Weather Woes Force Retailers to Overhaul Plans

NEW YORK — Increasingly erratic weather patterns are forcing buyers to significantly overhaul their strategies.

“The [unpredictability] is making it difficult to determine seasons,” said Gretta Monahan, owner of Gretta Luxe in Wellesley, Mass. “I’m selling boots now in spring and open-toe shoes in winter. The seasons have blurred.”

Jede Phillips, product manager at San Francisco-based men’s and women’s e-tailer Travelsmith.com, said she plans to offer more transitional footwear going forward. “I will still carry some spring sandals along with closed-toe options so that we have a well-rounded assortment. This should allow our customer to find a shoe that is suitable for a variety of weather patterns,” Phillips said.

While market analysts remain vocal about the lack of fashion trends weighing on company earnings, Phillips said brands are taking an innovative approach to standing out.

“Color is a current trend vehicle. The styling is reminiscent of previous seasons, but in a fresh palette. We will continue to see comfort technology and fashion merging, so new trends may emerge out of that marriage,” she said.

Emily Jackson, associate product developer at Manchester, Vt.-based Vermont Country Store, said comfort brands were the standout at last week’s FFANY trade show in New York.

“I’m liking the pastels colors and the mix of sportier, classic and high-end look, which is feeding off the strength in the athletic sector,” she said.

The athletic boom suits Margaret Thouez, a buyer at Canadian-based chain Little Burgundy, which caters to the college crowd.

“Our business isn’t so trend-driven, but we do well with brands like Jeffrey Campbell, Dr. Martens, Vans and Converse because our shopper wants those styles,” Thouez said.

For Kelly Elizabeth Johnson, owner and creative director at Miami-based Strut & Sole, the buzz around casual styles fits well in the warmer climates. “Espadrilles and slip-ons are big. In terms of fashion trends, a lot of things are being repeated. Several styles have come back that are timeless, like the d’Orsay heel and the minimal sandal,” she said.

Meanwhile, e-tailers have not been as impacted by the erratic weather since they typically can warehouse goods in and out of season.

Zappos.com’s Mike Normart, senior director of casual lifestyle, said, “Our sandal season begins in April and we sell them until September. We also sell boots through April. People can’t always find things in stores [off-season].”

Still, the company looks at weather predictions and tries to be strategic about its buying strategies. “It’s always challenging since we want to represent whatever the [current] trends are. It [becomes] a balance of how much product to bring in and at what time,” Normart said.

One item on his shopping list for spring ’15 was Birkenstock, a brand that has been “on fire,” he said.

Sharon Smith, DMM for Sears Online Footwear, based in Plano, Texas, said since the weather can’t always be predicted, consumers are increasingly buying items as needed. For instance, they will buy sandals in January and boots going into summer, extending the seasonality of such products.

When it comes to embracing trends, Smith said she customizes them to meet her customers’ taste level. “Everyone has a gladiator, but how can we adapt them to our customer,” she noted.