Retailers Stay Cautious at FFANY Show

NEW YORK — As the shaky economy continues to worsen, retailers are bracing themselves for a tough year and continue to edit everything from inventory levels to employee hours.

Independent retailers interviewed during last week’s FFANY show, held here Feb. 4-6, said they have been forced to look at their businesses in different ways, with some offering sales for months at a time and others buying closer to the season.

Marina Daneli, owner of Oh Shoes in Fresh Meadows, N.Y., said she is cutting her inventory by 25 percent and because of the worsening economy has no choice but to use more promotions to bring in shoppers.

“I don’t have anything full price, and I don’t think I will go full price at all this year,” she said. “I’m cutting my margins and making less profits. You have to sell close to cost because of [the low prices at] discount [chains].”

After retailers were forced to retool their buying strategies for spring when sales began to slow drastically, many are now approaching the fall season in the same way.

“I buy in the season. It’s really the only way to do business right now,” said John Ruffo, owner of Zoomin in Torrence, Calif. Ruffo also is sticking with vendors he bought from in the past, gambling on few new brands.

Others, such as Betsy Fisher Albaugh, owner of Washington, D.C.-based Betsy Fisher, said they had a little more flexibility heading into fall. “I was cautious [for spring], so I came ready to buy,” said Albaugh, who was stocking up on Aquatalia rainboots.

Albaugh was on the hunt for product available for immediate delivery and for moderately priced fashion items — a strategy she said should help fuel business at her Dupont Circle shop, which caters mostly to lawyers, journalists and other professional women.

“People will continue to do what they are doing now,” she said. “Which is watch every penny and buy when there’s a good value.”

Niche retailers, however, may have an edge during tough economic times, said Ann Szerencsy, owner of the Oceanside, N.Y.-based Internet company Widewidths.com. She exclusively sells wide-calf boots and said she only recently adjusted her buying strategy for FFANY, when sales dropped 5 percent in December and 20 percent in January.

Szerencsy said she usually orders more than 1,000 boots each season, but plans to buy about 10 percent less this time.

Still, she said she feels a little more isolated from the poor economy. “I’m so niche, and the people who are in those niche markets really have an in,” Szerencsy said. “I haven’t been affected as much.”

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