Footwear group Brown Shoe Company Inc has revealed a strategy to further boost its Naturalizer brand which includes the closure of 80 underperforming stores in the US and Canada.

Fromm said: "Now, to take Naturalizer to the next level, we have added talent to our wholesale organization and are refining our store portfolio."

The plan includes shutting 60 stores in the US and 20 in Canada, opening 30 new outlet stores in the US and Canada over the next two to three years, consolidating operations, strengthening wholesale, and recruiting new talent.

As a result of these initiatives, Brown Shoe expects to realise an additional $5 million in pretax operating earnings on an annual basis, primarily by improving the performance of its specialty retail segment.

The closing of the underperforming stores is expected to be completed by April 2006, resulting in a specialty retail division with approximately 300 stores, 275 of which are Naturalizer stores. The 30 outlet stores will add to that total over the next two to three years.
   
In addition, Brown Shoe said it will test customer reactions to a new store prototype in fiscal 2005. Additional growth and remodelling will hinge on the outcome of these tests.

Brown Shoe's chairman and chief executive officer Ron Fromm said that the company had turned around the Naturalizer brand over the past six years, lowering its average customer age by 15-20 years and doubling its market share in department stores.

Naturalizer recently reached the number two position among women's fashion footwear brands in US department stores.

The Company anticipates the cost to implement this plan will be about $14 to $17m before tax.

Brown Shoe operates the Famous Footwear, Naturalizer ,FX LaSalle, and Via Spiga chains.