Four footwear players shared their insights on winning big when they kicked off FN Platform on Monday with a seminar titled “Opportunity Knocks — How to Thrive in the Shoe Business” at the Las Vegas Convention Center.
Panelists included Matt Bernson, founder and CEO of his eponymous women’s and men’s footwear label; Tarek Hassan, owner of The Tannery in Boston; Tannery buyer and merchandiser Lisa Gorlicki; and Sportie LA owner Isack Fadlon.
The speakers covered everything from keeping pace with the technological aspects of a changing retail landscape to connecting with customers on sales floors.
“The one thing I can say is, if anyone wants to start [a footwear business], have a five-year, 10-year plan,” Fadlon cautioned, noting that although Sportie LA had found success in its 28 years in business, the path might have been smoother with more precise goals in place from the beginning.
Gorlicki took that idea into more specific territory, emphasizing the need for carefully paced orders and merchandise flows, as well as for owners and buyers to have a physical presence in stores and stockrooms as opposed to relying solely on computer data. “It’s all-encompassing and you have to understand every job function [at your business],” she added.
All the retailers highlighted the importance of getting to know the customer through every avenue, including visiting competitors, asking for shopper feedback and making personal connections on the sales floor. “We spend so much time with women in the neighborhood [of Tribeca in Manhattan],” Bernson said, noting that his dual role as a wholesaler and as owner of his 1-year-old branded boutique has given him a 360-degree perspective. “We were able to pinpoint our customer as a very affluent, very fashion-conscious woman who loves to spend and loves newness.”
Other advice from the group centered on developing comprehensive knowledge of both retail and wholesale before diving into running a shop, building a strong overall brand for the store, creating healthy partnerships with vendors and putting the right technology in place, from a compelling website to a hassle-free POS system. “It’s not an easy business. It’s a challenging business, and you definitely have to stay on top of it,” Hassan said.
The panelists also had one other crucial piece of advice for new retailers: love shoes.
“The one thing I can say is have a passion for it,” Fadlon said. “If you don’t love what you’re doing, if you don’t love the shoes you’re actually buying [and] the product you are looking at every day and selling every day, don’t do it. Have that passion.”