B-T-S Business Off to Slow Start

Many independent footwear retailers turned their attention to tax-free shopping holidays over the weekend for a boost in sales and traffic, but some were left disappointed.

Mark Waldman, president of Laurie’s Shoe Group in St. Louis, said, “People aren’t feeling as gung-ho because the savings are not a tremendous, but [the tax-free period] symbolizes the beginning of the school season for us. And we’ve seen our customers shop earlier this year.”

Ann Spallone at Shoes ’N’ More in Greenwich, Conn., noted that parents are being more conservative in their shopping. “They’re buying a sneaker and school shoe. You used to be able to throw in a waterproof boot and a winter boot. The tax-free weekend helps as long as you remember to make it help,” she said, adding that her business depends on well-trained staff members who can make sales recommendations.

The National Retail Federation projects that families this year will spend around 7.8 percent less than last year, indicating in a recent survey that many parents are still feeling the pressure of the slow economic growth and stagnant wages. Moreover, roughly 36 percent of parents are headed online to do comparative shopping.

“A lot of moms are online clicking when the kids are sleeping,” said Spallone. “That is why we try to do business with companies that aren’t going to sell with all the Lord & Taylors of the world, that always have a coupon for friends and family.”
 
In Charlotte, N.C., Tim Butler, owner of The Shoe Inn, said this year’s tax-free weekend was sluggish compared with 2012, but it still will be an important part of his back-to-school business. And that has him worried for 2014, when North Carolina will abolish the tax-free weekend.

“[This year], we should be about even with last year, though we won’t see any big growth,” said Butler. “But our sales weekend is going away. I’m disappointed because even though sales have fallen off, it’s still a big part of my back-to-school business. I wonder where I’ll be getting that next year.”