Wolverine Worldwide

Letter To Our Shareholders

Blake W. Krueger

Blake W. Krueger

Chairman of the Board,
Chief Executive Officer, and President

One year ago, I started my annual letter with this paragraph:

Our world is more dynamic and fast-paced than ever, and consumer behavior is evolving at an unprecedented pace. With change comes opportunity, and Wolverine Worldwide – a global leader in the industry – is well positioned to win in today's marketplace and to build on its long history of success.

I reflect on the past twelve months and, more importantly, focus on the road ahead – I believe these words still ring true, especially for our Company and industry. We are confident that our ambitious transformation initiative – the Wolverine Way Forward – has better positioned us to win in the “New Normal” – a retail marketplace that has been disrupted by a technological revolution which has given consumers unprecedented power. In this environment, we know that brands must create compelling products and stories, coupled with a seamless shopping experience for their consumers. We have positioned our Company for these new challenges. I’m excited to share with you some of the highlights of a transformational year and introduce the next chapter in the Wolverine story – our Global Growth Agenda.

2017 Year in Review

The Way Forward was the most ambitious effort in the Company’s nearly 140-year history, a holistic and comprehensive initiative that has touched every facet of our global business and operations. This enterprise-wide transformation was focused squarely on improving the Company’s short-term performance while building a foundation for the future growth and prosperity of Wolverine Worldwide. The Way Forward established four critical work areas, or what we call our four Sprint Lanes:

  • Innovation and Growth: Driving sustainable, organic growth across the portfolio is the number one priority for the Company. Our teams are becoming more consumer obsessed each day and we continue to make critical investments in talent and tools to ensure we’re creating covetable products and craveable brands. This Sprint Lane has set the foundation for our new Global Growth Agenda.
  • Operational Excellence: Wolverine has a legacy of operational excellence, but given the seismic change in the retail and consumer environment, we recognized the need to further optimize our platforms to better support the needs of our brands in the ultra-competitive global marketplace. One of the most critical aspects of this Sprint Lane has been a relentless drive for speed and agility.
  • Portfolio Management: The Company has a consistent track record of successfully managing a portfolio of diverse performance and lifestyle brands. We are active portfolio managers, and this past year we completed a top-to-bottom strategic review of our brands and various business models. Through this process, we pruned the portfolio with an eye towards future growth opportunities and profit potential. At the same time, we pivoted our direct-to-consumer efforts towards digital platforms to ensure we were in step with our evolving consumers.
  • People and Teams: We aspire to be the employer of choice in our industry and in our community. This Sprint Lane’s focus has been two-fold – to build a best-in-class leadership pipeline to develop and retain the talent we have, while also building the infrastructure and reputation to be a magnet for the best talent in the industry.

It was an exceptional and busy year for the Company, driven by an ambitious agenda. Our aggressive and proactive approach, executed with incredible pace and urgency, has allowed us to dramatically improve our short-term performance and accelerate growth in the year ahead.

Some of the highlights from the past year include:

  • Invested to become a more consumer-obsessed company by tripling our investments in consumer insights, market intelligence, innovation and trend resources;
  • Pursued strategic alternatives for several of our brands to maximize shareholder value and focus our team’s time and talents on what we see as the highest-value growth opportunities;
  • Launched the Company’s first-ever unified consumer database to enable better understanding and engagement with our consumers;
  • Reduced SKU’s by 31%;
  • Expanded and invested in our digital infrastructure to drive eCommerce growth and connections to our consumers;
  • Implemented speed initiatives across the business to cut concept-to-market lead times for both new and replenishment products;
  • Reassessed our retail distribution strategy in owned territories to maximize growth and profit opportunities, and closed over 200 sub-par stores, leaving a fleet of around 80 profitable stores upon which to build;
  • Focused on protecting our brands in the marketplace and ensuring rigorous segmentation and distribution strategies;
  • Restructured our operations in EMEA, along with our Direct-to-Consumer operations;
  • Right-sized our factory and supply base to drive sustainable product-cost improvements and to help make the business faster and more efficient; and
  • Better aligned key talent against our most important initiatives and recruited new talent to the organization.

The Company is ready to move forward with:

  • A significantly healthier business model, coupled with meaningful reinvestment capacity centered on our new Global Growth Agenda;
  • Right-sized and re-positioned Direct-to-Consumer operations, laser-focused on digital opportunities;
  • Momentum in international markets combined with the largest year-over-year investment plan increase to build a stronger foundation in the world’s fastest growing markets; and
  • The financial wherewithal and organizational readiness for future acquisitions.

I am especially pleased to report that while the Company was fully engaged in transforming the enterprise to win in the future, we delivered financial results that exceeded our expectations entering the year – further testament to our great brands, strong business model and exceptional team. During 2017, we:

  • Delivered total shareholder return of over 45%.
  • Generated over $202 million of cash from operations, resulting in cash on hand of $481 million, up 30% over the prior year – a testament to the Company’s consistent ability to deliver strong cash flow in a challenging environment.
  • Delivered revenue of $2.35 billion, at the top end of our expectations entering the year, and adjusted earnings per share of $1.64, which exceed our expectations.
  • Reduced inventory at year-end by 20.6% to $277 million, on top of a 25.3% decrease in 2016.
  • Returned value to shareholders through $0.24 per share in cash dividends and the purchase of approximately 1,639,732 shares at an average price of $25.79.
  • Paid down debt by over $40 million, ending the year at $301.6 million in net debt – a $149 million improvement compared to year-end 2016.

