Buyers Reveal Hot Picks for Spring ’15

After a late start to spring, outdoor specialty shops still managed to ring up robust sales of footwear and other gear.

Now, as they prep for Outdoor Retailer’s upcoming summer ’15 market, buyers said they will look to stock up on warm-weather staples — and dependable sellers — such as lightweight hiking boots, rugged sandals and water-friendly shoes, with brands including Chaco, Teva and Keen topping their lists. Scouring the show floor for new products and categories to entice customers and bring freshness to their shoe walls will also be on the agenda.

Still, while retailers are feeling bullish about business overall, many are concerned about the sharp slowdown in sales of minimalist footwear and the fact that nothing new has replaced the once in-demand category. In search of fresh opportunities, some stores are carving out new niches, from fair-trade footwear to trail running, while others are bringing in new brands.

Here, retailers from across the country talk trends, hot sellers and their spring-buying strategies.

Travis Zarins
VP & GMM, Great Outdoor Provision Co. (multiple locations in North Carolina and Virginia)

Top sellers: “Chaco and Merrell continue to be strong. Oboz is a great newcomer, with sales really stepping up. On the more casual side, OluKai is selling well. They’ve got a great selection of premium leather sandals and more [moderately priced] water sandals — they seem to have something for everybody. Although it’s slowed down a bit, Toms is still a strong brand for us.”
Buying plan: “Probably half our business is outdoor lifestyle product. We do well with Southern lifestyle clothing brands like Southern Marsh. So the more casual footwear to go along with that is what we continue to look for at OR. It’s been challenging because we haven’t seen anything super-cool and up-and-coming in that casual space. Overall, we’re planning an average buy for next spring. Based on where we see growth, we’ll move those dollars around and put them in the right places. But we won’t be backing down inventory or anything like that because of a slow start to the season.”
Overall outlook: “Business has been good. We’ve had a great spring season so far. After such a long, cold winter, there has been a lot of pent-up demand to get outside. But the economy is still a little fragile overall, so we’re watching that.”

Lexi Wornson
Co-manager, Back Country, Des Moines, Iowa
Top sellers:
“Sandals have been really strong, especially Chaco. We’ve also been moving quite a few shoes from Wolky. It’s a brand that was big for us [in the past], and it’s coming back. For men, we’re selling a lot of oxfords, loafers and other more casual crossover-type styles. And obviously, lightweight hiking shoes are always a big seller, especially with families going on summer vacations and hiking trips.”
Emerging trend: “We’ve had a lot of interest in fair-trade footwear, so we’ve brought in Oliberté and SoleRebels. It’s a great conversation to have with customers about where and how the shoes are crafted. Our outdoor customers are very appreciative of high-quality, long-lasting products, and [these brands] are a nice complement to their performance footwear.”
Buying plan: “Our big focus will continue to be searching for that magical shoe that is both good-looking and incredibly comfortable for an everyday active lifestyle. We sell a lot of travel wear, and we look for shoes you can walk in all day and then wear out to dinner. We’re definitely ready for something new and different in our footwear world.”
Overall outlook: “Because spring came so late, we still expect to have a lot of people coming in to buy summer footwear for the next month or so. We still have time to move some sandals. And we’re pretty nimble, so we don’t typically get loaded down with a ton of inventory anyway. We’re also expecting a good fall/winter season. I imagine people are pretty tired of the footwear they were wearing last winter, which was so long. We bought a bit more inventory, anticipating that customers will be coming in early to pick up some new snow boots. Last winter, we ran out of inventory, so we want to be ready this year.”

