Shopping List: Athletic

VILLA (formerly Sneaker Villa), Philadelphia
Patrick Walsh, VP of marketing

Store count: 25 (average 4,500 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1989
Buying plan: “To provide consumers with the latest in urban fashion.”
Hunting for: “Performance running at an affordable price.” 
Strategy shift: “We’re in rough neighborhoods that are economically challenged, [so we need to] make sure we’re bringing in products at better price points.”
View on the economy: “It’s challenging, but it forces us to be better merchants. When the economy is down, it just means that those who are good will survive and those who aren’t won’t be around [afterward].”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “Weather is unpredictable. Make sure you’re ready for spring, but not overexposed.”
Current bestsellers: “High-tops. Also Adidas Superstars, Converse Chuck Taylors, Nike ACG, Nike Blazers and Nike Dunks.”
Best price point: “Nike ACG sneakers for around $70.”
Fall ’09 forecast: “I believe the market is flattening and the worst is behind us. People are looking for value, and value doesn’t mean cheap.”
Next big thing: “A resurgence of the traditional brands — Adidas, Chuck Taylors.”
On the way out: “High-tops.”

THE SPORTS ZONE, Beltsville, Md.
Steve Sinnott, CEO

Store count: 28 (average 4,000 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1987
Buying plan: “We always bring in launch shoes because we have to have the right products to establish our credibility. But then we take risks on emerging brands.”
Hunting for: “We’re looking for a new direction in outdoor footwear and a better focus on what I call barbecue tennis shoes, what you would wear to the park on Saturday.”
Strategy shift: “My unit counts are down 20 percent. We’re carrying less inventory. We’re fresher, and we have less distressed inventory to get rid of, which frees up our ability to buy closeouts, so we’re able to do margin-enhancement product.”
View on the economy: “We’re in more of a recession-proof market, but people are still freaked out and they need a reason to buy, quite simply.”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “It’s important to realize that trends don’t carry over from one season to the next. Your last buy is your worst buy.”
Current bestsellers: “Nike is back on top for men. For women, Punk Rose, and some of the off-brands like Deréon and Pastry.”
Best price point: “In men’s about $70 and in women’s $50 to $55; kids is $40 to $45.”
Hottest new brand: Punk Rose
On the way out: “Vulcanized footwear.”

ALL CITY KICKS, Grand Rapids, Mich.
Edwin Victory, co-owner

Store count: 1 (1,500 sq. ft.)
Open since: 2005
Buying plan: “A lot of the brands we carry, including Creative Recreation, DC Life Collection and Alife, aren’t [represented] around here, so we’re trying to bring different brands to the area.”
Strategy shift: “It’s all about ordering. We have to order less during these times, and I’m looking to downsize what I bring in.”
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “I have to order fewer women’s sneakers.”
Current bestsellers: Nike, Creative Recreation
Best price point: $100
Fall ’09 forecast: “Last fall we did OK. I hope we do better this year.”
Hottest new brands: Alife, DC
Next big thing: “Basic colors, the blacks and browns.”
On the way out: “Anything with a lot of color. With the economy being down, people can’t afford to do all the colors.”

BOWS & ARROWS, Berkeley, Calif.
Jerry Harris, owner

Store count: 1 (1,200 sq. ft.)
Open since: 2006
Buying plan: “I focus the majority of our orders on brands that dominate sales, but I’m always looking for brands that present forward-thinking style.”
Hunting for: “Tried-and-true brands that work to come out with new styles rather than just rely on the same old stuff.”
Strategy shift: “I’m prebooking more conservatively. I used to prebook everything I liked, and now I’m being a lot more choosy. I’m also trying to chase at-once inventory.”
View on the economy: “There are still a lot of factors that could make things considerably worse or better from here. [The more there are] markdowns across the board, the more prices will be depressed, with smaller margins for everyone.”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “Don’t prebook as much and don’t be as impulsive. I’ve seen such a relentless amount of product on sale because [stores] continuously overbuy.”
Current bestsellers: Vans, Nike
Best price point: “$40 Chuck Taylors.”
Fall ’09 forecast: “Fall will be really telling as far as where we are in the downturn. If retailers are overly optimistic and buy too much, they’ll end up desperately dumping product for half off, and it will be a long, tough holiday.”
Hottest new brands: Clae, Sperry Top-Sider, Toms Shoes, PF Flyers
Next big thing: “We’re bound to see some dressed-up stuff come back, such as full-grain leathers or workwear-inspired stuff.”
On the way out: “The really bright, flashy sneakers peaked sometime early last year, and it’s been dwindling for a while.”

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