Retailers Search for Value

LAS VEGAS — Amid concerns over sourcing challenges in China and vendors’ ability to deliver product on time, retailers were on the hunt for smartly priced, fashionable product at the FN Platform show, held here Aug. 16-19.

“Shoes have always been an item of need, and they also have become an affordable way to update an outfit,” said Shoe Carnival EVP and GMM Cliff Sifford. “The consumer is looking for value; it’s not about prices. They want the latest fashion, good brands and extreme comfort.”

Similarly, DSW Vice Chairwoman Debbie Ferrée said the chain’s discount positioning gives it an advantage in uncertain economic times.

“The wind is at our back,” she said. “I’m also optimistic because I like what I’m seeing [for spring]. I’m seeing some exciting freshness that will energize and refuel the business.”

Ferrée added that softer looks were on her shopping list for spring.

“Nothing can have a hard edge,” she said. “There might be studs, but they are softer. Everything is more feminine.”

In general, retailers told Footwear News they were banking on color, sandals, espadrilles and lower heel heights to add freshess to store shelves.

“The one thing I don’t want to see is a 6-inch heel,” said Robyn Dunn, owner of Midvale, Utah-based boutique The Perfect Dress, which focuses in bridal and special-occasion shoes. “I want a 4-inch heel that’s comfortable and looks great.”

Dunn was searching the show for atypical styles, such as bridal boots and colorful bridal shoes. Among her favorites were Benjamin Adams, Paris Hilton’s bridal styles and Lauren Jones Footwear. Still, Dunn was being careful about her color choices.

“[Customers] want color, but it’s hard to buy 12 pairs of the same blue shoe,” Dunn said. “Not everyone is going to want that same blue.”

Sarah Graves, store manager for Eugene, Ore.-based Burch’s, said she, too, was looking for unique shades, including mustard-yellow, green and blue hues with a hint of teal, though she admitted that black shoes would still likely be the store’s No. 1 seller in terms of color.

Graves added that she was also shopping to diversify and layer her pricing strategy. For example, she wanted an inexpensive rainboot and found a Nomad style priced at $39.

However, she said, news out of China made her worried that many of her favorite styles would not actually go into production.

“There’s a lot of talk about all the delays in China,” she said. “So we have to wonder, will we really get what we want when we want it?”

Tip Top Shoes owner Danny Wasserman also expressed concern that China would add a wrinkle to buying strategies, but he still planned to play it close with his inventory.

“I’m buying closer to season, but I think it will be more difficult because of China deliveries,” Wasserman said.

For now, Wasserman said, he will stock up on boots and buy more heavily into Toms Shoes.

Toms was also high on the shopping list of Tarek Hassan, co-owner of The Tannery. The beauty of the Toms business, Hassan explained, is that it does not pilfer sales from other categories and is an add-on purchase.

“You can have flip-flops and Toms, and the customer will pick both,” Hassan said. “We’re going very heavy with Toms for next spring.”

Hassan added that he also liked rope-heeled wedges from Jeffrey Campbell and Eric Michael. “Anything on a wedge is going to be important and very big.”

And while the economic news does not paint a cheery picture for spring, Hassan said that having the right brands in stock would still entice customers to buy.

“There are some hot brands you must have, and if you have them, you will do fine,” he explained. “There are a lot of great things in the market right now — Vibram FiveFingers, Toms, Ugg, Hunter and Frye.”

Henri Rafael, owner of El Paso, Texas-based Versailles, noted that sharp buying can neutralize the effects of the economy. In fact, he decided earlier this year to increase the size of his store to keep up with demand.

“If you have just the right product, price doesn’t matter,” he said. “I have [had] a good summer, and that’s why I was just able to expand from 1,500 square feet to 3,500 square feet [down the street].”

Rafael was primarily picking up basic, well-designed evening shoes with a touch of glam.

“I just worked with Bourne and Lola Cruz [on some rhinestone looks],” he said. “They are really elegant.”

Also, Rafael added, he hoped to find lower heel heights.

“Platform high heels are something everyone is doing, [but] not everyone wants huge heels,” he said.

Tina Passalaqua, buyer for Deegie’s Carma in Scottsdale, Ariz., said her worries were mostly centered on selecting the right product at the right price. Beyond that, the economy has not been a major concern for her.

“I feel very positive about where we are with price,” Passalaqua said. “Eighty-five percent of what we sell will be less than $100, but it will still be edited and fashionable.”

Lynn Garrett, owner of Cleveland-based Exceptional Menswear, said he was shopping for shoes that would help his clientele make the transition from wider-legged to more narrow pant silhouettes.

“I’ve already ordered [some styles] from Donald J Pliner,” Garrett said. “His shoes were right there for me and my customers. I’m looking for more of the European look.”

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