Atlanta Retailers Upbeat on Classics

ATLANTA — When it came to writing orders, retailers at The Atlanta Shoe Market were performing a balancing act for fall ’13.

Industry insiders who attended the trade show, which ran Feb. 23-25 at the city’s Cobb Galleria Centre and Renaissance Waverly Hotel, said the season’s buy was a challenge given that consumers are expected to stay in their fashion comfort zones for fall.

“Retailers [are sticking with familiar looks and labels] because they know what works,” said the show’s executive director, Laura Conwell-O’Brien. “But [shoppers] still need to see fresh new product. The savvier buyers are keeping an open mind and taking the time to look around.”

Alison Songer, president of N2 Shoes boutique in Chattanooga, Tenn., said her store’s strategy has been to add new lines that mix practicality and style. “We are looking for fashionable things that are still functional — shoes you can walk in,” she said, noting that the retailer picked up Swedish clog brand Calou for the season, as well as labels with an evolving aesthetic, such as Orthaheel and FitFlop.

Although Songer described the market as “still a little unsettled,” the new twists on basic styles, including booties with subtle studding and military influences, buoyed her spirits in Atlanta. “There are a lot of really good lines and a lot more possibilities than last year, “ she said.

Shoe Studio co-owner David Pulling, whose Augusta, Ga., store carries men’s, women’s and kids’ merchandise in a variety of categories, was also upbeat, although he said his orders would be slightly smaller this time around. “I’m fairly bullish on fall, but I am probably buying a little shorter because I’m not sure how business is going to be,” he added.

Like Songer, Pulling noted that sales are trending toward ultra-wearable looks. “I’m adding comfort brands because people are buying comfort more,” he said. “The consumer has been very conservative dollarwise and colorwise. Riding boots were also really good last year, and they are going to come back again.”

David McCollum, owner of South Boston, Va.-based McCollum Ferrell Shoes, was also relying on cold-weather styles to boost his store’s already-robust sales. “We had a good season last fall with boots,” he said.

Even boutiques in balmy climates were getting in on the boot action, including Ron Jon Surf Shop of Cocoa Beach, Fla., which added the category for fall ’13. “We’re looking for new brands,” said buyer Robin Phillips, noting that overall business was on par with last year. “We’re pretty lucky because customers are still coming in, but the challenge is keeping our customer happy [by keeping the product mix] fresh.”

The Atlanta Shoe Market’s Conwell-O’Brien predicted that fashion boots, especially western-inspired looks, would continue to entice customers, but she said the jury was still out on heavy-duty winter styles. “[Stores] bought tons of those last year, and every retailer you talk to is stuck with thousands of [extra] pairs.”

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