Footwear Insiders Sound Off at Sterne Agee Panel

Analysts, vendors and independent retailers talked trends, tourists and keeping sales strong in a challenging economy at Monday morning’s Sterne Agee breakfast panel at FN Platform.

Dressy styles inspired by 1960s fashion have been a standout trend for both the men’s and women’s markets, according to Beth Goldstein, senior category specialist for fashion footwear and accessories at The NPD Group Inc.

“We were in casual mode for a few years, but now people want to get back to a simpler time, a little more elegant [time],” she said.

Other panelists agreed, referencing Banana Republic’s new “Mad Men” line of apparel, inspired by the hit AMC show.

Exciting colors are also hot sellers in the women’s market. Gary Hauss, president of the J Stephens Shoes chain in California and Arizona, said he will be looking to follow suit for men’s styles in spring ’12.

Fall — and boots — were also on panelists’ minds.

“We’re very bullish about the boot business,” said Scott Prentice, VP of sales for Jimlar Corp., owner of the Frye brand.

Goldstein added that boots accounted for 60 percent of women’s fashion sales last year, and she expects this season to be strong as well.

As far as who’s buying, the devaluation of the U.S. dollar has meant tourists are driving the market in a big way, according to Abe Rogowsky, owner of Shoe Parlor in New York. “Everyone from around the world is coming to New York,” he said.

Zacky Joseph, owner of the Zacky’s footwear and apparel store, also in New York, said his customer base tends to be European.

In addition to tourists, excellent customer service and strong, flexible vendor connections are helping retailers stay afloat during uncertain times, according to panelists. “It’s all about relationships,” Hauss said.

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