B-T-S Retail Grades Uneven

NEW YORK — As the back-to-school season begins to wind down retailers are reporting mixed results.

“With times being tough, people don’t want to spend as much,” said Scott Feathers, owner of the four-door Family Footwear Center chain, with locations in Vermont, Massachusetts and New York. Feathers added that he took a double hit because each of his stores also shut down for a brief period after Hurricane Irene. “It has been a struggle, and we’ve definitely seen a slowdown in business.”

However, he added, “People who are buying are willing to spend a little extra money for higher-quality [shoes]. They just might buy one pair instead of two.”

Brands that were selling well across the board included Stride Rite, Merrell and New Balance, while promotions ranged from significant discounts to no discounts at all. Here, Footwear News checks in with retailers across the country about their back-to-school business.

Ronald Robles, district store manager, Famous Footwear in New York

Hot sellers: “Boat shoes — from Sperry Top-Sider and Rock & Candy — are trending very well for b-t-s. Lightweight running is another good one — especially Nike, Adidas, Reebok and New Balance — because of the great color and shine. Skate shoes are also big. They’re not just for skaters anymore; they’re fashion mainstream.”
Promotional activity: “One of the great things for b-t-s is our buy one, get one half-off sale.”

Debbie Ferrée, vice chairman & chief merchandising officer, DSW Inc.
Hot sellers: “Juniors’ [customers] are really responding to the short booties. They love Steve Madden. Lightweight athletic [is also doing well] in all sorts of colors, [and] Nike is clearly a favorite, but Reebok has a big presence in that as well. Sperry Top-Sider was huge over the spring and summer and is still relevant now.”

Scott Cohen, owner, FootPrints in Newington, Conn.
Hot sellers: “Our top sellers [for b-t-s] are the same as our top sellers throughout the year: New Balance and Merrell. [Juniors’] customers definitely like the takedown of adult shoes, as opposed to footwear that’s more traditional. On the other hand, Stride Rite continues to sell well. Customers come in knowing the name. Keen also continues to be important, and for a fashion name with super-lightweight footwear, Tsukihoshi remains solid.”
Sales report: “Overall, [b-t-s] sales have been pretty flat. It was tough with the hurricane, though fortunately we were not too terribly affected.”
Promotional activity: “We have targeted some consumers with a 10 percent-off back-to-school offer to test the waters with a few new advertising channels and bring in new customers.”

Steve Downs, partner & manager, Generations Family Footwear in Davis, Calif.
Hot sellers: “Keen, Stride Rite and Merrell did well. Keen [shoes] are so durable. They have the big toe box that kids love, and the price is good. Stride Rite has a lot of cute styles, such as Glitzy Pets and Star Wars. Star Wars is on fire. They are flashy and reasonably priced.”
Sales report: “Sales are up about 20 percent. I’m the only store in town with kids’ shoes, and I have a very loyal following.”
Promotional activity: “We didn’t do many promotions, but we did offer a coupon for 10 percent off any two items.”

Richard Price, owner, Alamo Shoes in Chicago
Hot sellers: “The New Balance 688 [for kids] did phenomenal. It’s a very cute shoe and it really took off. We sold out of the Geox Shadow Mary Jane. The Tsukihoshi Child 01 and the Merrell Jungle Moc also did very well.”
Sales report: “Sales have not been declining, which is good, but we haven’t seen any significant increases. When you factor in inflation, price increases and cost increases, I’d say it’s flat.”
Promotional activity: “We took all our kids’ shoes and put them at 10 percent off as a b-t-s incentive.”

Elaine Sinisi, owner, Little Shoebox in Upper Montclair, N.J.
Hot sellers: “Pediped is a top seller. It’s all about sparkle for little girls. There are some Mary Jane looks that we can’t keep in stock. We also sell a lot of Geox, Morgan & Milo and Hunter boots.”
Sales report: “Our sales are up about 5 percent from last year. I buy more of what I know is going to sell as opposed to taking chances. I’m not overdoing it. I’ve narrowed the choices to the tried-and-true.”
Promotional activity: “$5-off coupons through email work really well, and I do that sporadically throughout the year.”

Roz Viemeister, owner, Shoofly in New York
Hot sellers:
“Girls love the Naturino ballet flat that looks like a ballet toe shoe and comes in a lot of colors. It’s not a classic Mary Jane style; it’s a new twist on an old look. For boys, Tsukihoshi is selling well because they love the red and gold. Camper and Morgan & Milo also do well.”
Sales report: “It was a little slow at first, but now we’re off to a good start, and we’re a little above last year. I’m hoping to do better than last year. Fingers crossed: It has been pretty unpredictable for the whole summer.”

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