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Dr. Martens Warns of Tough Year Ahead

The bootmaker got tripped up with overexpansion and brand mismanagement.

A Dr Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023.
A Dr Martens boot inspired by Elton John's famous Pinball Wizard outfit is shown at a promotional event in London, March 20, 2023.
AP Photo/Kin Cheung, File

NEW YORK (AP) β€” Chunky bootmaker Dr. Martens is warning of a tough year ahead.

The London-based company's footwear became a symbol of youthful rebellion in the 1960s and has remained popular with a string of subcultures, from punk to goth since. But the business got tripped up with overexpansion and brand mismanagement in recent years.

Shares in Dr. Martens PLC, known as Doc Martens, plunged Tuesday after the iconic brand forecast wholesale revenue in the U.S., its largest market, would decline by double-digits compared with last year.

Dr. Martens also announced a leadership shakeup. After six years at the helm of the company, CEO Kenny Wilson will step down. Ije Nwokorie, Dr. Martens' chief brand officer, will take his place.

Trading in Dr. Martens stock was temporarily halted on the London Stock Exchange Tuesday as it sank to a record-low 0.62 pounds, according to FactSet. It closed at 0.67 pounds, down more than 29%. Its U.S.-traded shares suffered a similar decline and are down 55% in the past year.

The revenue forecast could translate into a sizeable hit to profits, with the company pointing to a base projected impact of 20 million pounds ($24.9 million) on pretax earnings year-over-year. In-season orders from wholesale customers could help ease U.S. revenue expectations, the company noted, but those are difficult to predict.

Beyond weakening revenue, Dr. Martens said it anticipates other hefty expenses related to the company's employee retention plans as well as inflation. Unlike years past, the company said it does not plan to increase prices to offset those costs.

Dr. Martens has had a long history. The shoe's roots date back to post-World War II Munich β€” when Dr. Klaus Maertens, a doctor in the German army, developed a unique air-cushioned sole, rather than the traditional hard leather version, to aid in his recovery from a broken foot in 1945, according to the brand's website.

Dr. Martens has garnered a wide range of customers and associations over the years. Beyond fashion statements across numerous subcultures, some controversial ties include neo-Nazis who allegedly signaled hateful affilations through specific lace colors on their boots.

The brand has also not been without financial woes. It underwent a series of design changes amid sales declines and flirted with bankruptcy in 2003. It was purchased by a private company called Permira in early 2014, and the business went public in 2021.

Neil Saunders, a managing director with research firm GlobalData, blamed Dr. Martens' woes on overexpansion at a time when the brand has faced competition from sleeker comfort wear that became more popular during the pandemic.

"They were too bullish with their expansion," he said. "All their products are kind of big and clunky and black. And that is not so much in demand at the moment. People want much sleeker and slimmer styles in pastel shades."

Jake Bjorseth, who runs trndsttrs, an agency helping companies reach young consumers, agreed, noting that Gen Z consumers are embracing pastel colors and the clunky footwear just doesn't align.

In a prepared statement regarding 2025's financial outlook, Wilson acknowledged the challenges ahead, saying that Dr. Martens is focused on its plans to "reignite boots demand, particularly in the USA."

Still, Wilson said that the brand "remains strong." Dr. Martens said it saw a pick-up in direct-to-consumer growth during the fourth quarter.

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