Bob Rief On Taking The Reins At OTZShoes


Ludovic Malmoux, OTZShoes president and creative director, Bob Rief, CEO, and Skip Murgatroyd, COB.

Following yesterday’s news that industry veteran Bob Rief was joining OTZShoes as its new CEO, we caught up with him to learn more about his decision and goals for the brand moving forward.

Congratulations on the new role. You announced in November that you were retiring, why did you decide to come back to work
Basically, I took three months off and did the things I like to do: Jeep trip to our place in central Baja, surfing nearly every day, got in a ton of golf, etc., but I really missed the pace of business and especially all my friends in the company and trade.  I had a few ideas about new things but they did not resonate. At OR, Skip Mergatroyd was chatting with a mutual friend who connected us. I looked at the product line and got very seriously interested. Really if anyone is curious about why I made the change, go to and click on the product.

How did this new position come about and what attracted you to OTZShoes? Have you worked with Ludovic and Skip in the past?

I knew about Ludo’s work at Royal Elastic. It was one of those brands that everyone looked at for trends and inspiration. Ludo also was active in the launch of the Salomon's running shoe category. “Creative” is not a big enough word for Ludo!

The company has seen a strong trajectory since its inception in 2009. What sets it apart from other companies in the “comfort shoe” category?
Good question: the answer can be complex, or simple. I am not interested in “fashion” products as they are by definition “in fashion, then out of fashion.” Functionality counts big time. OTZ is a cork foot bed tech story. Cork is a natural anti microbial product, and comformable…perfect for the modern consumer. All OTZ products are built around this system. I was drawn even more by the simplicity of the whole package. The brand is inspired by the 3300 year old Oetzi man, discovered on the glacier in the Tyolean Alps. His footwear survived and was an amazingly functional piece of gear. Ludo used the basics in his design. The shoes are shaped like a foot. The leathers are used carefully to maximize comfort and fit, they look great, and they are seriously different.

The short answer is the OTZ shoes are very contemporary. The Comfort market is dominated by brown shoes and orthopedic shoes. OTZ shines like a bright light, uh, in a sea of brown!

How would you describe the brand to people that are unfamiliar with it?
If you don’t know about the brand go to the website. Your first impression about product will be “wow!”  Your second impression will be about the simplicity and common sense of the designs.

What are your short and long term goals coming into the role of CEO?

CEO responsibilities in a small company are blended. My goal is to liberate Ludo from his tasks in operations so that he can spend more time with design and product creation. Skip and I will work behind the scenes to build on the structure in order to keep up with the demand curve. Of course we will be working with the capitalization of the company and other related topics as we go along.

What do you see as OTZ’s current strengths and areas for improvement?
OTZ’s biggest strength is that it is UNIQUE, colorful, hip,
Retail these days looks “interchangeable.” Floor plans and merchandising are too uniform, and stores often look the same as their nearest competitor. Creative retailers spend lots of time looking for the innovative brands. They are key, as they determine the differentiation from one store to another. OTZ is an innovator and has one other very good feature: on time delivery. Many of the smaller innovative brands look attractive, but if they do not deliver, retailers and buyers really suffer, and often lose their appetite for the creative, young brands.
OTZShoes is in more than 500 doors at this point. What kind of shops are these primarily? How will your background in surf and action sports affect the brand’s strategy going forward? 

OTZ retail base actually spans aacross the Outdoor, Comfort and boutique channels. This a new challenge for me. I am used to product appealing to a specific channel, say Outdoor; but in this case its basically retailers who support and seek innovative brands. They are “everywhere.”  We go to a variety of shows in many cases to intersect with retailers we would not see in our normal course of selling.

Who do you see as your main competitors in action sports?
Competitors are many. I suppose OTZ is somewhere between TOMS, Birkenstock, and maybe Sanuk. OTZ has a particular appeal, and unique styling, so I hope my many retail friends will give us a look, and join the 500 existing US retailers and the 20 counties that are already on board. OTZ is a super fresh look and technology and will help any retailer “be different.”