Shoe Execs Debate Market Drivers

Footwear executives kicked off FN Platform Monday with a discussion highlighting widespread market trends, from boots and sandals to toning and barefoot running.
“In terms of fashion right now, there are so many trends colliding,” said Scott Prentice, VP of sales at Calvin Klein Footwear, who spoke on the Sterne Agee-sponsored panel moderated by company analyst Sam Poser.
Other speakers included Rick Ausick, president of Famous Footwear; Cliff Sifford, EVP of Shoe Carnival; Steve Silver, owner of the Next chain; Isack Fadlon, owner of Sportie LA; and Ilse Metchek, president of the California Fashion Association.
Major trends for fall, the panel noted, include the enduring Americana look in the men’s category, preppy boat shoes, tall boots and toning and minimal running styles.
“The athletic business seems to be on everyone’s mind,” said Silver, noting that performance basketball sneakers are doing well. “[But] fashion footwear continues to expand, [and] we’re looking at a strong trend in canvas shoes.”
Fadlon added that at his stores he’s looking to new treatments on classic sneaker styles. “Color pops are still important, but as accents rather than full blocks,” he said. “We’re also seeing vulcanized outsoles and not just with canvas uppers.”

Overall, Fadlon added, consumers seem to be less focused on brand names. “They don’t care as much about having those three stripes,” he said. “If a shoe looks good and the price is right, they’ll buy that.”
While boots will continue to lead the market going into the fall season, many panelists said they are also keeping an eye on barefoot and toning, categories that have exploded over the past year.
“When the consumer tells you they are so enthusiastic and they love something, as retailers, you have to put it in front of them,” said Ausick, adding that Famous Footwear did more that $100 million in toning last year. “We’re selling more that ever now, and the key is how to make money at lower price points.” The sweet spot for toning, he said, is in the $60-to-$80 range.
Keeping on top of key market trends, however, is also dictated by how quickly retailers respond to what’s working with consumers, said Sifford. “Once the product hits the floor, you have to watch it,” he said. “If it doesn’t work, you need to get it out of there [and move on to the next trend].”
Identifying and implementing trends is also complicated by the fast-paced environment of social media and blogs, said Metcheck. “Trends [move so fast]. They are over by the time this show is over,” she said, noting that consumers often see product long before it hits shelves. “As soon as we think it’s new, the customer, who is crossing so many distribution channels, is over it.”
The other big challenge, panelists agreed, is pricing and the inevitable increase on fall ’11 product. “[It] is our biggest question,” Ausick said, adding that boots, which require considerably more material, will inevitably carry a higher price tag. “It will be interesting to see how much we can get from consumers on the product.”
While other panelists didn’t ballpark potential increases, Ausick said prices could go up between 5 percent and 15 percent for some categories. “We have to figure something out because we’re not going to make less money,” he said.

Access exclusive content