WSA Buyers Reveal Fall Strategies

LAS VEGAS — Despite strong sales this winter, buyers at last week’s ENKWSA show in Las Vegas were divided on their buying strategies for fall ’11.

While some retailers increased their spend, others were focused on keeping inventories in check.

“I’m expecting [to do] greater things with less inventory,” said Deborah Schuemann, co-owner of Village Bootery in Tequesta, Fla., who reported an uptick in business last fall. “I’m trying to get leaner and smarter and increase [employee] productivity.”

Rick Ravel, owner of Austin, Texas-based Karavel Shoes, also hopes to squeeze the most out of his stock. “[Inventory] turn is my new mantra,” he said.

According to Ravel, boots continue to drive sales. “I had a good boot season. It was one of the few [performing] categories,” he said, citing equestrian looks as a key trend. “I’ll get back into it for fall ’11.”

At Madison, Wis.-based Morgan’s Shoes, CEO Jeff Langner said business was up significantly in 2010. However, like Ravel, he is striving to improve his turns. “I’ll try to do the same amount of business with less inventory,” he said.

Contributing to the store’s success last fall was Ugg. “Our Ugg business was through the roof,” Langner said. “I’ve bought [even] more for fall ’11.”

Andrew Monarch, regional manger of Sunnyvale, Calif.-based Footwear Etc., said he is being more strategic this fall. “Our buying will be more controlled. It will be deeper but more focused,” he said. “We will evaluate our inventory better.”

But not everyone was in a conservative mood at the show.

Jody Finnegan, owner of Bellingham, Wash.-based 12th Street Shoes, said that after a successful fall ’10 season she was increasing her spending. “Sales were up,” she said, noting that consumers were looking for more casual boots on lower heels, from brands such as Eric Michaels last fall.

Also reporting a strong boot season was Lindsey Mitchell, co-owner of Lulu’s Shoes & Accessories in Oxford, Miss. “We sold a ton of boots, especially over-the-knee styles. We had a good response to convertible boots.”

Mitchell said she was shopping the trade show for equestrian, motorcycle and flat boots. Added co-owner Corinne Jackson: “Twenty- to 60-year-old customers can wear a flat boot.”

Phil Aved, owner of Napa, Calif.-based Shoes on First, said that even as he has increased his open-to-buy budget, he plans to reduce the number of SKUs he carries. “I don’t need as big a selection, but more showstopper styles,” he said. “I’m bringing the boot mix down. I’m going narrower and deeper.”

At Las Vegas-based Zappos.com, Jen Taler, assistant buyer for fashion shoes, was scouting the show for wedge-style booties and footwear with covered platforms, furs, shearling trims and tailored looks. “Men’s tailored will be huge,” she predicted.

Overall, retailers were optimistic about the year ahead, according to David Kahan, president of ENKWSA.

“The mood of the buyers was quite upbeat and ran across multiple categories, from fashion to comfort,” he said.

Kahan noted that many retailers were looking for up-and-coming lifestyle brands. “Even traditional comfort stores who may not carry these types of products [walked the show] to see emerging trends,” he said.

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