Buyers Shop Atlanta for Key Items

ATLANTA — After a slow summer season, retailers at the Atlanta Shoe Market, held Aug. 13-15, told Footwear News they were depending on must-have items to propel sales in the coming season and into next spring.

“There is less and less traffic coming through the door,” said Phil Perliss, owner of The Big Store in Tifton, Ga. He added that when customers do come in, they are picking up lower-priced shoe styles, which do little to help his bottom line. “I have to sell a lot of disposable footwear to make up the margins.”

In response, he said he used the trade show to hunt for items that could demand a premium price.

Todd Hill, VP of Hills Shoes in Cana, Va., noted that he was sticking with current bestsellers, such as Merrell, for spring ’11. “The brands that we have seem to be providing what we need, so I’ll be expanding on what we already carry,” he said.

Likewise, Saxon Shoes, which has two locations in Richmond and Fredericksburg, Va., is going deeper with customer favorites. Vicky Ludlam, the children’s shoe buyer, said The North Face has been a big sales driver in the fall with boots and backpacks, and she will now stock it for spring.

“It’s such a recognizable brand, and we wanted to keep that going year-round,” Ludlam said.

Vibram FiveFingers and Sperry Top-Sider were two other brands that were high on retailers’ wish lists in Atlanta, though several buyers complained that Sperry was only accepting future orders due to overwhelming demand.

Indeed, several heritage brands reported an uptick in business at the show.

“We’re feeling a palpable energy from people,” said William Weiss, national director of sales for Hush Puppies, which was touting its new HP 1958 collection of heritage looks updated with top-quality materials.

Among its accounts, Hush Puppies was garnering attention from a new retail channel. “Men’s apparel stores are branching out into shoes, and they’re liking our product,” said Weiss.

A number of storeowners were diversifying their offerings to drum up business.

Work Boots & More, in Waynesville, N.C., began to stock women’s product last year after it expanded its space. Buyer Tammy Sutton said sandals from lines such as Yellow Box and Jambu have been performing well for the store.

Brian Davis, owner of B. Davis Shoes in Starkville, Miss., has been upgrading the fashion story in his store with Think and Mephisto. “The thing about those brands is that you can sell them at regular price and then just fill in what you need,” he said.

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