FFANY Mood Upbeat

NEW YORK — Whether it was lingering optimism from Black Friday or signs of a changing consumer, retailers at the New York FFANY show last week were feeling noticably better.

Most retailers, while still cautious, are planning for a brighter 2010, with improved sales and more excitement among shoppers.

“Flat is the new up for us,” said Erick Cho, senior buyer at Sports Zone, a 28-store chain in Beltsville, Md. Cho said he was on the hunt for product at FFANY that is not stocked widely in other stores. “If the product is less distributed, we will go full force with it. If something’s hot, we will buy it. We won’t cut back on good product. When the national [chains] don’t have it, that’s when we can sell it. Product that’s less distributed creates more demand.”

Meanwhile, Liz Rodbell, SVP and GMM of shoes at Lord & Taylor, said that if fall selling and the consumer’s obsession with boots is any indication, spring could be much brighter than last year. “I really do think it’s getting better,” she said. “People are feeling more positive, and I hope it’s going to be a strong season.”

Still, not all retailers were ready to pronounce an end to the recession. Last week, veteran retailer Peter Hanig, owner of Hanig’s Footwear in Chicago, said he has realistic expectations for spring. “As long as unemployment is higher than 10 percent, consumers will continue to be hesitant,” he said.

Hanig noted that promotions are a necessary part of doing business today. “In reality, some customers won’t pull the trigger unless it’s a promotional item,” he said. “[But] we want to keep it limited. We don’t want to hurt our brand image.”

Robert Yeganeh, president of Long Island, N.Y.-based Love My Shoes, agreed. “There hasn’t been a solid month without a promotion. It’s all about an offer and a promotion to pull them in, and that has really worked for us.”

Customers who are specifically in search of a deal flock to Websites such as Overstock.com, whose footwear buyer, Abby Doll, expressed optimism about the season. “Spring ’10 is going to be strong. I am more hopeful for significant growth [next year],” said Doll. “The consumer is shopping again, and we have great merchandise on our Website.”

Fellow online retailer Andy Shriner, owner of St. Petersburg, Fla.-based Whatapair.com, said he has high hopes for spring and is looking forward to seeing an increase in sales after a rough economic year. Though he saw business increase about 24 percent in 2009, he said he expects 2010 to be considerably better. “It’s getting encouraging,” said Shriner, whose site carries a variety of brands, including Martinez Valero, Skechers and Jeffrey Campell. “If we made it through this year with increases, we’ll be OK.”

Shriner said he does not anticipate having to rely on heavy discounting at any point during the season. “We’ll highlight new brands or will do a special sale, such as 10 percent off rain boots for three days, but we really don’t do a promotional business,” he said.

The same goes for Perla Colón, buyer for America’s Kids boutiques, based in New York.

“The kids’ business is different than the juniors’ or contemporary business,” she said. “We don’t ever discount like they do. We’re kind of in our own world in that regard.”

Colón added that she expects spring to be strong and was shopping the FFANY show to find fashion shoes that entice young moms. “We want something that young, fashionable moms see and fall in love with,” she said, noting that the store does well with brands like Baby Phat and Rocawear.

“Spring should be good for us because kids’ shoes need to be replaced,” said Colón. “They beat them up quickly, or grow out of them. Sometimes a child will go through three pairs of shoes per year.”

Other retailers were planning to thwart heavy promotional activity through creative marketing.

David Randall, owner of Central Station Shoes in Baldwin, N.Y., said he will be hosting in-store fashion shows this spring. “We’re not going to have big posters in the windows advertising 50 percent off,” he said of his shop, which caters to men and women.

But Randall is not ignoring his product assortment. To add excitement, he is looking for new men’s brands to bolster a mix that includes Nike, Timberland and K-Swiss. He is also expanding a limited selection of women’s product to include styles from Carlos by Carlos Santana and Michael Antonio.

Pascal Aydijian, president of Angie’s Shoes in Palmyra, N.J., is taking a similar approach, saying retailers have to work harder for the business this year. “[Customers] need more selection when business is slow,” said the retailer, who expects business to be up between 5 percent and 15 percent over last spring. “You have to put the customer in the mood [to shop]. If you have the right price, right look and right promotion, they have an appetite to buy.”

Kay and Art Mann, owners of women’s boutique John Wright in Wrightsville, Pa., also attended the show in New York with plans to introduce a couple of new brands to their shop’s limited footwear selection, which currently includes Eliza B and Havaianas.

“We have some space in the store and we’re looking to add some higher-end items [like Dansko and Frye],” said Kay Mann, who noted that the store saw a 20 percent increase in business this year after it started stocking handbags and other accessories.

Looking toward spring, Mann said she is hopeful that the broader mix of footwear will bring an even bigger sales boost. “It can only go up,” she said. “We’re phasing out parts of the store that haven’t been big revenue generators, and hope to add brands with a good following.”

Love My Shoes’ Yeganeh said a smart business strategy is the key to success in this environment. “If you budget yourself right, if you take a look at customers and product mix, there is plenty of room,” he said. “We’re lucky enough to have a nice customer base and we expect it to pay off, if not for spring, then for fall.”

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