Comfort Shopping Guide: Flexible Footwear

Versatility is the name of the game in comfort, as consumers seek out product with a little more fashion edge that they can wear in a multitude of situations.

Dave Levy
, president
Store count:
3 (32,000 sq. ft. in Shelton, 5,800 in Stamford and 4,000 in Norwalk)
Open since:

Buying plan: “We’re going to be exceptionally conservative to say the least, and first and foremost, we’ll make sure we have enough inventory in our core shoes that really drive our business. Then we’re going to scout out some products that are fresh in the market and will sprinkle them in in a strategic way.”

Hunting for: “We’re looking for very unique product with high margins that’s not overdistributed.”

Strategy shift: “Our formula is fit and comfort with a fashion twist. Beautifeel and Ara both fit that mold. We’re steering away from dressier, fashion looks.”

Lesson learned from holiday ’08:
“It’s better to chase shoes than to own a lot of them. Also, buy as many Uggs as you can.”

Current bestseller:
Ugg. “Hands down.”

Spring ’09 forecast: “We’re forecasting down about 15 percent.”

Next big thing: Polliwalks

On the way out:
Crocs. “I have 4,200 pairs on my wall, and I’m giving them away free with any $100 purchase.”

THE SHOE SPA, Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.
Beth Weingarten
, co-owner
Store count:
1 (1,450 sq. ft.)
Open since:

Buying plan: “Even though the economy is such that it is, I still seek out new products. I do luxury comfort, so I look for fashion and style.”

Hunting for: “I’m looking for a great comfort shoe that can retail in the $180-to-$250 [range]. I have 40 brands and I take a lot of time editing my selection.”

Strategy shift: “The biggest thing lately is that I’ve brought in some lines that are in the $120 range to go with the flow of the economy right now.”

Lesson learned from holiday ’08: “People love sales. We’re extremely seasonal in Florida, so normally I have my sale down by November, but I held on longer than ever last season.”

Current bestsellers: MBT, Salpy, Beautifeel, Paul Mayer, Naot

Spring ’09 forecast: “Better. I’m very optimistic and I can’t wait for my spring [product] to come in.”

Hottest new brand: “Pas de Rouge offers style and comfort.”

Next big thing: “A lot of comfort shoes tend to get too flat, and whether it’s a platform, wedge or heel, ladies are looking for a lift.”

On the way out: “All the mirrored, shiny stuff. I get a lot of calls for light neutrals and soft metallics. Women want femininity.”

Rachel Rudolph
, owner
Store count:
1 (1,000 sq. ft.)
Open since:

Buying plan: “The primary focus is comfort, but we always try to push the edge with fashion.”

Hunting for: “Shoes and boots that are all-purpose. People are still shopping, but they’re definitely looking for more benefits out of one shoe than in the past.”

Strategy shift: “We’re keeping a close eye on the euro and would like to do more buying back into the European brands.”

Lesson learned from holiday ’08:
“Don’t be afraid to bring in boots later in the year.”

Current bestsellers:
Ugg, Hunter

Spring ’09 forecast:
“It will be good as long as we continue to cater to our community and have key brands that people can identify with.”

Next big thing: “Color for spring and probably the new collection of Uggs for fall.”

FOOTPRINTS, Delafield, Wis.
Ryan Goralski
, co-owner
Store count:
1 (2,000 sq. ft.)
Open since:

Buying plan: “We want to sample new companies and diversify with a broader selection in our store. But we’re keeping it light and not bringing in a lot of depth.”

Hunting for: “Great prices for our customers and great margins for our store.”

Strategy shift: “We’re working on greater diversification in styles, lower prices and over-the-top customer service.”

Lesson learned from holiday ’08: “To never underestimate the growth opportunity for a particular line, but at the same time, don’t overestimate the number of people who are going to be looking for a particular line.”

Current bestsellers: Haflinger, Merrell, SmartWool. “Our sales were generally down a bit for 2008, but for SmartWool, sales were through the roof.”

Spring ’09 forecast: “It’s going to be a little slow. I’m hoping we can do a little better than 2008.”

Hottest new brands: “We’re eagerly anticipating Teva and Earth shoes.”

Next big thing: “Wool for fall is going to be huge. Also, price — people want a quality product at that good price.”

On the way out:
“Prints and colors. People are looking for versatile style and something they can wear with multiple outfits.”


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