Retail Guide: Comfort Shopping List

FONTANA’S, Ithaca, N.Y.
Shawn Manning, owner
Store count: 1 (2,000 sq. ft.); est. 1907
Where you’re putting your money for spring: “With our bestsellers again. In our town, people are always looking for comfortable walking sandals. We’re also selling a lot of flip-flops, but with good arch support like those from Chaco.”
Buying strategy: “We try to have a wide variety of products — everything from comfort to fashion — because we have both customers.”
Biggest challenge: “The Internet, but we price everything very competitively and stay on top of that.”
View on the economy: “I believe it’s going to bounce back. It already has a bit. And hopefully it will continue.”
Current bestsellers: Birkenstock, Keen, Dansko, Merrell, Sperry Top-Sider
Hottest new brand: FitFlop
Best price point: $85
Spring ’11 forecast: “We’re looking forward to a good spring and summer. I think business will pick up, and it’s always exciting to reinvent the store every season.”
Next big thing: “Boots, in general, for fall, especially taller boots either on a low heel or flat. Also, the rocker-bottom or fitness soles will continue.”

Edith James, president and founder
Store count: 1 (6,300 sq. ft.); est. 1992
Where you’re putting your money for spring: “Definitely more Finn Comfort [rocker-bottom] styles and styles from New Balance’s walking category. We’ll also be focusing on Ryn and Gabor rocker-sole shoes, which did very well this spring.”
Buying strategy: “Conservative. I wouldn’t be if I didn’t have to be, but that’s just the way business is right now.”
Biggest challenge: “Staffing. My salespeople are frustrated that customers aren’t buying as much as they used to. Our sales are definitely down.”
View on the economy: “[Business is] still tough, but we have a niche. The bad-foot business fills a need. It’s not a frivolous purchase, but a necessity.”
Current bestsellers: Finn Comfort, Aetrex
Hottest new brand: “Finn Comfort, [specifically the] Ikebukuro. It’s one of their new Finnamic styles, and it just blew out. Also Ryn’s rocker-sole shoes because they are very stable walking shoes.”
Best price point: $150 to $250
Spring ’11 forecast: “I’m optimistic it will be wonderful. I try to be positive.”
Next big thing: “Customizable footwear in terms of the guts of the shoes, specifically in the heel-strike area and the ball of the foot. Somnio is very interesting.”

LEBO’S, Charlotte, N.C.
Derek Critcher, buyer
Store count: 7 (avg. 7,500 sq. ft.); est. 1923
Where you’re putting your money for spring: “In the wellness category and in fashion lines that specialize in sizes and widths. We’re looking for better-fitting, fashionable sandals that fit narrow and wide feet.”
Buying strategy: “To analyze our vendor base and drop those that have not performed up to sales standards, while expanding lines that are doing well. Our strategy is more depth, fewer vendors.”
Biggest challenge: “Getting traffic in the stores.”
View on the economy: “It’s sluggish, but I feel like it has bottomed out and there will be growth ahead.”
Current bestsellers: “Dansko, Alegria, Merrell and the whole wellness category, including Skechers Shape-ups.”
Hottest new brands: Olukai, Jambu, Taos
Best price point: $80 for women’s; $90 for men’s
Spring ’11 forecast: “We’re planning an increase through better buying habits and better selection, and traffic will pick up too.”
Next big thing: “Shoes that are more fashionable but still comfortable. Customers are demanding more fashion in comfort, and it’s starting to happen.”

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