LAUCK TO DRAW ON BRAND TRAINING IN FOOTACTION POST: EXEC'S MISSION: STEER RETAILER OF ATHLETIC SHOES TO A WINNING MARKETING VISION

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Michael jordan has retired. Young people are wearing brown shoes. The malls of America are dotted with look-alike athletic footwear shops. What's a retailer like FootAction to do?

The nation's largest athletic footwear chain, with 570 stores, has decided to count on a lucky break-as in John Lauck, who pronounces his name "luck" and is the chain's new senior VP-marketing.

His task: to help steer FootAction to a brand vision that will make it The Gap of its category.

In addition to hiring a marketing director whose roots are in package goods, FootAction separated the merchandising and marketing functions, allowing Mr. Lauck to report directly to top management and not through the merchandising department.

Mr. Lauck, 43, comes from Blockbuster Video, but he earlier served at General Mills, where he helped launch Yoplait yogurt and Honey Nut Cheerios; and Pizza Hut, where he worked on its Stuffed Crust pizza. At Blockbuster, he was on the team that developed the "Go home happy" campaign.

UNKIND FASHION

"The ups and downs of fashion have not been kind to" FootAction and other athletic shoe stores, Mr. Lauck said.

In addition to the retailer's particular problems, there's a sea of sameness among the competition: Athlete's Foot, Champs, Finish Line and Foot Locker on the mall, and Just for Feet, Jumbo Sports and Sports Authority off mall.

"Everybody looks the same. They sell the same Nike and Adidas shoes at about the same price in almost the same environment," he said.

Moreover, marketing via co-op advertising with the manufacturers has done more for those brands than for FootAction, he said. "When we do our own commercials, they are a collection of tributes to Nike, Reebok" and other shoes, the executive noted.

BRAND VISION

FootAction's agency is DDB Needham Worldwide, Dallas, and the retailer's $30 million account isn't currently slated for review, Mr. Lauck said. However, "our expectations are having a partner capable of delivering on the brand vision," he said.

The executive has begun doing consumer research to learn more about the underpinnings of trends affecting the industry. So far, he likes what he has seen.

"There are some early signals some fashions are moving back to athletic shoes," he said.

Unlike in the past, when trends largely centered on a star athlete's endorsement, today's high-schoolers are moving to categories of shoes, rediscovering early athletic shoes such as Saucony Jazz and Reebok's original leather aerobic shoes.

E-COMMERCE

Also, rival retailers have begun to build their e-commerce efforts, and the chain must decide how aggressively it wants to act in the online arena.

"We're evaluating," he said. But "I still don't think the lion's share of footwear will be sold off the Web."

Regardless of trends, Mr. Lauck himself is likely to help the athletic-shoe market. Born in Ogden, Utah, and holding an MBA from Brigham Young University,

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