Nine West Group Inc.
Nine West Group Inc.
9 West Broad Street
Stamford, Connecticut 06902
Fax: (203) 328-3550
Incorporated: 1977 as Fisher Camuto Corporation
Sales: $552 million
Stock Exchanges: New York
SICs: 3144 Women’s Footwear Except Athletic; 5661 Shoe Stores; 5139 Footwear
Nine West Group Inc. is a leading designer, developer, and marketer of women’s casual and dress footwear, offering a full collection of women’s shoes in three retail price ranges starting from $25 for a pair of shoes and reaching $150 for a pair of the company’s leather boots. The three market segments of the U.S. women’s shoe market in which Nine West competes are classified by industry terms as “better,” “upper moderate,” and “moderate.” Nine West has realized considerable success in both wholesale and retail operations; the company’s footwear is available through more than 2,000 department, specialty, and independent stores as well as through more than 300 of the company’s own retail outlets. In addition to its flagship Nine West label, the company’s nationally recognized brands include Enzo Angiolini, Calico, 9 & Co., and Westies. In 1993, Nine West celebrated its first year of business as a publicly owned corporation, posting encouraging results in the wake of a national economic recession that had crippled many retail businesses. That year, revenues climbed more than 20 percent above the previous year’s total, while profits surged 55 percent from $38.2 million in 1992 to $59.3 million in 1993.
The company commenced operations in May 1977, when Jerome Fisher and Vincent Camuto incorporated a wholesale women’s shoe business named Fisher Camuto Corporation. The company was a logical extension of business ties the two founders had formed nearly a decade earlier with manufacturers in southern Brazil, where costs associated with production were relatively low. Specifically, raw materials were abundant in Brazil, labor was cheaper, and capital expenditures were minimal. Fisher Camuto Corporation’s utilization of Brazilian manufacturing facilities and personnel was a boon to the company, a hallmark of its success, and one not to be underestimated in understanding the history of the company’s growth.
As the relationship with factory managers in Brazil matured and facilities there became more sophisticated, Fisher Camuto Corporation grew. The company generated $9 million in sales within its first year of business, a total that increased to more than $300 million over the course of the next decade. Although its design and marketing operations were based in the United States, and manufacturing was performed abroad, the Fisher Camuto Corporation nevertheless managed to maintain a production schedule commensurate with those of other U.S.-based shoe designers and manufacturers. Moreover, Fisher and Camuto proved adept at adjusting the company’s designs to suit rapidly changing fashion trends.
In 1988, Fisher and Camuto formed Jervin Inc., a name derived by combining the first three letters of their first names. Jervin was established as a private-label concern engaged in arranging, on an agency basis, the sale of unbranded, or private-label, women’s footwear manufactured in Brazil to retailers and wholesalers. The following year, when the company’s annual sales were $338.7 million, Fisher and Camuto attempted to acquire the footwear division of U.S. Shoe Corporation, the assets of which several other companies had expressed interest. A bidding war ensued, with Merrill Lynch Capital Partners emerging as the leader. Although Fisher and Camuto were willing to better Merrill Lynch Capital Partners bid of $422.5, U.S. Shoe Corporation’s financial adviser, Merrill Lynch Capital Markets, claimed that the terms of a binding contract between U.S. Shoe and Merrill Lynch expressly forbid U.S. Shoe from providing the wholesaler with any confidential material or allowing it to participate in the bidding process. Rebuffed, Fisher and Camuto were forced to turn their attentions elsewhere.
Nevertheless, over the next three years, Fisher and Camuto’s company embarked on a period of prodigious growth. From 1989 to 1992, annual sales climbed modestly from $338.7 million to $461.6 million, while net income increased more than 60 percent, from $14.3 million to $38.2 million. These increases were particularly impressive given the business environment at the time. The late 1980s and early 1990s were deleterious years for women’s specialty apparel and footwear retailers; overall sales had declined dramatically during a recession that stifled the nation’s economy.
By the end of the 1980s, Fisher and Camuto’s company was involved in both the wholesale and retail markets of the women’s shoes business. On December 31, 1991, these concerns—Fisher Camuto Corporation, Fisher Camuto Retail Corporation, and Espressioni, Inc.—merged to form a new company, which was soon renamed Nine West Group Inc. Preparing to go public, Fisher and Camuto merged Jervin Inc. into the Nine West Group, of which it became a division in 1992. Once this transaction was completed, Nine West became a public corporation in early February 1993, selling shares of common stock on the New York Stock Exchange.
