Arianne Parisi & Lora Loesch, Finish Line & JD Sports US

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This is a podcast episode titled, Arianne Parisi & Lora Loesch, Finish Line & JD Sports US. The summary for this episode is: <p>As one of the largest retailers in the country, Finish Line has been a staple in the athletic apparel industry for over 40 years - dominating the space since 1976. But it hasn’t been easy. With advances in technology, and how consumers shop, Finish Line has had to be at the forefront of digital too. Wunderkind CRO, Richard Jones, sits down with Arianne Parisi, SVP &amp; CDO and Lora Loesch VP of Digital Marketing &amp; Finance, Finish Line &amp; JD Sports US, to discuss their rapid growth and just how they did it.</p>
01:32 MIN
Introduction to Finish Line & JD Sports US
03:08 MIN
How Has Growth Been Over the Past Few Years for Finish Line & JD Sports US?
04:39 MIN
How Did Finish Line & JD Sports US Manage Investing in Different Channels?
03:06 MIN
Any Highlights From Unlocking New Performance Channels?
01:22 MIN
Being Bold in the Face of True Economic Disruption
00:49 MIN
Where Does Wunderkind Come Into Play in All of This?
02:26 MIN

Richard Jones: Now, I've just been shopping at Finish Line because their Status app convinced me to get a fancy new pair of kicks. Now I'm about to go and speak to two amazing digital marketers about the fantastic growth that Finish Line has had over the last few years in digital to find out how they did it. Before we do that, I need to hightail it over to their Denver HQ.

Producer: Oh, sorry. I think they're actually based in Boulder.

Richard Jones: Boulder?

Producer: Yeah. Oh, yeah. What are you doing?

Richard Jones: Well, it's Finish Line, so I don't know about you, but I think I'm going to run to Boulder.

Producer: Oh! Sh*t! He's actually running.

Lora Loesch: Where is this guy?

Arianne Parisi: I don't know. Is he running here or something? Geez, it's 15 minutes late.

Lora Loesch: What did he sign us up for now?

Arianne Parisi: I don't know.

Richard Jones: So sorry. I'm so sorry. I am so sorry.

Arianne Parisi: Hey.

Lora Loesch: Wow, you made it.

Arianne Parisi: Yeah. Glad you're here.

Lora Loesch: Did you run here? You look kind of sweaty.

Richard Jones: Yes.

Lora Loesch: Oh!

Richard Jones: Little bit of a mix up on the location, but I was in the Finish Line store, so I thought might as well use the sneakers.

Arianne Parisi: Fantastic. Yeah, you're looking great, at least.

Richard Jones: Thank you.

Lora Loesch: Right. Yeah.

Richard Jones: But I'm very sorry-

Lora Loesch: Should have brought some apparel.

Richard Jones: Yeah, I know. I'm bit sweaty.

Arianne Parisi: You might need some new apparel now.

Richard Jones: All right, in the shop afterwards. Today on a special edition of Individuality Unleashed, I am chuffed to be here in the beautiful city of Boulder talking to two fantastic marketers. With Arianne and Lora from Finish Line, JD Sports. Welcome.

Arianne Parisi: Thank you.

Lora Loesch: Thank you.

Richard Jones: Well, we got a lot to talk about today, so I'm going to dive straight in and say firstly, for our audience out there, could you both introduce yourself and your role for our listeners?

Lora Loesch: Yep.

Arianne Parisi: Fantastic. Yeah. I'm Arianne Parisi. I am the SVP and chief digital officer of Finish Line and JD Sports North America.

Lora Loesch: And I'm Lora Loesch. I'm our VP of digital marketing finance.

Richard Jones: All right, fantastic. Let's crack on. So give us a little bit of a taste. I mean there's listeners in a number of markets around the world now with Wunderkind's growth, so not everyone will know Finish Line, some will know JD Sports. Could you give us a little bit of information about the brand and tell us about the company over the last few years? How got started, where we are today.

Arianne Parisi: Sure. Yeah. Fantastic. I'd love to. So depending on where you sit in the world, you may be familiar with one brand over the other, but we are a US based organization and Finish Line is our origin story. It's a heritage sportswear, footwear retailer, Mall- based. Around 500 stores here in the U. S. Long Legacy, I don't know how many years, decades, that Finish Line has existed.

Lora Loesch: Yeah, 40.

Arianne Parisi: 40 years. Yeah. So, definitely-

Richard Jones: Wow, so that's older than me.

Arianne Parisi: Yeah, older than all of us in the room.

Lora Loesch: Not me.

Arianne Parisi: Crazy. Just wild.

Richard Jones: Not even close for me.

