Archive for May, 2008

USA Today: Heelys shoes roll in new direction, without wheels

By Bruce Horovitz, USA TODAY

May 21, 2008

The wheels are coming off of Heelys (HLYS).

The once-highflying, trendy company best known for the kid-targeted, wheel-in-the-sole shoes banned from many schoolyards and shopping malls, will on Wednesday unveil an unlikely new product for 2008 back-to-school: Heelys without wheels.

With wheeled-shoe sales sliding in the USA, the firm — whose revenue declined 73% in the first quarter of 2008 from a year earlier — will in July launch a line of grippy rubber shoes targeted at preteen skateboarders.

The move follows two quarters of “inventory management issues,” says Don Carroll, who was named CEO on Tuesday. Translation: too many Heelys, too few customers.

“Our biggest competition has been for share of wallet, given the economy,” he says. Now, Heelys will evolve into a “health and fitness” products company, he says.

That may be a tough sell. “Heelys without wheels in an economy without juice just won’t roll,” warns Marian Salzman, a teen-trend spotter. “Unless, that is, they get banned from school,” which adds cachet.

The new shoes do come adorned with skulls, crossbones and graffiti, even on girl-targeted shoes. But Heelys has seen its best days, says Matt Powell, analyst at SportsOneSource, a research firm. “The highflying days of a hot brand are not going to return.”

But Carroll, former marketing chief at RadioShack who joined Heelys five months ago, says he’s got big brand-revival plans. Within five years, its wheeled shoes that generate 100% of sales will account for just 30% to 35%, he projects

“We don’t see ourselves as just a shoe company,” he says. Future products (which he won’t name) will target kids who skateboard, bicycle, scooter and wave-board.

The upcoming line of Sidewalk Sports shoes, dubbed Gecko and Gila, cost $39.99 a pair. That’s about $20 less than most wheeled Heelys, up to $40 less than many.

The new shoe line features a rubber sole that the company claims has 33% more grip than any other skate shoe. That can help skateboarders stay on their boards better when they’re doing tricks.

But it’s a big stretch to link Heelys with skate shoe brands, such as Vans, says youth market consultant Gary Rudman. “Kids are loyal to their skate shoe brands. This is a brand that has nothing to do with skating or extreme sports.”

Give it time, says Carroll. The product extension is a natural, he insists. Later this fall, Heelys also will roll out glow-in-the-dark wheeled Heelys, he says.

Vans is unconcerned. “We’ve seen a lot of companies come and go in skateboarding over the last 40 years,” says Chris Overholser, marketing chief. He says that Heelys will simply be one more that comes — and goes.

Parents can use Miley Cyrus’ Vanity Fair trouble as a lesson for their kids

Parents can use the pop star’s Vanity Fair trouble as a lesson for kids posting online.

From the Associated Press

May 2, 2008

NEW YORK — Miley Cyrus’ struggle with her controversial photo in Vanity Fair presents a great opportunity for parents to discuss how seemingly innocuous photos posted to a blog or social networking site can be misinterpreted, experts say.

The 15-year-old pop star appears in the upcoming issue wrapped in what appears to be a satin bedsheet, looking over her shoulder with her back and shoulder exposed. Miley has said she is “so embarrassed” by the photos and has apologized to her fans.

But it may not be that much different from what regular girls are already putting up on the Internet, says M. Gigi Durham, author of “The Lolita Effect.”

“It is pretty routine these days for girls to post provocative pictures of themselves online,” she says. “The sexual objectification of young girls is so normal in today’s media environment.”

Parry Aftab, executive director of WiredSafety.org, agreed, saying girls as young as 11 are posing in their bras, with pursed lips on the top of sports cars and posting the photos to their MySpace pages — without their parents’ knowledge.

While many teens are savvier than their parents when it comes to social networking online, they are unaware of the consequences of posting inappropriate photos, videos and revealing personal information on the Internet, says Don Tapscott, who is working on a sequel to his “Growing Up Digital” book.

A 15-year-old may have no idea that something on her Facebook page could come back to haunt her, says Tapscott, whether it’s a college recruiter, future employer, a cyberbully or someone using the information to demean her.

And trying to stop something once it’s been posted, is “like trying to catch a river in your hand,” says Aftab.

Parents should use this as an opportunity to open a discussion about what is appropriate for a social networking page, says Tapscott. Volunteer to review their photographs and other material before it’s posted. Help them with the privacy settings, he says.

“The starting point is not to be handing down decrees or demanding to see this and that,” he says, adding that for some teens a social networking page is like a diary. “The starting point is to have a conversation.”

Durham suggests parents talk about the possible consequences and encourage their children to think before posting certain things.

” ‘What is the benefit of this?’ ” she says. ” ‘Is this going to be good for me? Are there any potential harms to this?’ They should be helped to think through those complexities.”

Gary Rudman, president of GTR Consulting, a teen market research firm, says parents have to keep in mind that their children — while technologically savvy — are not emotionally mature.

“Just like anything else, tobacco or alcohol, parents need to provide their kids with the ammunition to make the right choices so that they understand when they communicate on MySpace for example, they are communicating to the world,” he says.