Independents Fight for Position in Expanding Off-Price World

NEW YORK — The pressure from value footwear chains has been so intense that some independent stores, including Dave’s Shoes in Grass Valley, Calif., told Footwear News it had to shutter its doors when DSW moved into town because its prices were drastically undercutting business.

However, other retailers are fi ghting back. Bruce Kaminsky, owner of Big ’N’ Little shoes in Chicago, said he works directly with sales representatives for guidance on avoiding footwear that may creep into the off-price or value channel. “Reps are big on telling you: ‘Ross Stores bought this one’ or ‘Marshalls bought this shoe,’” said Kaminsky. “They don’t want you to get hurt. It’s in their best interest, so you don’t come back to them and say, ‘I can’t sell this shoe at $40 because DSW is selling the same one at $30.’”

At Paul’s Step by Step, which has three stores in Lawrenceville and Princeton, N.J., and Naples, Fla., owner Paul Carella said he simply avoids doing business with vendors who sell big lots of footwear to off-price chains. “We’ve had a couple companies that discount their leftover stock and give it to a big discounter, and we either steer away from doing business with that company again, or we have product that’s not going to end up there,” he said.

Meanwhile, Alan Rapport, owner of Bloomfi eld, N.J.-based independent footwear store Economy Shoes, said he’s staying with unique styles from athletic brands such as Converse, Nike, New Balance and Pastry rather than dabbling in the women’s dress shoe business. “Dress shoes can get closed out faster and cheaper than your basics,” he said. “If they miss [at retail], then you fi nd them all over the place for crazy prices.”

But being a competitor to discounters, he concluded, is simply a fact of the retail game. “There are always going to be closeouts. This is something unavoidable, and you see it more and more today,” said Rapport. “People don’t have enough money to pay full price. Money is tight.”

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