Arianne Parisi: Yeah. Can't even go back that far. So Finish Line... Yeah, great sneaker and sportswear heritage here in the U. S. and then we've been a brand in transition. About four years ago we were acquired by JD Sports Brand with Manchester Heritage and just a global network of thousands of stores all across the world. So we've been on an interesting path of growth of trying to introduce and bring the JD brand here to market in the U. S, so we're well on our way and just bringing it to scale. I think we're at a hundred stores now, actually this summer just hit our 100 store mark with JD...

Richard Jones: Congratulations.

Arianne Parisi: ...In the U.S. And then we have a digital business at jdsports. com. So just working on the growth path for a great global brand here in the U. S.

Richard Jones: And how has the growth been over the last few years? I mean there's been a lot going on in the world, but how's that played out?

Lora Loesch: Crazy. Unimaginable. I mean, it's growing like I would never ever believe it. Or that we would. Yeah, I mean, COVID was exceptional years for us, and I think it's very grounding to know that we were helping families get sneakers and get what they need to be outside during those really difficult moments.

Richard Jones: And get more healthy in all of us.

Lora Loesch: Yeah, for sure. And we thankfully had the supply chain that we were able to ship from stores and whatnot and be able to fulfill those needs. So it's been great for sure.

Richard Jones: So what are the biggest goals then right now from a digital perspective? Obviously coming out of the pandemic, what are you working on? What are the biggest focus areas?

Lora Loesch: I would say to be the number one footwear retailer out there, right? To drive the most omnichannel customer centric business that we can. And I'd say that that leads with a great marketing system. We recently launched SMS with Wunderkind and it's been phenomenal for us. Even better than email triggered marketing that we launched with Wunderkind. I think it was a great move for us. We're excited to launch that in store soon. I just think everything needs to be around the customer and what the customer wants and where it's easiest for them to convert and get that to them is our number one goal, right? Our goal is to be the customer's favorite place to shop.

Arianne Parisi: I would say getting into the hearts and minds of consumers and you're speaking to two digital leaders, but we have a major mindset for putting the customer at the center of everything we do and thinking about how digital enables online to offline and just everything that centers around that customer. So we're on the path to really... Obviously acquisition is a part of it, but retention, and frequency, and loyalty, and making sure we can get closer to and know our customers better and then serve their needs at every touchpoint.

Richard Jones: Is that one of the biggest challenges then that you see as an organization? Because many people have had... There was this huge digital acceleration for many brands over the last couple of years. Now the same digital acceleration doesn't exist, so it's now going to be who serves the customer best? Who builds up the best loyalty? Who can actually drive revenue without this force majeure that we've had with this sort of pandemic acceleration. So is that going right absolutely top and central of what you guys are focused on?

Arianne Parisi: For sure. I would just say it's been a fascinating social experience to go through with COVID, and we all know there was this rapid acceleration of digital, all the buzzwords around digital transformation, and thankfully we were really well positioned coming into COVID and so that helped accelerate our business during that period. And now coming out of it, I think we're refocused around... The customer has indicated that they do want to shop in store. They do care about those experiences, right? And so that has forced us to really reevaluate our priorities and pivot against those. And then I would also say that there are ongoing pressures from the brands that have DTC businesses, right? So how do we create the most value for who we are, which is a multi- branded retailer, and serve consumers in ways that a DTC competitor maybe couldn't?

Richard Jones: Super fascinating, because you've had such phenomenal digital growth during that period, but then you obviously have this very large in- store retail experience. So we're already seeing lots of data around the growth of DTC and you can see that DTC only brands, they're in a tough place right now with this post pandemic situation that we've got. Whereas those that can actually do the true omnichannel experience and actually pivot to in store have a bit of a leg up. And we're definitely seeing D to C revenue growing in more of the traditional brands and traditional retailers. So it's fascinating to see the mechanics of the market play out this.

Arianne Parisi: Absolutely agree. And it's a little bit counter to what everyone predicted. I think everyone said," It's going to go digital, and we're not coming back, and this acceleration will last forever." So I think that's been fascinating to see a normalization of a trend.

Richard Jones: Yeah, it's how digital compliments the in- store experience and vice versa.

Lora Loesch: Yeah.

Richard Jones: That's a big challenge for a lot of players out there to get that right.

Lora Loesch: Yeah, for sure. And I would say also a challenge for a CFO that's looking at your digital marketing spend, and just because stores are doing great doesn't mean we should be pulling back, right? We need that interaction to drive that customer in store. So it's looking at that kind of merged P& Ls, right?

Richard Jones: I can't actually remember the last time I made a purchase just from a physical store experience where I hadn't done some sort of digital journey online to check checks stuff out.

Lora Loesch: Yeah.

