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Wolverine Worldwide and its portfolio of popular brands tap the hybrid cloud to be fleeter of foot in reaching customers

Maybe you lace up in Saucony before crushing your run. Or perhaps you pull on HYTEST work boots before conquering another day on the job. Either way, you know your shoes. You know exactly how your favorite kicks cushion your feet in the cold, hard world.

Now the people behind those popular brands – plus 11 other brands owned and licensed by Wolverine Worldwide – are getting to know you a bit better too.

Wolverine Worldwide, which sells more than 70 million pairs of shoes and pieces of apparel annually to people in over 170 countries and territories, is adopting Microsoft Azure Arc, creating a hybrid cloud approach to manage its data and operations.

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As part of that digital upgrade, Michigan-based Wolverine Worldwide plans to increase customer personalization and make it even more intuitive and engaging to shop and buy goods from its portfolio of brands, which also includes Keds, Sweaty Betty and Merrell.

“With so many good retailers today, consumers have many choices, so they’ve become accustomed to, and gravitate toward, better user experiences,” says Chris Hufnagel, president of Merrell, also headquartered in Michigan. “Brands that can’t create seamless experiences are going to be at a competitive disadvantage.

“If we create a lot of friction for consumers as they try to engage with us, regardless of channel, that’s not good for the long-term health of the brand,” Hufnagel adds. “In the future, the road is going to be littered with brands that didn’t make it easy for consumers.”

By moving to Azure Arc – which allows data and apps to be securely shared between on-premises hardware, a cloud or multiple clouds (multicloud) – Wolverine Worldwide and its brands say they will ensure more stock availability and faster shipping, along with other enhancements.

A woman holds and examines a shipping box from Wolverine Worldwide while standing on her porch.
A consumer inspects her shipment of shoes from one of Wolverine Worldwide’s brands.

In time, the company and its brands also aim to personalize shoppers’ experiences, offering product-specific insights and individual recommendations as buyers peruse goods, enabling better informed buying decisions tailored to individual tastes.

“Think about one of our customers. Let’s call him ‘James.’ What do we know about James today?” says Dee Slater, chief information officer and senior vice president at Wolverine Worldwide. “We run our CRM (customer relationship management platform), so we know what James bought from us and if he’s returned any items. But that’s about all we know.

“In the future, as we build a data lake and a customer data platform, we’ll apply some AI (artificial intelligence) over that data, and we’ll know that James really likes the color blue,” Slater adds. “And we’ll know James is a hiker. So eventually, when James comes to our website or enters our stores, we’re going to present him with blue hiking shoes.

That innovation is part of a far larger tech transformation Wolverine is beginning under CEO and president Brendan Hoffman, who took over the top role in January 2022.

Sun shines on a water tower that carries the name Wolverine Worldwide
The company now known as Wolverine Worldwide was founded in Michigan in 1883. By 1903, the family business was making 300 pairs of shoes a day

The company’s digital push will invest in technology to bolster the supply chain, modernize how employees work, and enable Wolverine Worldwide and its distinct brands to scale production up or down based on seasonal or market demands, Slater says.

“We are on an overdue journey,” she says. “The move to Azure is all about supporting that initiative.”

At the same time, Wolverine Worldwide also is transitioning to RISE with SAP on Azure and the Microsoft Cloud.  That offering gives companies access to an array of SAP cloud-based services, solutions and tools through a single license. Running the solution on Azure accelerates cloud journeys and helps companies combine their advanced technologies, hardware, software and databases.

And by implementing Azure Arc, Wolverine Worldwide is shifting away from legacy, on-premises platforms to nimbler, multicloud, multitenant environments. The gains in business speed and agility derived from that deployment, Slater says, will be “transformational.” One example: Azure Arc has helped employees start using data to drive their decisions, moving from “hindsight to foresight with AI and machine learning.”

Dee Slater in a black sweater speaking in front of a window.
Dee Slater.

That set of technologies also will help ensure that employees can continue to securely share files, communicate and collaborate in the cloud, particularly while working remotely.

“Attracting and retaining talent today is mission critical to every brand on the planet, including ours,” Slater says. “People don’t want to come to work and use an abacus. They want to move quickly, use modern, easy-to-use productivity tools, and have access to data that drives insights. They want to know they’re making a difference.

“By moving to the Azure cloud – with the speed that we’ll be getting from that shift – and by having all that data at our fingertips, we’re also attracting and retaining the talent that’s going to bring the brands farther, faster,” she adds.

Each of Wolverine Worldwide’s 13 brands has differing needs and operates in different consumer segments. For example, Sperry, founded in 1935, is the market leader in boat shoes and has also expanded into casual shoes, boots and sneakers. Harley-Davidson Footwear sells motorcycle boots plus riding-approved shoes and sneakers online and through a network of dealers. Then, in 2021, Wolverine acquired Sweaty Betty, a London-based women’s activewear retailer.

With help from Azure Arc, those brands can more quickly test and deploy business solutions while the brands’ decision makers and developers gain access to expanded and accelerated data analysis.

Wolverine Worldwide's brands are listed by name on a vertical wall display.
At Wolverine Worldwide headquarters, the company’s many brand logos are displayed.

“Some of the challenges we have working with so many brands are the various business requirements,” says Jason Miller, vice president of IT at Wolverine. “Some brands have very complex business models. Some are more international. Some have third-party joint ventures. All those different requirements – and being able to meet those from an analytics perspective – is the challenge for us here at Wolverine.

“Moving to the cloud enables us to compile all of the data pools that the brands have built up over time into one place so that all the brands can take advantage of it,” he adds.

Indeed, tapping such cross-channel opportunities is crucial, Slater says. Wolverine Worldwide will be better able to decipher, for example, which Sweaty Betty customers also buy products from Keds and Merrell. Gaining that kind of data intelligence currently takes “a lot of heavy lifting,” she explains.

Employees at Wolverine Worldwide sit at a table with open laptops and in front of a large screen showing visualized data displays.
Employees at Wolverine Worldwide are using more data to drive their decisions.

But when all that consumer data is safely and securely connected to the cloud, mapping that kind of customer-focused Venn diagram will be much simpler and will enable Wolverine Worldwide to specifically market to people who, say, are highly loyal to both Saucony and Sperry.

“One of the reasons we bought Sweaty Betty was not just because it’s an amazing brand, but they have consumer-focused skillsets and mindsets,” Slater says.

“How do we harness that so we can grow even faster, so we can learn that and apply it to our other brands?” Slater adds. “This is about getting our data in the cloud so we can connect in ways we have not done before, making that data even more powerful.”

Check out this Microsoft customer story to learn more about how Azure Arc is fueling innovation at Wolverine Worldwide.