Platform Buyers Bet on Versatility

LAS VEGAS — Retailers at FN Platform, which ran from Feb. 13-15 at the Las Vegas Convention Center, were rolling the dice on the trade show floor when it came to ordering boots for fall ’12.

The unusually warm 2011 season had left many with flat sales on cold-weather styles for fall and no way to predict what might happen weather-wise in 2012.

Still, most of the buyers Footwear News spoke to during the show reported an overall confidence about the direction of the footwear market, as well as excitement about fresh brands and versatile styles.

Chris Daffara, national buyer for women’s modern shoes at Nordstrom, said booties would be a good bet for fall ’12.

“Booties in general work across the country better than tall boots,” Daffara said. “You can sell booties pretty well in California and Florida, but when the boot market is all about [taller] equestrian [styles] as it was last year, it’s a bit of a tougher sell [in warmer areas].”

However, Daffara added that because Nordstrom customers in his department tend to shop for fashion as opposed to utility, all kinds of women’s boots saw steady sales last fall, despite the non-wintry weather.

“I’m optimistic about fall ’12,” he said. “There’s a good mix of core [styles] and trends.” Daffara noted that ballet flats are a mainstay at Nordstrom, and he listed short boots with an Americana influence, as well as women’s shoes with color blocking, as top trends for the fall season.

Smaller retailers were taking a more reserved approach.

David Zaken, owner of the eight-door, New York-based shoe store David Z, said he planned to keep his buying for fall ’12 tight. “I’m not seeing a whole lot of newness,” he said.

But Zaken added that in spite of a warmer-than-usual winter, the season’s sales were healthy, owing to Ugg boots. If not for that brand, he explained, business would have been off for the season. “It doesn’t matter what the temperature is, people want that [Ugg] product,” Zaken said.

Likewise, David Astobiza, president of the 10-door, Santa Rosa, Calif.-based Sole Desire chain, was focusing on styles that could sell in any kind of weather and was keeping his buying plans reined in.

“The last four years have been tough,” Astobiza said. “We’re planning our business to be the same as in 2011. We’re not buying for big increases.”

Bracing for what might be another mild winter, as well as what he sees as a possible slowdown during the presidential election, Astobiza was looking for fewer cold-weather products, instead looking at styles with longer shelf lives. He added new brands such as Cobb Hill, as well as more flats and booties. Key vendors on Astobiza’s shopping list included Earthies and Taos.

Isack Fadlon, co-owner of the five-door Sportie LA chain in Los Angeles and San Diego, said he would mainly focus on adding new styles from the stores’ tried-and-true labels, which include Adidas, Creative Recreation and Keds.

However, he also had his eye on Australian brand Volley, which is launching stateside for spring ’12, as well as Kangaroos, now being reimagined by twin brothers Shane and Shawn Ward.

Fadlon said weather had not been an issue for his Southern California business this past winter and he was expecting a stronger fall ’12.

“In-store, you’re seeing the consumer spending a bit more,” he noted. “The resistance of certain price points is waning a bit. Also, we’re seeing consumer confidence turn. It’s not a drastic, overnight turnaround, but over the last quarter, improvement continues.”

Gina Hanna, VP of World Class Footwear in Miami, was also optimistic, but still going easy on the boots.

“We didn’t sell any boots for [fall ’11],” she said, while predicting that fashionable booties would do well for fall ’12. Hanna added that, at Platform, her store was looking for elusive brands and standout styles to entice customers.

Ash is one label that has performed well at World Class Footwear in the past, and the store placed orders for some of its fall styles. “It’s different. It’s not everywhere, and the sporty [look] is on trend,” Hanna said.

World Class Footwear also plans to add Rachel Zoe for fall and expand its men’s offerings from Donald J Pliner, given that Pliner’s shoes sold well for the retailer this spring. “Customers are very name-oriented in Florida,” said Hanna.

Alternatively, Phil Aved, owner of Shoes on First in Napa, Calif., noted that lesser-known names and labels gave his store an edge over increased competition from the Internet.

And like many retailers, Aved added that he was holding off on winter-oriented footwear. “I’m not going to invest more money in something that may or may not happen,” he said. However, the retailer had not written off the category altogether, instead buying more fashion-driven leather styles.

“I will not buy nearly as many [cold-weather styles] as last fall,” Aved said. “I can always order more.”

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