Still, merchants were guardedly optimistic that the right assortment of products, coupled with a recovery later this year, would help them boost sales.
“Our buying is going to be a lot more conservative,” said Laura Timms, owner of Foot Loose Shoes in Simpsonville, S.C. “When we bought for the spring, we weren’t feeling [the recession].” Timms said her store, which sells women’s and children’s shoes and accessories, is down 25 percent year-over-year after posting solid sales gains for the past several years.
Kaye Simmons, owner of Designer Shoe Palace in Jackson, Miss., has seen sales drop 15 percent to 20 percent from last year and is managing her inventories very tightly, reducing orders by as much as half. But rather than eliminating any brands, she is focusing on more fashion-forward looks.
Simmons cited Sam Edelman, Carlos by Carlos Santana, Betsy Johnson and L.A.M.B. as strong sellers in her store.
Molly Thayer, owner of Lou Lou in Dallas, was also shopping for fashion-forward styles from Beverly Feldman, Calvin Klein, BCBG, Jessica Simpson and Vanelli. Her store targets “young moms” who want trendy looks, but don’t want to spend too much, she said. Inventories are tighter, but Thayer said she expects the market to rebound soon. “I’m keeping my fingers crossed for March,” she said. “Spring is huge for us.”
While some retailers were on the hunt for unique items, others were sticking to core styles. Scott Houser, manager of Houser Shoes, an 11-store family chain based in Hendersonville, N.C., had the opposite strategy, and he was eyeing more basics for fall, including styles from New Balance, Asics, Dansko and Ugg. “We have to pull back on the fun,” he said.
Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of the Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association, which produces the show, told Footwear News that attendance was up more than 4.5 percent. She said the biggest growth came from Midwest retail attendance.
“The show continues to break participation records each season,” O’Brien said. “We are working on additional space for our upcoming spring market to accommodate another expected increase in visitors.”