Arianne Parisi: I think it's something north of 90% of journeys do start online, right? So I don't think we've ever centered ourselves in that reality until now. And so we're saying," What does that mean?" And to Lora's point, there's just so much channel crossover. And so being able to rework our attribution models and understand how do we account for that? How do we optimize that?

Richard Jones: So bringing it back a little bit to digital and your owned channels, how do you see that in your marketing mix and how's that benefited you in terms of the work that you've put to build those owned channels over the last couple of years?

Lora Loesch: Yeah, I'd say we absolutely separate out our acquisition channels. That's where we heavily spend to acquire those new customers. And then our routine channels, where we really invest in that brand voice of selling those core things. I think during COVID, we were absolutely over- indexing in the acquisition, because we were able to get the product to the customer where a lot of retailers weren't positioned where we were. And so we were able to run that acquisition. So our focus now has been really to retain those customers that we were able to acquire during that period, and that's really been our focus. And obviously we have an incredible loyalty program called Status, and that is all about getting our hot product in our best customer's hands. It's about not letting the bots get it, not letting anyone... You shop with us, we love you, we're going to try and get that to you. Obviously we can't give it to everybody, but that's been our focus of the hottest product we give to our best customers and really continuing to drive that.

Arianne Parisi: Yeah, I would just say costs are rising. The need to know our customers better, and to be able to activate communications with them on their terms and the ways they want, and to make those relationships more and more valuable has just been a focus. So Status is a major priority and driver for us. Our apps for JD Sports and for Finish Line are our major priorities. And then I would say also just stitching together that customer data and trying to get tighter and tighter against that so that we can really leverage what we know in the right moment in a very personalized way.

Richard Jones: inaudible number of marketers out there on different levels of this journey would probably be interested in understanding a little bit about how the discussion happened internally in terms of... You guys have definitely invested very heavily and done very, very well in things like your loyalty program, in terms of building out your database, working folks like Wunderkind on your triggered messaging across different channels. That all takes investment. And quite often that investment is coming away from other channels, traditional advertise or whatever it may be. How did you manage that internally?

Lora Loesch: I would say that we think of it as incremental, not stealing from another channel. And I would say for me it was actually a very good learning of... SMS has been incremental for us. I have not found that it's stealing. And I think that's huge. I think as leaders, we have to take risks. And one of my favorite things about this company is that our leaders trust us. And so I don't feel that level of having to convince them of... We have to take risks. We're going to win some, we're going to lose some, but that's okay. And we have definitely found a lot of success in the things that we have incrementally done, because I think some channels like display, that's gone, right? There's some channels you're just going to lose, but I also feel you have to be ahead of the curve and try things out, otherwise you're not going to win.

Richard Jones: Has there been any kind of sense, from a leadership perspective, of recognition that as you've built out those owned channels, you've built out your database, you've got your loyalty program that's doing so well, that in some ways you've kind of protected the organization against what can happen with real rising costs from advertising perspectives that we've seen on a number of the platforms?

Arianne Parisi: I think recognition is hard. I think it's-

Richard Jones: We're giving it now.

Lora Loesch: I was like,"Huh? No recognition." I'm just kidding.

Arianne Parisi: I think recognition's hard though. And I think I see this in ourselves too. And I think if you're in pursuit of what's next and you're always chasing something better... I personally struggle with acknowledging what we've done and the wins that we've created. We're always talking about what are the headwinds? How do we get after those in the future? And so it's hard to pause and go," Oh, but we built this and this has been successful," and so, appreciate the reminder, I think it's great to say it. And I think we have to look at our teams too and say," Everything you've done in the prior years has taken us to this point." But I think also, back to your question around how do you decide where to prioritize, I think that's also a part of it. Is future proofing yourself and not necessarily being obsessed with what's happening now, but trying to see around the corner for what will happen, and put yourself in a position where you're ready for that. And I think we've had a track record of success in that so far, but I would say in the day to day, it's hard not to focus on the headwinds...

Lora Loesch: Yeah.

Arianne Parisi: ...And hard not to focus on the challenges.

Richard Jones: Now if you do look back though, is there one highlight that you think of something you've done as you've unlocked new performance channels, or built out your own channels, that's had a real big impact on the business? You're like," Yeah, that's my highlight."

Lora Loesch: inaudible.