By this time, Nine West was operating 236 retail and outlet stores as well as designing and marketing branded and private-label shoes to more than 2,000 department, specialty, and independent store customers. Of its five nationally recognized brands, its Nine West brand was the most successful, having been redefined and repositioned in 1989 to compete in the $50 to $65 price range. The company’s more moderately priced Calico brand represented its most traditionally styled shoe, typically selling for between $40 to $50. Nine West’s Westies brand, sold only by independent retailers, competed in the under $40 market segment, while the Enzo Angiolini brand, the company’s designer label, comprised leather shoes priced between $65 and $80. The company’s fifth brand, 9 & Co., was created to attract a younger clientele and featured a line of junior footwear priced below $50, which was sold through the company’s new retail store concept, also named 9 & Co.
In the wholesale side of its business, Nine West distributed private-label shoes to a host of large, nationally recognized customers, including J.C. Penney Company, Sears, Roebuck & Co., Thorn McAn Shoe Company, and Kinney Shoes. Design, manufacturing, and sales operations of the private-label footwear were overseen the Nine West’s Jervin division. The company’s branded shoes were distributed to several of the largest department stores in the country, including The May Department Stores Company, R.H. Macy & Co., Federated Department Stores, Nordstrom, and Dillard Department Stores.
Nine West’s success was largely dependent on its use of Brazilian manufacturing facilities. While these factories had initially manufactured 200 pairs of shoes per day for Fisher and Camuto, the production level had increased exponentially, reaching 130,000 pairs of shoes per day in 1993. During this time, the industry in Brazil employed a work force of over 39,000 and maintained cost-efficient factories, which operated their own tanneries. Moreover, through manufacturing arrangements with 25 independent Brazilian shoe manufacturers, which produced Nine West shoes in 40 factories, Nine West was able to deliver design specifications and receive completed products in an eight-week period, giving the company a supplier network that ranked among the best in the U.S. shoe industry.
Buoyed by this established supply network, Nine West capitalized on a fashion trend away from sneakers toward heavier, sturdier shoes, a trend widely embraced by younger consumers in late 1993 and early 1994. The shift in consumers’ tastes caught several of the country’s large athletic shoe manufacturers—Reebok International Ltd., Nike, Inc., and L.A. Gear, Inc.—by surprise, and their sales figures declined. However, Nine West and some other companies, such as Timberland Co., an outdoor apparel and shoe company, experienced a surge in profits. Nine West’s stock price, which initially sold for $17.50 per share, shot up to more than $34 by the fourth quarter of the company’s 1993 fiscal year.
As Nine West planned for the future, it focused on becoming a greater retail force in the U.S. shoe industry, a market segment that represented a $14 billion business in 1993. Toward this end, in 1994, the company planned to open 20 Enzo Angiolini stores, prompted by heightened consumer interest in elegant footwear. By 1997, Nine West’s management hoped to derive half of its sales from the retail segment of its business, which during the mid-1990s recorded one of the highest sales-per-square-foot averages in the U.S. shoe industry at $555 per-square-foot a year. With more than 325 retail stores and its established wholesale business supplying more than 5,500 storefronts with women’s shoes, Nine West expected to garner a greater share of the U.S. retail and wholesale market.
Nine West Distribution Corporation; Nine West Footwear Corporation.
Getler, Warren, “Insiders Often Dump Shares Long Before Concerns Enter Bankruptcy, Study Says,” Wall Street Journal, July 7, 1993, p. A5.
Hoffer, Richard, “Wayne Weaver,” Sports Illustrated, December 13, 1993, p. 64.
Marcial, Gene G., “Nine West Has Put On Its Dancing Shoes,” Business Week, May 31, 1993, p. 79.
“Market Basket,” Women’s Wear Daily, May 24, 1994, p. 8.
“Nine West Group,” Fortune, May 3, 1993, p. 73.
Pereira, Joseph, “Footwear Firms Hit by Fashion Change, Face Disappointing Quarterly Earnings,” Wall Street Journal, January 17, 1994, p. A5.
Reilly, Patrick M., “Nine West Group Prepares for Return of Sleek Footwear,” Wall Street Journal, March 11, 1994, p. A4.
“U.S. Shoe Corp.,” Wall Street Journal, March 15, 1989, p. C6.
—Jeffrey L. Covell