The Verdict on Barefoot

Dave Shepherd, owner, Dave’s Boot, Red Bluff, Calif.
Carries now: None
Will add for spring ’11: Merrell
“My son went out and got a pair of Vibram [FiveFingers], and ever since customers have been asking for them — but not too many. We would love to get them for the spring, but we ordered too late. Because we carry a lot of Merrell, we probably will get their version for spring.”

Bob Rosso, owner, Elephant’s Perch, Ketchum, Idaho
Carries now: Vibram
Will add for spring ’11: New Balance and Merrell (women)
“We were a little skeptical at first, but we always like to try something new. And, let me tell you, [the barefoot styles] have been flying off the shelves. If it fits, I suggest you get it. No sooner do we get a shipment and they’re gone. Our customers want them badly. The supply just needs to catch up with the demand. I’m a little curious how long this trend is going to go. Our only issue has been orders have been partially shipping. Availability has been almost nil.”

Jay Kozel, manager, Back Country, Des Moines, Iowa
Carries now: None
Will add for spring ’11: Vibram
“We’ll be carrying the [Vibram] FiveFingers for spring in five styles, some for men and some for women. We ordered too late to get them for fall [’10], but we’ll have them in the spring. It seems [to signify] a partial shift in the industry to running shoes. Trail running has been going in the minimalist direction for a while. Customers are pretty excited for the shoes. They expressed interest over the summer, enough to get us to order.”

Randy Martin, owner, Plum Creek Shoe Station, Estes Park, Colo.
Carries now: Vibram
Will add for spring ’11: Merrell, New Balance
“We immediately got on board, and [Vibram] has grown to be a very substantial part of our business. There’s really something there. We’ve been taking a lot of calls and questions about the minimalist movement. The interest level has been phenomenal and it’s just going to grow.”

Barry Burdett, owner, Burdett & Son Outdoor Adventure Shop, College Station, Texas
Carries now: Vibram
Will add for spring ’11: Vibram
“We’ve had Vibram for about four years, and its growth has been tremendous. Right now, we’re just trying to keep up with demand. We’ll probably stock some new styles in the Vibram and we’ll stay with the current brands. Vibram FiveFingers are different from most of the products that we carry. We wouldn’t want to fill too much of our store with this style.”

Chris Harris, manager, Ken Combs Running Store, Louisville, Ky.
Carries now: Vibram, Nike
Will add for spring ’11: Merrell, New Balance
“The Vibrams are our most requested type [of barefoot shoes], and they’ve had relatively steady demand. The barefoot styles are bringing in new people who might not have otherwise come to us. They’re more of a niche sell, though. I couldn’t keep the business open if it was the only product I sold, and our conventional shoes are still our most popular products. The minimalist shoes have been around forever, so I don’t know if this idea is new. It’s too early to tell if it’s faddish or a new major brand category, but we’ll keep stocking them.”

Katherine Smith, buyer, Half-Moon Outfitters, Charleston, S.C.
Carries now: Vibram
Will add for spring ’11: Vibram
“The customers for [Vibram] are all over the board. These shoes are popular with runners, boaters, yogis and other outdoor enthusiasts. We have also seen a significant rise in popularity with the Vibram FiveFingers as a casual fashion item. My prediction for the barefoot craze is that it will manifest itself in more old-school, thin-soled running shoes than in toe-separation products.”

Richard Friedman, owner, Lo-Man Outdoor Store, Babylon, N.Y.
Carries now: None
Will add for spring ’11: Merrell and Vibram
“The industry has been looking for something new for a long time, and this could be it. I haven’t tried on [any barefoot styles], but my son loves them. They’ve been getting some mixed [reviews], so I hope they do well with us in the spring. You always look for the next big item in this industry.”

Gerald Richmond, owner, Feet First, Wakefield, R.I.
Carries now: Vibram
Will add for spring ’11: New Balance
“The category has legs. Vibram’s FiveFingers has been out for years, and we’ve had growth with it. There’s a fashion element that’s not fully [realized], and I can definitely see that expanding. We had some athletes purchase them initially, but there have been some early adopters in the fashion arena as well. I didn’t have enough when they were in season, so I have no idea how hot they are, but I’ve ordered more based on the success we had with them in 2009.”

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