New Stores Face Big Struggles

NEW YORK — The dismal retail climate has many newly opened footwear independents fighting to survive.

“It’s so hard right now,” said Lori McKiernan, owner of Loriana’s Shoe Boutique in Robbinsville, N.J., that opened last September. “I’ll have a decent day here, or sell two pairs there, which makes me hopeful. I’d like to hang in there, but I’ve had a lot of zero days, which is very disheartening.”

McKiernan — who obtained funding to open just before the market collapse last fall — has been forced to heavily discount product, sometimes by as much as 70 percent, to drive traffic. She has also been advertising in local papers, but that has failed to boost sales.

Those zero days have been all too common for Gustavo Serrano, who opened his Suite Sole sneaker store with his wife in late September in Charleston, S.C.

“We were in the process of finishing the store when everything started to hit the fan,” he told Footwear News. “But you’re on the train and you have to ride it.” Stocked with marquee styles from Nike, Clae and Adidas, the store surpassed Serrano’s expectations in the first few weeks, but since then, business has slowed dramatically.

“It’s a crazy time for business. It’s just depressing,” he said. His 4-year-old clothing store, B’Zar, is closing this month. “You put so much effort and time and money in and you know you’ve got the hot product, but when you have to sell it at a price where you can’t make a dime, you think, why am I even in business?”

Though he’s hoping for an upswing at Suite Sole, Serrano said he is realistic about the future. “I don’t have a set date [for closing], I’m just trying to stay as positive as possible, but if people don’t buy sneakers, then we won’t be around,” he said. “I’ll give it a year or so, and if all hell breaks loose, we’ll have to close. This culture of shoppers has definitely been scarred with a frugal purchasing mentality.”

Dan Mann, founding partner of The Mann Group, a retail growth consulting firm, said a cash-strapped, price-driven consumer is making the retailing business extremely difficult. “As a result, fewer retailers are going to thrive,” he said. To that end, California independents Twenty-Two Shoes and Il Primo Passo closed recently, mirroring a trend among many larger chains that have been trimming back their store count.

Even still, some retailers are vowing to stick it out.

“Stores that have been open for five or more years know what ‘great’ business is, and we really don’t,” said Julie Caetano of Modesto, Calif.-based Grace & Daniel for Her and Him, the men’s and women’s clothing and footwear boutique she opened with her sister in November. “We don’t have anything to compare [business] to, so we’re in it for the long haul.”

Laura Flynn, owner of Newport, R.I.-based Laura Jean denim boutique, which reopened in December with the addition of shoes from Donald J Pliner, Stuart Weitzman and Frye, agreed. “This [environment] just makes me be more proactive,” said Flynn, whose store sits next to the International Tennis Hall of Fame, which attracts 100,000 visitors each year. “I just met with a consultant who is helping me budget efficiently. And I have to make sure I have what my consumers need and nothing more. I’m sticking with what I know works for sure.”

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