Attendees Upbeat at Bread & Butter

BERLIN — Even as the European financial crisis drags on and the stateside economy remains fragile, retailers at Bread & Butter here were upbeat about business as they eyed the collections for fall ’13.

The economy could remain in this state “for another few years, and you can’t stand still. You just have to keep your head down and get on with it,” said Richard McLaughlin, director of Attic, a men’s shoe store in Aberdeen, Scotland.

The retailer has adapted his buying strategy amid the tough climate.

“We’re buying closer to the season,” he said, “and we’re committing less of our forward budget so we can fill in on the winners as we go into the season.”

Lawrie Kemp, head of buying at U.K.-based online retail company The Hut Group, also said he was pivoting toward a wait-and-see strategy with a shorter lead time. “Before, you could hold product for maybe eight to 12 weeks and keep it at full price,” he said. “Now, customers need something new every payday. Every four weeks it has to be refreshed. And unless it’s the best of the best, we don’t repeat.”

On the trend front, buyers across the board noticed that brands are tweaking their old collections instead of taking risks and introducing new trends. Some labels integrated new, sporty soles, for example, to refresh their fall assortments.

“Performance is mixing with fashion,” said Daan de Greef, who runs Baskéts, a men’s shoe store in Amsterdam. “You can see it at Clarks. They put a performance sole on a normal shoe. Everything’s getting more technical.”

In Clarks’ case, the introduction of technical elements provides a way to raise the price point on certain models. One slip-on shoe that retailed last year for 119 euros (or $158 at current exchange) has been re-released for this fall with a Vibram sole and is being sold for 190 euros ($252). The Vibram sole also has been added to a boot that sold last year for 130 euros ($172) and this year will retail for 149 euros ($198).

While some buyers gravitated toward sporty looks from casual brands, others said traditional athletic players remain on top.

Andreas Ljungberg, a Swedish-based footwear distributor representing Fred Perry and other labels, noted that Nike, Adidas and New Balance are thriving in tough times.

Vicky Elsasser, who represents New Balance in Germany, echoed those sentiments: “Business is absolutely perfect,” she said.

Other American vendors have found they can penetrate the European market if they meet halfway with retailers, who are increasingly reluctant to hold lots of inventory and are eager to share some of the risk.

“[Buyers are] pushing back on the industry and saying, ‘We’ll take the shoes, but you need to take care of the stock,’” said Michael Schmitz, a representative for Keds and Sperry Top-Sider.