NSRA Hits 100, Focuses on Solutions

The National Shoe Retailers Association celebrated a 100 anniversary at its annual conference in Washington, D.C., last week.

The event, which ended Saturday, featured keynote addresses by Diane Sullivan, president and CEO of Brown Shoe Co.; and Jim Salzano, president of the American division of Clarks Cos. Sullivan discussed the state of the U.S. footwear industry, while Salzano offered suggestions for independent retailers to better work with the brands they carry.

A popular topic was the concept of “showrooming,” or using smartphones to compare in-store product and prices to online retailers.

Jim Dion, author of “The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Starting & Running a Retail Store,” said this idea has really taken off over the last 18 months and become easier now that Amazon.com has an application that scans barcodes.

“Your stores are going to change, based on this new way of shopping,” he said. “The web has gotten ahead of us in ease of use. They’re doing retail better than we are. Customers can find so much information online now.”

To fight back, Dion suggested working more closely with suppliers, offering loyalty programs, instituting localized sales, improving window displays, embracing technology such as QR codes to provide extra information, and seeking out exclusive product from vendors.

New Balance has already listened. The brand offers two specific styles to its independent accounts, thus eliminating the consumers’ ability to “showroom” the product.

“Exclusivity is just the beginning,” said Chris Quinn, EVP at New Balance. “We will continue to see mass customization [in stores], and that is something unassailable on the Internet.”

Retailers, too, weighed in on how the trend has affected business.

Gary Peltz, CEO of Peltz Shoes in Florida, said his stores will approach the customers, attempt to win them over and, in some cases, even price match in order to close the sale.

“We’ve had success stories by doing that,” he said. “Sometimes they end up buying more than what they were ‘showrooming.’”

Alternatively, Randy Brown, president of Brown’s Enterprises, headquartered in Washington, Mo., said he is unsure what direction to take on the matter.

“We may honor [price matching] one time, but it’s not a lifetime promise,” he said. “If you need this relationship, I have competitors I can refer you to.”

Additional discussion topics at the conference included expansion, marketing, workplace culture and community involvement.

The next NSRA conference will take place in Boston.