Buyers Seek Value at Children’s Great Event

ELIZABETH, N.J. — Retailers at last week’s Children’s Great Event Shoe Show took a conservative approach to spring ’10 buying — and many said the price-value equation is more important than ever.

“I’m buying less and watching my inventory carefully. It’s key for all retailers,” said Cathie Mattei, co-owner of Ped- Agree Shoe Co. in Wyckoff, N.J., adding that she was also consolidating the brands she carried. While she wasn’t abandoning her higher-end collections altogether, she was looking at their opening price points rather than top-ofthe- line goods.

One collection fulfilling her needs was Geox, which offered introductory items that were $5 less than the collection’s usual retail price of $60.

According to Patrick Dougherty, national sales manager for children’s at Edison, N.J.-based Geox, the company introduced lower-priced product for fall ’09, a tactic he said is continuing into spring.

The merchandise has attracted both current accounts and new ones, Dougherty said. “We see it as an opportunity to get new customers into the brand,” he explained. Less-expensive product is now available in its light-up program, sport line, multipurpose footwear and waterproof collections.

Like Geox, Pazitos, based in Los Angeles, is helping retailers cope with the recession by lowering prices. After moving production from Mexico to China for fall ’09, prices dropped to $60 from $80, said co-owner Letty de Paz. “Retailers are more cautious for spring ’10,” she said, noting the response has been positive to the strategy. “Our prices had been too high for a lot of people. Now more stores are more receptive to coming in and looking.”

The company has even added a new collection called Picaroz, done in textiles and man-made uppers with leather linings. The line, which ranges from crib styles to size 8 women’s, is priced to retail in the low $50s, with a February delivery.

While some retailers were hunting for lower-priced merchandise, others said value was more important.

Alex Rudolph, owner of Towson Bootery in Towson, Md., said his customers are still willing to pay for better product, but have become more selective. He is also focused on a tighter assortment of brands and buying deeper in select styles. “I’m more cautious and monitoring my inventory,” he said.

Rudolph’s up-front buying is down 30 percent for spring ’10, and he is opting to fill in as the season progresses. Similarly, Ken Wrisely, owner of Giblings in Oakland, N.J., said he did not want to trade down on footwear. “I don’t want to take customers backward in price,” he said. “Customers are looking for quality, so we are not trading down.”

At New York-based The Shoe Garden, co-owner Alsún Keogh, said that while the store had stocked more canvas and fewer high-end leather sandals for spring ’09, she has seen enough of an economic recovery this back-to-school season to offer some higher-end product again. “We’re not shying away as much from leather and more expensive sandals,” she said, noting that she is also buying deeper inventory in fewer styles. “We start to know our strengths and make sure we cover them.”

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