Arianne Parisi: Yeah. Well, okay, we've partnered with the best people, we've partnered with the best organizations that... I think we know when to grow something internally and make it homegrown, and we know when to look for expertise outside and bring in... I mean, we like to work with great partners who are great people and are fun to work with. We like to have a lot of fun. So I think we've had some really successful partnerships that have helped us accelerate. And then a little credit to Lora and her team. I think the COVID years were... There was a lot of fear. I mean, that March 9th or whatever that day was, my husband and I looked at each other and we're like," Worst case scenario. Let's plan." And I think a lot of other retailers backed off, pulled back and we looked at each other and we hit the gas. So I think we accelerated our key priorities. We still invested capital, we still spent in performance marketing. We said," This is an opportunity." And that very clearly came to fruition for a lot of other players later. But we were very aggressive about that. And I think that, to me, was a bit of a turning point in terms of how we started to perform and show up in the market.

Richard Jones: And that's interesting. And as many people have fear about the economy right now and what's going on, I mean, do you think some of those same lessons about being bold in the face of a true economic disruption is going to be something that you guys have learned and will be deploying through, hopefully, what is not too bad of a recession here?

Arianne Parisi: Yeah, I think it's about prioritization.

Lora Loesch: Yeah.

Arianne Parisi: I think it's about pulling back where you can, and being fiscally responsible, and having a backup plan that you can deploy if you need to be conservative. But I think throughout, just being steadfast and having your eye on the horizon to what are the key priorities that you want to protect, right? I think that's always the hard thing is what can you let go of and what do you have to protect? And so I think it's just a constant evaluation of that.

Richard Jones: And where you can get the most efficiencies...

Arianne Parisi: For sure.

Richard Jones: ...For the spend you do have.

Lora Loesch: Yeah.

Richard Jones: We're seeing a lot of that talk. So let's come back, if you don't mind. That's fantastic insights, but I wanted to ask you a couple of questions just for our audience to understand a little bit about how Wunderkind actually plays into this much broader ground of strategy that you have, which is doing so well. So give me a description in your own words of where's Wunderkind playing in all of this?

Lora Loesch: I would say Wunderkind plays in part of our acquisition strategy, right? We're paying a good chunk of our marketing spend to acquire these high value customers in. And what we want to focus on is once the customer gets to the site, how do we get their information in the best way during their shopping experience? So Wunderkind has been able to figure out, has this customer come to our site? Have they not? Do we know them? Capture their email, capture their phone number for text messaging. If we know them, don't bother them. If they put something in their cart, how do we reengage them? Because really we look at," Okay, if we're paying to get this customer to the site, let's get that customer's information. If they're going to convert, let's get them in our loyalty program." So we follow those steps and Wunderkind's been able to step in and easily turn on part of that acquisition phase.

Richard Jones: Oh, fantastic. And from a tactical perspective, have you seen any benefits of having text and email triggered solutions under the same roof?

Lora Loesch: A hundred percent. Yeah. I mean, I would say from a conversion perspective, yes. Consumers love the text messaging. They convert so much faster. From a technical perspective, the reason why we went with Wunderkind was to make that journey. Make that journey seamless. So if we have their email, they don't get that pop up. I think that's perfect. You can cut this part if you want, but that's why we didn't go with Attentive, because if a customer comes to our site and we have their email, I don't want them to get that email pop up. I want them to get that text message and carry on.

Richard Jones: Right.

Lora Loesch: We are all about the customer making their journey as seamless as possible and Wunderkind makes that happen, right? There's no reason for anyone to get any popups if we know them.

Richard Jones: Well, Arianne, Lora, thank you very much for doing this today. I do need to bring the podcast to a close because I need to run back to Denver.

Arianne Parisi: Well, you'll be in good company on the trails out here. Lots of running there.

Richard Jones: That is true. This is one place where running to Denver is...

Arianne Parisi: It's not weird.

Richard Jones: ...Not a crazy thing to suggest.

Arianne Parisi: You'll fit right in.

Lora Loesch: You can race back to Denver.

Arianne Parisi: Let's go.

Richard Jones: I'm pretty sure I'm going to lose.

Lora Loesch: I'm pretty sure you'll lose too. If I was in it, you'd win.

Arianne Parisi: I'll keep my heels on today and we'll see how it goes.

Richard Jones: All right, perfect. Well thank you very much. Appreciate it.

Arianne Parisi: Thank you.

Lora Loesch: Thank you.

Richard Jones: Well, that's the end of another session of Individuality Unleashed. Stay tuned for more great insights from great marketers. See you all soon.


As one of the largest retailers in the country, Finish Line has been a staple in the athletic apparel industry for over 40 years - dominating the space since 1976. But it hasn’t been easy. With advances in technology, and how consumers shop, Finish Line has had to be at the forefront of digital too. Wunderkind CRO, Richard Jones, sits down with Arianne Parisi, SVP & CDO and Lora Loesch VP of Digital Marketing & Finance, Finish Line & JD Sports US, to discuss their rapid growth and just how they did it.