Retail Guide: Comfort Shopping List

HAPPY FEET PLUS, Tampa Bay, Fla.
Jane Strong, co-founder
Store count: 9 (average 2,000 sq. ft.); est. 198

Hunting for: “We’re looking for mid-priced footwear with great support. Most of our shoes have very good support.”

Buying strategy: “Last year, we ended up being up 6 percent [in sales]. We expect to be up 5 percent to 6 percent going forward, so we will be buying more. We buy 60 percent pre-season to take advantage of discounts.”

Shoes you can’t keep in stock: “The Kenkoh massage sandal. Also the Brooks Adrenaline GTS 12 for men and women. One of the good things about this shoe is that you can fit an orthotic in it.”

Best price point: “Anything under $150.”

Hottest new brands: “Kenkoh is new to most people. Taos is also relatively new for us and is a very good brand for us.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re betting on: “We do well with shoes that have support features. We’re betting on the Oetzi3300, which is very similar to Toms but with arch support inside it. We’re betting on that to be great.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re passing on: “We’re not going forward with over-the-top-expensive sandals in excess of $1,000. Also, [we’re staying away from] man-tailored oxfords.”

Mood at retail: “We came off a good fourth quarter, so we’re looking for it to continue to be good. The economic indicators in Florida seem to be improving, so it’s positive.”

What you’re doing to get people to buy: “We typically do a lot of advertising, including billboards, TV and newspaper, as well as some social media. Along with that, we’ve been doing more [consumer] outreach.”

BROWN’S SHOE FIT CO., Norman, Okla.
Steve Woodin, owner
Store count: 1 (4,000 sq. ft.); est. 1998

Hunting for: “We’re looking for products that are not in every store or on the Internet. More than being stylish or good-looking, they have to fit and be comfortable and good for our bodies. People want to be happy at the end of the day.”

Buying strategy: “We’ll keep about the same amount as last year. There’s nothing huge driving the market in comfort shoes right now, but I’m going to be ready to react when something comes along.”

Shoes you can’t keep in stock: “Clarks Un.Loop. Also, Brooks Adrenaline GTS. It’s a great walking/running shoe. It fits well [and] has a lot of technology to talk about, and they don’t change it every three months.”

Best price point: $100 to $115. “People expect to pay for quality and comfort, and this seems to be a good middle price point.”

Hottest new brands: “Joya and Alegria. They are both into making your feet feel good, and they aren’t in every store you go into. Joya is also using technology we haven’t seen before, and the shoes are softer than anything we’ve ever seen.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re betting on: “Anything that’s comfortable. People are working harder and longer hours. Their bodies are showing it, and they need quality and comfort with more support.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re passing on: “We’ll be skipping anything with high heels. Our concept is healthy, comfortable footwear, and high heels are exactly the opposite of that.”

Mood at retail: “Cautious. There is no one item leading the pack. There are a lot of small things selling, but right now there is no one great standout that is driving the whole industry.”

What you’re doing to get people to buy: “Service is very important to us. Big-box stores are everywhere, as well as the Internet, but customers can’t get questions answered by knowledgeable staff and get fit properly.”

Lori Cain-Roper, owner/manager
Store count: 1 (1,500 sq. ft.); est. 2002

Buying strategy: “We’ll be buying a little less than [during] the previous years. Customers are being more selective so we also have to be a little more selective.”

Best price point: “Around the $120 range. Brands in this price point, like Taos and Rieker, offer a lot for your dollar. But we also don’t find a lot of resistance in the $170-to-$200 price range for a great-fitting and comfortable shoe.”

Hottest new brands: “Ziera and Gabor. Both of these brands have fused style and comfort.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re betting on: “We continue to search for timeless classics, as well as more Euro-funky-based fashion. Fall will continue to be another big year for boots, shoe boots and shoes with a little retro twist.”

Fall ’12 trend you’re passing on: “We’re passing on the extremely high-heel trend. We’re also passing on the barefoot/minimalist trend. We’ll leave that to the local athletic stores.”

Mood at retail: “We’re very optimistic for spring. It’s been a rough few years, but we have a great local clientele that depends on us to find and stock their comfortable and fashionable footwear needs.”

What you’re doing to get people to buy: “We’ve branched out into social networking [via] Facebook and Twitter as a means for keeping our customers updated on store events and inventory. However, we find the best way to communicate is through email.”

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