We are proud of these results and are glad to say that the heavy lifting is behind us. However, we’re not resting on these accomplishments, but are pivoting to growth as we look to expand our global footprint and begin the next chapter in Wolverine’s long history of success.

The Road Ahead:
Our Global Growth Agenda

One of the most exciting aspects of the Way Forward is the additional financial capacity to reinvest in the global growth of our brands. We’ve built a robust reinvestment framework to identify and prioritize our strategic initiatives under a new Global Growth Agenda. In 2018, through the realized benefits of our transformation initiative, we plan to invest an incremental $40 to $45 million in our new Global Growth Agenda, which is comprised of three key elements:

A Powerful Product, Innovation and Design Engine

As part of the Way Forward transformation, our teams have developed and tested new processes, tools and speed initiatives to drive future growth. This includes investing in new creative and design capabilities while expanding our consumer insights and market intelligence skills to bring more craveable product to market on a more continuous basis. Our operating model is now positioned to execute with more speed and flexibility, including substantially shorter concept-to-market lead times and a greater ability to quickly back-fill product collections that perform well at retail.

In 2017, Merrell was our first brand to implement this new model and tool set, focusing on clear product segmentation, extensions into new consumer territories, and a faster cadence of new product introductions. This new approach and mindset was successful, as Merrell delivered high single-digit underlying growth in 2017, and high-teens growth in the fourth quarter.

All brands in the portfolio have now adopted this model and are developing go-to-market strategies which utilize these new processes and tools. We expect to commit approximately 45% of our incremental investment to this first element, with a focus to enhance design, product flow, demand planning, supply chain capabilities and distribution centers – while continuing to invest behind our consumer insights and global sales force teams.

Enhanced Digital-Direct Offense

The consumer shift to digital commerce continues. In 2017, approximately 28% of all footwear sales in the US were made on-line – and we expect this trend to continue. Technological disruption and innovation have forever changed the brand-consumer relationship. We will continue to over-index our investments toward our digital-direct offense to stay in lock-step with our consumers by creating digital content that can be used across all distribution channels and by most customers. In 2018, consumers expect to experience a seamless digital and physical store experience. As brand owners, we plan to operate more like vertical retailers to drive speed, product flow and consumer centricity – all of which will also benefit our wholesale customers.

Our owned eCommerce business has been our fastest growing channel over the last two years – with nearly 20% growth in 2017. We expect this growth to accelerate in 2018, as we continue to prioritize this channel in our owned markets, fueled by key strategic investments (approximately 30% of the total incremental investment) – which include greater social prospecting, new advertising up-and-down the consumer funnel, and the implementation of our new, unified consumer database, which we expect to increase retention and enhance the lifetime value of our consumers. We have also expanded other tactics and disciplines to drive our eCommerce business, including more exclusive product introductions, less promotional activity and increased spend on digital demand creation.

Significant International Expansion

Our existing international model has been a profitable and strategic asset for the Company over many decades, minimizing risk and providing meaningful geographic diversification in a global marketplace undergoing significant change. During 2017, over 30% of our revenue and approximately 50% of our global pairs were sold outside the US. Our well-established international business benefits from a broad network of global partners – most of whom are vertical retailers with direct insight into consumer trends and preferences in their respective markets. Our brands enjoy over 15,000 controlled points of distribution around the world today.

To fuel the global expansion of our brands, we plan to allocate approximately 25% of our incremental investment spend to support international growth – specifically, to strengthen our regional teams in China and the Asia Pacific region, collaborate with key partners on new global product introductions, and improve systems to better service our global business. We are fortunate to have a strong foundation and global network, and expect our international business to be a source of high single-digit revenue growth in 2018.

Despite our strong global presence, we remain underrepresented in the fast-growing Asia Pacific region – especially in the China market. During 2017, less than 10% of our global revenue was generated from this important region – and we view this as a very meaningful opportunity for future growth and one of our top strategic priorities. Our specific plans for growth in China are in motion and we have established a near-term goal to double the revenue contribution from the Asia Pacific region by 2020.

In Closing

Today we operate a stronger and more profitable portfolio of brands, and we continue to benefit from one of the best operational platforms in the industry. With a very strong balance sheet and greater capacity for reinvestment, we’ve tightened the aperture on our strategic priorities through our new Global Growth Agenda. Today the Wolverine team is fully engaged and laser focused on the global growth opportunities that exist for our leading portfolio of performance and lifestyle brands.

I would like to thank our team around the world for their incredible efforts this past year – their passion for our consumers and tireless drive to transform the Company, which has better positioned us to capture the many great opportunities that lie ahead. On behalf of everyone at Wolverine, I would also like to thank you, our shareholders, for your continued support of our Company.

signed by Blake W Krueger

Chairman of the Board,
Chief Executive Officer, and President