CHICAGO — Limited-edition kicks create huge hype and bring shoppers in the door, but retailers are asking themselves whether the crowded sneaker release calendar might be too much of a good thing.
Take this month: With the NBA All-Star Game, Black History Month, Valentine’s Day and the Chinese Year of the Horse all getting the special makeup treatment from brands — on top of the regular releases — there are dozens of launches in the works.
But it’s not just February. A steady flow of “event” releases arrive every week from every brand all year round, sometimes as many as six or seven every Saturday with more throughout the week.
“It keeps hype on the brands and keeps people looking,” said Susan Boyle, owner of the Rime boutique in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Matt Powell, an analyst with SportsOneSource, said the consumer appetite for limited releases is unabated, even as more and more come out. “On Twitter, they’re asking me about releases I don’t even know about,” he said.
Increased buzz, Powell said, is what continues to justify the time and effort on the brand side, even if the shoes represent a small portion of sales. Referencing the limited Jordan III retro model in blue and black that hit last month, he said, “One hundred and fifty pairs of the Powder Blue help to sell 3 million of the [mass-market] Air Monarch IV.”
But storeowners wonder if a tipping point is coming.
“It’s exciting, but I have to admit, it seems like customers are overwhelmed,” said Jason Faustino, co-owner of the two Extra Butter shops in New York and Long Island, N.Y. “They’re on their phones and on the blogs, but you can only keep track of so much.”
“There are too many shoes and there are too many stories,” added Lester Wasserman, owner of sneaker shop West NYC in Manhattan. “The more special shoes there are, the less special they each become.”
Logistically, retailers said, the process of buying the product (often with ultrashort lead times) and then marketing it takes a huge amount of effort, especially for just a few pairs of shoes. And with so many releasing at once, the effect is multiplied.
“Telling a story is the key thing with retail, and if the consumer can digest what the story is, that’s a big part of [the hype for] a release,” said Frank Cooke, buyer for the Atlanta-based Wish boutique. “It can be overwhelming. If you’re making four or five [social media] posts a weekend, it can get a little challenging for the consumer.”
Also, with a near-constant flow of newness, Rime’s Boyle said styles don’t have longevity.
“The kid doesn’t care what was released last Saturday. He got it or he didn’t, and then he moved on. That’s where the problem lies,” she said.
It also means that strong product that doesn’t have the limited tag gets overlooked, to the detriment of the brands’ core lines.
“[Consumers] don’t come in to shop the store. They know what they want because they saw it on a post five minutes ago or from a preview on a blog six months ago,” said Wasserman. “You could have the best-looking wall in the world, but if you don’t have that one release, you lose the sale.”
To cope, Boyle said she’s been streamlining her main-line buys to keep money and shelf space open for the quick-strike launches.
She also makes sure to stock perennial favorites.
“You need things like your plain [Converse] Jack Purcells in the spring. You have to make sure you have that,” Boyle said.
Meanwhile, at Wish, the shop has had success by getting out of the release-day hubbub and holding onto hot releases for a few days — or even longer — as part of a program the store calls “Wish Strike.”
At West, Wasserman is investing more deeply in the releases he feels strongly about, while buying the bare minimum on the hyped-up shoes that don’t have as much staying power.
“We’re going deeper on what we deem to be the A releases. [For shoes] we just want to say we had [for the credibility], we buy in the smallest possible way,” he said.
Ultimately, Wasserman believes a bigger industry shift could occur.
“Right now, we have a full-court press offense on the customer, with more shoes than they can shake a stick at,” he said. “I just don’t see how that’s ultimately a sustainable model, at the current rate.”