DSW president Doug Howe will become CEO of the footwear retailer’s parent company, Designer Brands Inc., effective April 1. He will succeed current CEO Roger Rawlins as part of a long-term succession plan.
Howe’s accession to the CEO role comes less than a year after the retail veteran joined DBI as president of DSW. Before DBI, Howe served as the chief merchandising officer at Kohl’s and held prior leadership positions across merchandising, design, product development and planning at Qurate Retail Group, Old Navy, Walmart and May Department Stores.
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In his new role, Howe plans to continue to execute DBI’s strategy focused on customer, brand and speed, which involves optimizing stores as fulfillment centers and platforms of discovery for company-owned and partner brands.
“There are additional opportunities we’ll want to tweak around the edges, certainly,” Howe told FN in an exclusive interview. “But the business continues to be rife with opportunities.”
With this announcement, DBI joins a growing list of companies with planned CEO transitions slated for 2023, including Under Armour, Caleres and Reebok. As of the end of November, 20 retail CEOs had left their roles, year-to-date in 2022, according to a report from executive outplacement firm Challenger, Gray & Christmas.
A 17-year DBI veteran, Rawlins served as CEO of DBI — then called DSW Inc. — since 2016. The longtime footwear executive told FN he currently has nothing on the agenda in terms of next steps, other than spending time with his family, and he will continue to work with the company in an advisory role until March 2024.
As for his successor, Rawlins said the goal was always to move Howe into the CEO role. But the timing had to be right.
“It was really just going to be about timing, and making certain that both sides were comfortable, that [Howe] learned the business well enough, that we had a great fit, and that the team was going to rally around him, which they have done,” Rawlins said.
Howe and Rawlins will assist with DBI’s search for the next DSW president.
Since joining DBI, Howe has immersed himself in the company’s more than 500 stores, which are the chain’s key channel for driving sales, elevating brands and fulfilling orders. He’s also focused on strengthening the company’s assortment of owned brands as part of a larger goal for brand-owned sales to double from 19% of the company’s revenue to almost one-third by 2026.
Net sales from DBI’s owned brands increased 25% in Q3 over last year, as more consumers opted for these often lower-priced brands to beat inflation. However, a drop in demand in Q3 prompted the company to cut its outlook in December. DBI reiterated its fiscal 2022 outlook on Thursday and still projects comparable sales growth in the mid-single digits for the full-year. EPS is projected to land between $1.75 and $1.80.
“We have a very large owned-brand component, we have the best national brands in the industry, we have the stores and we have digital,” Howe said. “We have a lot of ammunition to be able to be agile.”