Retailers Upbeat at Sole Commerce Show

NEW YORK — Though retailers at ENK’s Sole Commerce show last week had different buying strategies for fall ’11, most agreed on one thing: Customers are shopping again.

“Consumer confidence is coming back in a very strong way,” said Adam Bernhard, CEO of online retailer Hautelook.com, which was acquired last week by Nordstrom Inc. “Our footwear business has expanded dramatically. We’ve had a more than 100 percent increase.”

Bernhard declined to comment on what brands he was looking forward to seeing, but did say boots would continue to be a major trend this fall.

Pamela Neumann, buyer for Bensalem, Pa.-based women’s chain Fashion Bug, was also bullish about the category. “Wedge boots, riding boots and boots with fur will be a big trend,” she said, adding that she is planning for a slight increase in buying. “Boots will be the biggest increase, but overall buying will be closer to flat.” Neumann noted she was interested in styles from Steve Madden and Frye.

Danielle Pflederer, owner of Azura boutique in Peoria Heights, Ill., was also upbeat on the upcoming season. “I’m very optimistic because we saw a steady increase in 2010,” she said. Pflederer’s pickups included House of Harlow, Ash, Plenty by Tracy Reese and Kenneth Cole Gentle Soles.

After scaling back about 30 percent during the recession, Alain Dayan, partner and buyer for Style Exchange in Mount Pleasant, S.C., was seeking to increase his buys. “That’s the priority right now,” he said.

Looking mostly for high boots, wedge boots and styles embellished with zippers in the $200 to $600 range, Dayan was not too concerned about prices. “Right now, the look is more important; before it was price,” he said.

Not all stores were as enthusiastic about upping the ante on prices. For King of Prussia, Pa.-based Stiletto, affordability is still a major selling point for customers, according to co-owner Dez Moore.

“Women are price-shopping like crazy,” she said. “Anything under $100 has been working very well.” As a result, Moore has been taking smaller margins on sales.

With six doors in Houston and three in the Florida panhandle, Soho owner Philip Markey found shopping the show difficult because the weather in his locations rarely calls for true winter looks. “This show is driven by cold weather, [so it’s tough] for us,” Markey said. “But if it’s fashionable, we’ll buy.”

While Markey was mostly placing orders with brands he already carries — including Jeffrey Campbell, Koolaburra, Sam Edelman and Toms Shoes — he was open to adding new names to the mix. “We don’t sell anything [too] traditional, and we always have to look at the newest trends,” he said, adding that Swedish Hasbeens is one label he was considering for fall.

Larry Sorcher, owner of Al’s Bootery in Spring Lake, N.J., said he was not in a rush to buy and instead would make purchases closer to the fall season. “I can always buy inventory,” he said. “I buy slow and easy. That’s my strategy.” — With contributions from Marcie Young

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