Buyers at WSA Shop for Fill-ins

LAS VEGAS — Retailers at last week’s WSA, the first show under Advanstar Global, were battling weather-related woes and the new realities of lean vendor inventories, which limited reorder opportunities.

Ruben Gharakhanian, owner of Vancouver, British Columbia-based Devon Shoes Ltd., said frigid weather in Canada had him still seeking out cold weather products. But as vendors have trimmed their inventories in the aftermath of the recession, finding reorders and fill-in product has become difficult, he added.

“In Vancouver, people are still looking for boots,” he said, noting that customers won’t be ready for spring product until March. “People here [at the show] want to show spring. That’s a problem for us.”

Gharakhanian said he would like to spend more at the show, given that business is strong — so strong that the retailer recently had his best December in the 20-year history of the company. Still, he was holding out for guaranteed sellers. “The onus is on us to bring in stuff we know will sell,” he said. “I would like to spend more if we can find the right products. If there are sure sellers [for spring] then we’ll bring it in early, though we’ll have to sit on it for a while.”

Sidney French, owner of Grants, N.M.-based Glamour Girl, also was on the hunt for in-season, cold-weather products. “We’re still looking for boots,” he said. “Where we’re from, winter lasts until May.”

However, some retailers said they were moving on to spring full-force. Sam Krause, shoe buyer for the 98-store Gabriel Brothers chain, said he planned to up his spend by 5 percent, to increase his women’s inventory and take advantage of a hole in the market. “Our women’s business is under-penetrated,” he said. “New looks are coming in and you can entice the customer to buy more to catch up to the looks of 2013.”

Specifically, Krause was looking for more-feminine styles in muted neons, a pointed toe shape, platforms and flats. He also liked what he saw in the platform sneaker trend. “That seems like it’s going to be big for back-to-school, so a lot of people are bringing it in early to test it,” he said.

Brian DiBartolomeo, associate buyer for the 29-store Forman Mills chain, was targeting hot spring items suitable for his clientele of fashionable women, men and kids, especially Easter shoes for children. “We’re here looking for moderately priced fashion for the whole family,” he said.

Meanwhile, Olga Silén and Sonia De Eskildsen, co-owners of Panama City, Panama-based Novedades Esi, said they were at the show to dramatically expand the shoe offering in their store. Currently, the store sells only sandals, but the duo was searching for other looks that might work for their clientele. “We’re trying to invest more [in inventory],” De Eskildsen said. “We’ll triple what we spent last year, at least.”

But, she noted, finding weather-appropriate footwear is a persistent challenge given the climate of Panama. “We only have two seasons in Panama — rainy and hot,” she said. “So we need to find styles that will work.”