Birkenstock, the German company known for sensible contoured footwear, made its long-awaited Wall Street debut yesterday (October 11). Surrounded by suited executives victoriously waving brown sandals in the air, the company’s CEO Oliver Reichert marked the event by ringing the opening bell of the New York Stock Exchange.
With an IPO pricing shares at $46 a piece, the company closed the day with a more than 12 percent drop. The shoemaker’s decision to go public wasn’t its first choice, according to Reichert. “The best thing for this brand would be staying family-owned,” he told CNBC earlier this week. “But within the family, there was so many problems—so we go for the second-best option.”
Familial disagreements contributed to leadership passing to Reichert, who in 2013 became the first outsider to head Birkenstock in a nearly 250-year history that can be traced back to the cobbler Johannes Birkenstock. The footwear provider stayed a family business for centuries, but that ended nearly a decade ago, when brothers Stephan, Alex and Christian Birkenstock found themselves with opposing visions for the company.
Enter Reichert, a former war correspondent and sports television executive who hails from the Bavarian countryside. First taking a position as a consultant for Birkenstock in 2009, he attempted to soothe over the infighting and introduced bylaws on how the brothers would handle each other during business deals. Four years later, he was named CEO when the family took a step back from the company.
What is Oliver Reichert’s vision for Birkenstock?
The executive has focused on expanding its production in Germany, where 95 percent of Birkenstock’s products are assembled. By 2017, he had doubled the number of domestic employees to 3,800—its workforce now totals at nearly 4,400. Its shoes also saw a surge in demand during the COVID-19 pandemic as people began prioritizing comfort. Online searches for the shoes spiked by 225 percent in the second quarter of 2020, according to data compiled by Lyst.
During the pandemic, Birkenstock sold a majority stake to L Catterton, a private equity firm backed by luxury conglomerate LVMH (LVMHF). Reichert spearheaded the deal by calling up the conglomerate’s head Bernard Arnault, according to an interview with French magazine Challenges earlier this year. “Six weeks later, the deal was closed,” he said. Last summer, the German company teamed up with Dior, one of LVMH’s brands, to collaborate on a range of styles priced at $1,100 each through Birkenstock’s luxury 1774 line.
The company is currently enjoying a period of extended hype, with a cameo in Greta Gerwig’s Barbie movie and headlines hailing the signature clogs as 2023’s shoe of the summer. But none of that matters to Reichert, who refuses to give out free pairs to celebrities and claims to reject eight out of ten brand collaborations. “We’re the only ‘fashion’ brand that is not defined by fashion,” he told Glossy. “We do not chase trends.”
Despite its lackluster initial performance on the stock exchange, it doesn’t appear the Birkenstock head will be changing the company’s mission anytime soon. “Some say ‘Birkenstock is having a moment.’ I always reply then ‘this movement has lasted for 250 years, and it will continue to last,'” Reichert told shareholders during the company’s IPO filing. “Birkenstock is more than a shoe. It’s a way of thinking, a way of living.”