THE MARKETING 100: STEVE MADDEN: STEVE MADDEN

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With almost no advertising, Steve Madden has taken his shoe company from zero to $45 million in sales in seven years. His secret: Know thy customer and then give her exactly what she wants.

It sounds simple, but Mr. Madden and his associates at Steve Madden Ltd. practice this doctrine religiously by staying close to their customers-trendy women between ages 16 and 29-and responding to their changing needs. The company's products range from platform sneakers to dressy evening sandals with faux diamond accents.

Although Mr. Madden, 39, appears to have an uncanny intuition for what styles his buyers will like, he also keeps his ears open to shoppers' opinions. When Mr. Madden puts in one of his frequent appearances at his retail locations, he'll ask shoppers what kind of shoes they'd like to see available. This close contact has created a hard-core loyalist clientele; young women will wait hours just to meet him at stores.

Helping the company address its buyers' needs is its ability to move footwear from concept to market more quickly than its competitors.

"You have to be smart and react fast. There's no learning curve," says Mr. Madden, the company's CEO. "I'm very driven by sales. I'm interested in seeing my shoes on the street being worn. I have no interest in designing shoes in a vacuum."

The company has added T-shirts, and licenses for sunglasses, handbags and hosiery have been signed just in the past few months. A new print campaign via Hampel/Stefanides, New York, began in May. Next up on the licensing horizon will be apparel and cosmetics.

Rather than getting swept up in the expansion, with dreams of Hilfigeresque proportions, the marketer has focused on the shoe collection.

"I'm a cobbler; that's what I do," says Mr. Madden. "I'm not going to pretend to be otherwise."

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