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Footwear has toehold on latest craze



Published: Tue, January 11, 2005 @ 12:00 a.m.



The inexpensive moccasins are breaking sales records, with no signs of slowing.

SCRIPPS HOWARD

Generations of Minnesotans have bought them at lake resorts and elsewhere.

Now, Minnetonka moccasins are adorning the feet of Victoria's Secret models, Hollywood stars and celebrity babies.

Comfy and a bit kitschy, the inexpensive footwear is breaking sales records at fashion boutiques and upscale national chains such as Nordstrom and Bloomingdale's -- yet one of its largest retailers is a cheese shop in northern Wisconsin.

"It's been a crazy year," said Jackie Granus, senior vice president of sales and marketing for Minnetonka Moccasin, which is based in Minneapolis and manufactures its shoes at a company-owned factory in the Dominican Republic.

The privately held company, founded in 1946, keeps a tight lid on information about itself. "We're quiet as a church mouse," Granus said.

Minnetonka Moccasin doesn't advertise, has no Web site and won't reveal its revenue, although company president David Miller recently told a footwear-industry magazine that sales of its most popular style, the Thunderbird, tripled in 2004.

Famous feet

But it's not hard to find out who's wearing the company's moccasins and boots. Actresses Drew Barrymore and Kate Hudson popped up in People magazine wearing Thunderbirds. Recent spreads in Elle, Glamour, Vogue and other fashion bibles featured modestly priced Minnetonka products paired with fox-fur hats and $3,000 shearling coats.

And when actresses Courteney Cox Arquette and Julia Roberts had babies last year, their gifts of Minnetonka moccasins drew coverage on the morning-TV shows "Today" and "Good Morning America."

Although fashion trends can be fickle, the Minnetonka Moccasin craze shows no signs of slowing, retailers say.

"We're still selling a lot. It definitely doesn't seem to be stopping," said Jaye Hersh, who sells about 200 pairs of Minnetonka footwear weekly in her Los Angeles boutique, Intuition. "I think it's just the perfect item: price, quality, everything you want."

When Hollywood stars adopt a fashion style, it's a recipe for success, said Hersh.

And the low price of Minnetonka moccasins -- most styles retail for between $25 and $50 -- gives consumers the option of accessorizing with several different pairs, she said.

Ron Seguin has sold Minnetonka moccasins for more than 30 years, ever since a sales representative walked into Seguins House of Cheese and convinced him the footwear would appeal to the tourist trade in Marinette, Wis., 50 miles north of Green Bay.

Big cheese

Seguin won't divulge numbers, but he said company officials have named him as one of their largest retailers. His Minnetonka sales doubled in 2004, he said, and now threaten to displace cheese as the No. 1 item in his store.

Seguin also has a Web site, www.minnetonka-by-internet.com, and has sold Minnetonka moccasins to customers in Germany, France and Great Britain.

"We had our biggest holiday season ever," Seguin said. "It hasn't slowed down one iota."

Granus said the company is working to stay ahead of the game, developing a new line of beaded sandals that it will introduce this spring.

But she also knows that today's must-have fashion can quickly become tomorrow's thrift-store donation. Minnetonka moccasins went through another craze phase about 20 years ago; while not as big as the current wave of popularity, the experience has given the company a sense of perspective.

"We don't let it go to our head, but it's kind of fun," Granus said. "We know it's going to move to someone else. We're just enjoying it and riding it as long as we can."




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