Buyers Optimistic at Agenda Show

LOS ANGELES — Skate and athletic shoe buyers are hoping for better times this fall, as trends shift from vulcanized canvas to basic running silhouettes and colorways.

At the Agenda show, held Jan. 8-9 at the Hyatt Regency Huntington Beach in Huntington Beach, Calif., Sport Chalet buyer Robert Follett said the footwear business is on the upswing.

“I am a buyer, so I’m always optimistic,” Follett said. “But I feel like the mood is lighter, and I feel good about things.”

Follett added that the success of the toning category, led by Reebok’s EasyTone and Skechers’ Shape-ups styles, could reinvigorate the women’s lifestyle category, which yielded lackluster results throughout 2009.

“We’re here looking for exciting women’s product,” he said of the trade show. “Women’s casual, lifestyle has been brutal. [Based on the success of toning products], there’s a lot going on now in women’s, so I’m looking forward to seeing what I can find.”

However, regardless of what he stocks for the season, Follett said consumers remain very price conscious, so he would seek out shoes that retail for between $40 and $50.

Gustavo Navarro, buyer for Inglewood, Calif.-based Millennium Shoes, said he is preparing for a tough spring and summer season, but was hopeful that back-to-school would signal a turnaround.

“Summer ’10 is going to be the worst yet,” he said. “May, June and July are going to be bad because unemployment in California is so bad. But back-to-school looks promising. So I want to see what the brands have planned for after the recession.”

The economic downturn will have some lingering effects, though, Navarro said. For one, he explained, the recession has made many of his customers less brand loyal.

“They don’t care about the brands anymore,” he said. “It’s all about the look, and if they can spend less for it, they do. It never used to be like that.”

Navarro said that while his Creative Recreation and Nike businesses were booming pre-recession, the downturn has driven consumers into Vans and Converse. “Those are the ones that are priced right, so that’s what [shoppers] are buying,” he said.

Vulcanized trends, however, could be played out by the end of 2010. “Vulcanized is still the look and that will work until the end of the year, but I see it shifting to technical running — very basic styles in basic colors. That’s something that’s starting to work for us now,” said Navarro.

Dan Benzaken, a buyer for CCS.com, also sees change ahead for the vulcanized category, albeit a subtler one. “Vulcanized product — mid- and high-tops — are going to be big for spring and into summer,” he said. “Then it’s going to move into more of a faux-vulcanized look that has some cushioning to it.”

Colorwise, Benzaken said consumers still want shoes with a long shelf life that go with anything, which means lots of navys and grays with understated color accents.

Eco-friendly product among skate consumers is also becoming a more common request, and Benzaken said the site is testing green products. “Skate kids are so aware of what’s going on in the world,” he said. “We get a lot of e-mails asking about non-leather shoes and stuff like that. We’re still testing it, but it is something we’re trying.”

In the end, Benzaken said there is reason to think that better times are ahead for the skate market. “I feel very positive about 2010,” he said. “I feel like there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

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