Shopping List: Comfort

Bob Schwartz, owner, president & CEO

Store count: 3 (average 5,000 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1909
Hunting for: “We’re looking for high-margin products, not your keystone brands, but items that will produce more profitability. I will go [to the shows] with a very open mind, but a limited pocketbook.”
Strategy shift: “We’re shrinking the price point we look for, from $300 to $100. We’re also going to lean more toward in-stock merchandise.”
View on the economy: “It’s tough. We’ve been down 11 of the last 13 months in our Manhattan store. We need fresh things that say ‘we’re new, fresh and different.’”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “Be cautious. You’re going to be disappointed if you think you’re going to have big increases. Also, don’t overbuy heading into the season.”
Current bestsellers: Aetrex, New Balance, SAS, MBT, Mephisto
Best price point: “Between $100 and $200.”
Fall ’09 forecast: “We should be able to hold fall ’09 versus fall ’08 because that was so bad. December could be the sleeper, though, because people may get back into feeling a little more luxurious.”
Hottest new brands: FitFlops, Hunter
Next big thing: “Rocker-sole technology.”
On the way out: “The jelly revolution is over and the flip-flop revolution has to slow down. What’s really on its way out, though, is frivolity.”

John Riker, owner

Store count: 7 (average 2,000 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1969
Buying plan: “We look for European fashion comfort with details. We focus on being unique and different, but comfort and fashion are key.”
Hunting for: “Metallics and gladiator sandals for women. We’re looking for some stylish walking shoes and want to broaden our men’s collection.”
Strategy shift: “We just need to keep it tight, stay focused and really zero in on what rings the register the most.”
View on the economy: “It’s coming back slowly but surely. The first quarter was very challenging, the second quarter was a little better.”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “Be a bit more open-minded. We have to be willing to take a risk.”
Current bestsellers: Rieker, Finn Comfort, Gabor, 1803, Ariat
Best price point: “$120 to $150 for women; $150 to $200 for men.”
Hottest new brands: Ariat, Auri
Next big thing: “Probably the wellness category — products offering support.”
On the way out: “Over-the-top prices.”

BENJAMIN LOVELL, Wilmington, Del.
John Holden, GMM

Store count: 6 (average 2,000 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1990
Buying plan: “Every season we add a handful of new brands, even though we always have the same 20 core vendors.”
Hunting for: “Value.”
Strategy shift: “There’s a short list of five vendors that we’re partnering with, and I’ll buy first from them pretty thoroughly. We never bought price as a category, and now I’m starting to think about that more.”
View on the economy: “I hope we’ve seen the worst of it, but we’re still down. I’m thinking that where we are now is probably going to stay like this for a little while.”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “Buy fewer sandals and bring in stuff later.”
Current bestsellers: Naot, Clarks, Thierry Rabotin
Best price point: “It’s trending down to just over $100.”
Fall ’09 forecast: “Pretty flat from last fall, when numbers started to go down. I’m hoping we can be within even or 10 percent down on last fall.”
Hottest new brands: Fly London
Next big thing: “That’s what I go to the shows for. I’m just looking to see what’s out there. Customers are looking for shoes that do everything — that are good looking, comfortable and versatile.”
On the way out: “Overpriced fashion brands out of Europe.”

EASTON SHOES, Columbus, Ohio
Lenny & Marcia Comeras, co-owners

Store count: 1 (3,750 sq. ft.)
Open since: 1954
Buying plan: “We’re hoping not to have to cut back too much. We think we’re going to be able to keep with the numbers we’ve bought. ”
Strategy shift: “Buy closer to the season.”
View on the economy: “It’s coming around. We’re seeing resistance to buying multiple pairs, especially in the expensive product, so we offer incentives during promotions.”  
Lesson learned from spring ’09: “We need to be ready to fill in faster and be much more efficient with our fill-ins.”
Current bestsellers: Thierry Rabotin, Finn Comfort, SAS, Beautifeel, MBT
Best price point: “$225 for Finn Comfort sandals.”
Fall ’09 forecast: “It’s going to be positive. The men’s business is always difficult, but we’ve been developing it.”
Hottest new brands: “It’s still a secret, but it’s an Italian brand that used to produce for Coach, and we’re going to be the first store in the country with it.”
Next big thing: “A comfortable plain pump for women, and boat shoes for men.”
On the way out: “Sooner or later, Ugg and Crocs have to slow down and die.”

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