Little shoes are big business. From influential boutiques to creative retail newcomers, Footwear News’ comprehensive look at the children’s market takes stock of the best and brightest.
At Your Service
When it comes to children’s shoes, Nordstrom sets the standard for customer service among the department stores. The Seattle-based retailer turns what can be a frustrating errand for many parents into something easy with its fleet of well-trained fitters and an expansive selection that covers all the bases. Shoe-tying clinics, as well as complimentary balloons and plush “Nordy” dolls for the kids, seal the deal.
The Risk Takers
Through the years, New York’s Shoofly, Chicago’s Piggy Toes and Los Angeles’ Wee Soles have garnered a reputation for eclectic, fashion-forward assortments. Not afraid to buy boldly, these big-city boutiques stock brands and styles off the beaten path. The allure of discovery and finding something unique keeps customers coming back.
Now that U.K.-based kids’ e-tailer Alexandalexa.com has crossed the pond with a U.S. site, Americans can get their hands on coveted European designer brands. Footwear collections from the likes of Stella McCartney, Roberto Cavalli and Paul Smith are featured alongside a curated selection of clothing, toys, baby gear and home items.
In business for decades, independents Tip Top Kids in New York; Bradshaw’s Children’s Shoes in Arlington, Va.; Harry Harris Shoes in Beverly Hills, Calif.; and Fischer’s in Linwood, N.J., still sell shoes the old-fashioned way, with a focus on fit and service and a dose of nostalgia. It’s a simple formula that has attracted generations of families and given these veterans the edge they need to compete against mega e-tailers.
The Double Threats
In an age of multitasking, some smart boutiques have found success with two-in-one concepts that help busy parents tackle their to-do lists. At Area Kicks & Cuts in Brooklyn, N.Y., kids can get new shoes and a fresh haircut at the same time. San Antonio, Texas-based Kids Shoes & Toys on Broadway (at right) stocks specialty toys and games alongside footwear, making it easy to pick up last-minute gifts.
The New Guard
Hurt by the economic downturn, the independent retail segment is beginning to bounce back. A number of shops have opened recently, including Kids Footstop in Winchester, Mass.; Hennie McPennie in Mercer Island, Wash. (below); and Walking Tots in The Woodlands, Texas. With backgrounds in the corporate world, these newcomers used their diverse experience to hone a back-to-basics approach that emphasizes unique product mixes and personalized, sit-and-fit service — an independent’s strongest point of difference.
While an overwhelming selection is the draw of some e-tailers, Piperlime.com is unique in its boutique-like approach to inventory. The site presents a thoughtfully edited assortment of the season’s best, so parents spend less time clicking through pages of product. Convenient “shortcuts,” including New Arrivals, Sneaker Favorites and Lil’ Me Styles, also simplify the buying process.
With big-box retailers dominating the kids’ business, it’s a formidable feat for independents to successfully expand their footprint with multiple stores. But some have managed to pull it off. Brooks Shoes for Kids operates eight locations in Southern California, along with a thriving e-commerce site, Shoedipity.com. Olly, founded in 2001, has grown to 18 stores in Ontario, Canada, and the northeastern U.S.