400 stores under its own name as well as FootAction, Champs Sports, Lady Foot Locker and the new women’s SIX-02 among others, has benefited from the popularity of athletic sportswear for life beyond the gym. It’s aiming to push annual sales to $10 billion through 2020 from last year’s $7.4 billion — in part by catering better to female customers. That all starts with sneakers, which represent about 80 percent of men’s sales and 75 percent of the women’s business.

Even with the liquidation of Sports Authority and its 500 stores, the field is a competitive one. Traditional rivals like Finish Line and Dick’s Sporting Goods remain, while Lululemon is expanding to new areas like swimwear and menswear and its own suppliers like Under Armour and Nike are opening more stand-alone stores. Nike’s store at The Grove in Los Angeles features a Michael Jordan experience area where customers can test products through a digitally interactive dribbling drill that lasts 23 seconds, a nod to the athlete’s numbers. Under Armour is set to open a big store on Manhattan’s Fifth Avenue on the site of the former FAO Schwarz store. It also penned a deal with department store chain Kohl’s to supply its clothing and accessories across all the stores.

“This is not a fad,” said NPD analyst Matt Powell, who said the athletic sportswear and footwear industry enjoyed one of its best years in 2015. It’s about a $70 billion market, divided evenly between footwear and clothes. Athletic footwear sales increased by a mid-teen percentage last year.

Johnson said the newly designed store is important to separate itself from the competition and get its message out in New York, the epicenter of sneaker culture. Among some of the hot sneakers: Adidas Pure Boost, the Stephen Curry shoe by Under Armor, and Nike Air’s Huararaches.

“We realized long time ago that we couldn’t be everything to everybody” in one store, said Johnson. “We have definitive brands and experiences.”

Foot Locker still has most of its stores in malls, but Johnson said he’s not concerned about Macy’s and other mall anchors closing locations.

“We’re one of the few places in the mall that people line up for,” he said.