Weather Woes Impact Retail Sales

Cold-weather boots challenged retailers across all tiers this winter, said panelists at the Sterne Agee speaker series, held Tuesday morning at FN Platform.

Moderated by Sterne Agee analyst Sam Poser, the discussion focused on the high points — and low points — in the footwear business in recent months.

“The boot business was not as good as it has been over the past five to seven years,” said Rick Ausick, president of Famous Footwear, a division of Brown Shoe Co. “But it was categorical — the winter looks, shearling and lined looks [were challenged]. That’s where the hangover is.”

Weather, everyone agreed, hindered sales of cold-weather product. “The weather was against us [this year], but next year it could be just the opposite,” said Abe Rogowsky, owner of the Shoe Parlor in New York. “Fashion weather boots will sell out if they have the look.”

Brands such as Sorel and Pajar, he added, remain strong, thanks to fashionable and functional styles.

“Cold-weather [product] didn’t work, but casual, Western and fashion all seemed to perform,” said Cliff Sifford, EVP at Shoe Carnival. “We’ll pack and hold weather boots [to sell again next year].”

Still, the panel agreed that boots remain one of the strongest trends in footwear. And in terms of fashion looks, the men’s sector has seen some of the biggest growth. For women, the retailers said, new silhouettes featuring fringe or lacing helped convince consumers to pay slightly higher prices for boots than in previous seasons.

“She has to realize she doesn’t already own those,” said Sifford.

Beth Goldstein, senior category specialist of fashion footwear and accessories for The NPD Group Inc., agreed: “We didn’t see the negative reaction from consumers to [price increases]. If something is different enough, [shoppers] don’t compare it with styles they bought the year before.”

Athletic, too, saw strength across the board, according to the retailers. Lightweight running shoes and fashion looks infused with color fueled that business. Sifford credited the now-fizzled toning movement for strength in the athletic category.

“Toning helped show that we could sell $100 product,” he said. “That brought along new technologies and silhouettes, and helped bring along that price increase. I’m very bullish on the athletic business.”

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