WSA Buyers Still Bullish on Boots

Buyers at last week’s WSA Show said boots at all heights would be key to a profitable fall season.

Echoing the optimistic mood among attendees at the New York-based FFANY event, the majority of retailers interviewed said they expect this year to be better than 2009.

“People are ready to come out of the doldrums,” said Deborah Schuemann, co-owner of Tequesta, Fla.-based Village Bootery.

Because of its warm-weather location, the store has not traditionally included boots in its product mix. However, thanks to the strong fashion trend of boots being worn with skinny jeans and tights, Schuemann said she plans to bring in boots for fall ’10. “Even the more mature clientele want to be part of the look,” the retailer said. “We’re looking for sexy, pretty, feminine boots, some short and some tall.”

After boots, toning footwear ranked high on Schuemann’s shopping list, and she will be marketing it aggressively to her customers through in-store merchandising and direct-mail pieces.

Similarly, Erin Dolan, owner of Seattle-based Edie’s Shoes, said consumers are ready to shop again, and 2010 is already starting out strong. “We had one of the best Januarys in a couple of years,” she said. “People are out there shopping. The outlook is strong.”

Still, Dolan noted that she will be sticking with proven sellers and carefully testing any new brands she might add for fall.

Roger Brooks, owner of Brooks Shoes for Kids, was slightly less optimistic about the timing of a potential turnaround in the economy. “I’m hoping for the holidays of 2010,” he said. “That’s the best I can hope for. The new up is flat.”

Brooks added that even in the kids’ category, boots will dominate the season, so he planned to stock up on a variety of styles at all heights.

William Clark, owner of Florence, Mass.-based ShoeFly, said he would be shopping for booties, as well as mid-height and tall silhouettes, and biker and equestrian boots.

Clark said he did not hold back on inventories last fall and it paid off. For October through December, overall sales were up double digits over 2008. For fall ’10, his buying plan will remain the same. “We’re not expanding it since we were aggressive in 2009,” he said.

Noting that even high-end looks continue to sell, Clark said price does not seem to be an issue for his customers. For example, a riding boot at $595 from Anyi Lu sold out at full price last fall, he said.      

Jeff Langer, CEO of Madison, Wis.-based Morgans Shoes, said his store is coming off a positive 2009, and he expects a repeat performance this year. Contributing to the success once again was Ugg. However, this time around, sales were driven not by the classic boot but by companion looks, such as chunky heel styles and wedges. “The hunger is still there,” he said. “I sold out of almost everything they make.”

Still, Langer said his inventory would be down about 20 percent from a year ago. “I’m not booking on the front side as heavy as we used to,” he said. “We can have a better year with less inventory.” 

Rick Ravel, owner of Karavel Shoes Comfort Center, said for the first time he would not be stocking Ugg for fall, opting for other boot options.

“They’re just everywhere now,” he said. “When Dillard’s is taking out full-page ads [featuring Ugg], they’re everywhere. [Luckily], there are so many boots out there that it won’t be a problem.”

But Ravel said he worried about over-committing to boots and neglecting other categories. “This industry tends to overcorrect, and I hope that everyone doesn’t only carry boots for fall because that would be a mistake,” he said.

For her part, Elyse Kroll, founder and chairman of ENK International, which owns WSA, said she was encouraged by the mood of the show. “It was upbeat. Exhibitors and retailers were pleasantly surprised with the brisk traffic on the show floor,” she said.

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