Doug Gellman
Footwear buyer, Blue Ridge Mountain Sports (multiple locations in Virginia, New Jersey and Tennessee)
Top sellers:
“For us, low-cut hiking shoes are still dominant. That continues to be a big category. We’re also selling a lot of sandals. Chaco, in particular, has been very strong. In some of our doors, it’s performing better than it has in previous years.”
Buying plan: “The long winter certainly helped us clear out all of our fall/winter product, but it affected spring sales to a degree. We’ll be looking to keep our inventory levels and vendor count tighter than normal for spring ’15. There are a few brands we would like to add, [among them] Ahnu and Hoka One One. Overall, I’ll be at OR looking for those emerging brands and trends so we can jump on the bandwagon — not too early, but not too late either.”
Overall outlook: “The market is [feeling the impact of] the big drop-off in sales of [Vibram’s] FiveFingers and the overall minimalist/ultralight category. It’s been precipitous, dropping off at a faster rate than we even expected. The hope is that something new will come along [to replace that].”

Jamie Lipman Abish
Co-owner, Tent & Trails, New York
Top sellers:
“Minimalist product is still selling well, but not styles with the separate toes. In fact, we had to put our Vibram shoes on sale. But we’ve been doing very well with Altra. Customers still love the idea of minimalism but just not the toe separation. We’ve also had interest in old-fashioned backpacking shoes from brands like Scarpa and Asolo. It’s unusual since they’re very heavy, all-leather shoes. We’re not sure if this is a trend that will continue or if it’s just a blip. We’re going to watch it a little longer and try to figure that out.”
Buying plan: “We’ll be looking for sandals and lightweight shoes. That’s what sells in our store. Chaco is top on our list and a customer favorite. Overall, we expect to buy on par [with last spring]. We still need to sit down and compare last year with this year in what we ordered. But believe it or not, we didn’t have a big problem with too much leftover inventory after such a late start to spring.”
Overall outlook: “Sales are good; we’re moving a lot of shoes. In the mornings, you can hear crickets in here, but when the afternoon hits, it’s a madhouse. Since we are a destination store in New York, we continue to attract a nice tourist business. We have customers from Europe and South America coming in and buying two or three pairs of shoes to take home. They’re looking for those European brands, which they already know and can get at a better price here.”

Lisa Lyons
Owner, Morgan Outdoors, Livingston Manor, N.Y.

Top sellers: “I’m doing really well with rugged sandals that are good for both water and land. I carry a range of Keen styles in that category, and they all sell well. I’m also doing well with Merrell’s Moab, both the low and mid Gore-Tex styles, which are a lighter option for summer hikes.”
Emerging trend: “We see trail running developing, so right now we’re working on an event to bring more focus to it. Our area here in the Catskills is rather new to trail running, but there are great trails right in our backyard. We’re going to highlight the footwear as a way to bring attention to running off-road.”
Buying plan: “We’ll make some adjustments to our buying after this past spring, which started so late. I’m trying to be smarter with my buying by using backup orders. Until I see all the spring lines, I won’t have a clear picture of exactly what I’ll be buying. But we’ve had a lot of requests for Teva, so that’s one brand I’d like to get in here.”

Adam Fairchild
Owner, Easton Outdoor Co., Easton, Pa.
Top sellers:
“The big sellers for us have been water shoes and sandals. Teva, in particular, has been strong there. We’re happy to see sales of water shoes pick up because the hiking category has actually been a bit slow. Summer is typically a big time for people to get out to go backpacking or do day hikes. I would have expected hiking to be at its peak in the season now, but we’re kind of lagging there.”
Buying plan: “When the season approaches, depending on whether I’m still sitting on a lot of inventory, I’ll make a decision to either cut back some preseason orders or stick with [the orders I made]. We recently added Oboz, and we’re waiting to see how it performs. But otherwise, I don’t think we’ll be adding any other new brands to our wall. We’re going to keep things tight.”
Overall outlook: “We’re planning for a decent fall/winter season. Last year, I was mainly bleeding off inventory from [the previous] winter, which was virtually nonexistent in our area. I had so much stock left over that I basically came into fall/winter ’13 without any new inventory of winter insulated product. So I upped my orders for this winter, assuming I’m going to need it. But it’s always a wait-and-see game.”