B-T-S Gets High Marks

NEW YORK — Back-to-school sales are marching forward for many retailers, thanks, in part, to strong early boot sales.

“It has been better than expected,” said Fred Kraft, VP and DMM for shoes at Bon-Ton Stores Inc. “It’s definitely up from last year.”

Hot brands at Bon-Ton this year include Rampage, Rocket Dog and Madden Girl, while ankle boots and shooties are the most popular styles. To drive traffic, the retailer has used direct mail, as well as broadsheet inserts in the Sunday newspapers.

Independent retailers, too, are feeling upbeat about the season.

“Back-to-school sales have been really good so far, [with] August 2010 sales up from August 2009,” said Roz Viemeister, owner of Shoofly, a New York-based children’s retailer. “And sales started to explode around Labor Day.”

The retailer added that she got an early delivery of snow boots, which are “flying off the shelves.”

“People are remembering last winter’s snow storm and want to get ahead,” Viemeister said.

The fall-like temperatures in the Midwest also gave Cleveland-based Next a boost.

“The cool air [has] been driving traffic into the store because people are thinking about buying boots and getting ready for the season,” said Next owner Steve Silver, whose most popular brands include Palladium, Polo and Jeffrey Campbell.

Boots also have been performing well at Shoe Biz in San Francisco, where the weather was much cooler than usual this summer.

“Knee-high boots have been the best-selling style of the lot. My overall boot business is up about 15 percent,” said owner Mehran Esmaili.

At Philadelphia-based Sneaker Villa, buyers said military-style boots and evening booties, all priced between $20 and $40, have been the products seeing the highest sell-throughs.

Outside of boots, Toms Shoes is resonating with male and female customers, retailers reported.

Another good sign for this year’s b-t-s season is the absence of promotional activity. Shoe Biz, Shoofly and Next all said they offered no discounts to get customers into stores.

“We had no promotions, period. We can’t afford to go on sale,” said Esmaili.

Athletic retailers are also reporting solid results this season. Michael Binetti, analyst at UBS Investment Bank, said sneaker sales at athletic and sporting goods retailers rose 4 percent year-over-year in the last week of August, and 9 percent in the first week of September, reflecting an acceleration in b-t-s trends for companies such as Foot Locker going forward.

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