Warm Weather Chills Boot Sales During Holidays

NEW YORK — Unseasonably warm, dry weather put a damper on the boot business over the holidays, despite the fact that footwear retailers reported strong overall sales during December.

“Boots and outerwear underperformed for fall and holiday ’11, and we suspect this will prompt retailers to become conservative with their pre-bookings for fall ’12,” said Baird senior research analyst Mitch Kummetz.

Footwear News spoke with retailers to gauge their strategies going forward. While some were gearing up to offer deep discounts on winter styles and expedite spring deliveries, others were simply hoping that cold weather would hit soon.

“Most of us know that winter hasn’t kicked in yet,” said Rick Weinstein, VP of sales and merchandising at Searle in New York, who described December as a “difficult month” for boot sales. “We did have that gift-buying season, [which] is a force that customers respond to, but the actual need-based shopping hasn’t [started] yet.”

As a result, Weinstein said he would consider transitioning into pre-spring sooner, with items that offer enticing colors, as well as discounting cold-weather styles on a case-by-case basis. However, the retailer was still optimistic that consumers would go for winter product from labels such as Aquatalia by Marvin K., Koolaburra, Pour La Victoire and Rebecca Minkoff once the weather breaks.

Marc Hausman, owner of the New Jersey-based Footnotes chain, said sales of cold-weather styles also took a weather-related hit at his stores during December. “It’s a buy-now, wear-now world,” he said. But Footnotes was taking an approach similar to Searle’s, planning to hold off on extra promotions and wait it out for winter. “January just began, so it’s early still,” Hausman added.

Other retailers said they were in good shape after unveiling discounts earlier in the season.

“We normally begin [boot] sales in the beginning of January, but we started in mid-December to drive sales a little bit faster,” said Laurel Tate, co-owner of the Denver boutique Two Sole Sisters. “We had a feeling that the way things were trending — we were having giant snows [followed by] really warm weather — that we should get a jump on this.”

Tate added that, although winter brands such as La Canadienne and Bos & Co. moved and the store’s overall sales were up 40 percent for the year, December boot sales came in 15 percent lower than projected. To counter that, the retailer is discounting some winter items by as much as 50 percent, promoting markdowns through e-mail blasts and social media. “I’m also contacting my vendors to push for early delivery on a lot of my spring product,” Tate said.

John Holden, COO of Benjamin Lovell Shoes, said his stores also started discounting winter styles in early December. And while boot sales at the chain came in 5 percent to 10 percent below expectations for the month, he noted that styles from Ugg, Hunter, La Canadienne, Blondo and Pikolinos were solid sellers throughout the fall season. “I’m not over-booted at this point,” he said.

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