Retailers Step Up Fall Buys

LAS VEGAS — Bring on the boots.

At FN PLATFORM and its companion tradeshows, held here Feb. 16-18, retailers were once again buying heavily into boots, believing the styles — from military and motorcycle to Western and over-the-knee — will continue to be more than just a seasonal item.

“Boots are the ‘it’ thing,” said Steve Silver, co-owner of Cleveland-based Next, which sells men’s and women’s shoes, as well as apparel.

Likewise, after posting healthy results with boots last fall, executives at Boston’s The Tannery said they expect the category to be even stronger in the coming season.

“The boot in general is where the trend is right now,” co-owner Tarek Hassan said, noting that looks from Red Wing, Timberland, Hunter, Frye and Ugg top his list.

Hassan said he will increase his overall buy about 25 percent for fall to accommodate his newest store, which had a soft opening in November, and to boost inventory in all doors.

In other parts of the country, the category also remained in demand.

“I’m loving boots in varying colors of gray,” said Laurel Tate, co-owner of Two Sole Sisters in Boulder, Colo. “I also like the detail that is out there right now — the buckles, something with a little edge.”

Retailers said they believed consumers, who made steep cuts in spending once the economy began to crater, were now willing to buy again, though ever so gingerly and with value in mind.

On-trend product at the right price point will help make 2010 a stronger year, said Jim Ware, owner of Roswell, Ga.-based Shoe Gallery.

Ware plans to focus on “hot fashion” brands, such as Steve Madden and Nine West.

“These days, [consumers] are looking for price,” added Issam Qutob, a buyer at Newark, Calif.’s New Image.

With that in mind, some buyers weren’t willing to take too many risks. Instead, they were sticking with past successes.

Take, for instance, Abe Rogowsky, owner of Shoe Parlor in New York. The veteran retailer said he would buy “all my basics” upfront, then chase trends later. “I won’t be buying any new brands,” he said. “I have all the good brands already. The people I partner with — like Frye, Timberland and Hunter — are great companies, so I’m looking to expand with them and go a bit deeper.”

Still, others said they needed to gamble a bit more to tempt customers.

Sherman Evans, buyer for Utopia in Charleston, S.C., cautioned that product can’t have the same “flatness” as in prior seasons.

“We had a 15 percent drop in sales for holiday, but that was because we bought conservatively and didn’t take any risks. We predicted doom and gloom, and that’s how customers responded,” he said. “We’re going to be more festive for fall ’10. Color is selling, and we’re going to be buying more of that.”

While most retailers said they still had lingering concerns about consumer spending, many planned to beef up their buys.

Coming off a rough 2009, David Jassem, president and owner of David’s Shoes in Beverly Hills and El Segundo, Calif., said he was considering purchasing 20 percent more for fall ’10 over last year.

And because his buys were so conservative last season, Jassem said he was using the show to pick up some spring ’10 styles, as well.

“We came [here] because we’re hoping to see some new brands,” said Jassem, who was looking to add lower price points, in the $80-to-$150 range, to his assortment, which includes Stuart Weitzman, Donald J Pliner and Kate Spade.

“Last fall was very difficult for us, so we know that whatever did sell last year will be good for us in 2010,” he said. “We’re feeling better. We’re still very cautious, but at least we’re one year smarter.”

Key styles for fall, Jassem said, will include boots, booties and shoes on platforms or with mid-to-low heels.

Similarly, Jill Stapleton, owner of She She Shoes, which opened about a year ago in Los Gatos, Calif., said she planned to raise her buys 10 percent.

“It’s going to be much stronger,” she said of her mix, which includes Kate Spade, Seven for All Mankind, Bernardo and Claudia Ciuti.

Stapleton expects one of the store’s best-selling brands — Kate Spade — to remain a top performer, but added that she also was eyeing edgier lines, such as Nanette Lepore and Elizabeth & James.

But not everyone was widening their wallets. Emily Waldron, buyer at Seattle-based Onlineshoes.com, expected the e-tailer’s purchases to mirror 2009. “We’ll buy flat compared with last year,” she said.

For her part, Leslie Gallin, VP of footwear for FN PLATFORM, said retailers and exhibitors were “cautiously optimistic.”

“With real estate prices starting to show some increases, these things will start to trickle down and hit the retailing community,” she said. “We’re all about to be in a positive place again.”

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