Retail Mood Mixed at FFANY

NEW YORK — For footwear buyers, boots could be a barometer of success in the New Year.

“I haven’t made up my mind about 2014 because I need to see how 2013 turns out,” said Danny Wasserman, CEO of Tip Top Shoes in New York. “If we get snow, then I’ll be feeling bullish because it will mean boots are still important.”

Buyers and analysts attending the recent FFANY trade show, held here earlier this month, agreed that adaptability in the face of industry flux will be imperative for maintaining a solid footing.

“Companies are getting very adept at limiting inventory exposure in any given season,” said Steven Marotta, an analyst at CL King & Associates.

The Bon-Ton Stores Inc. is doing just that, taking a more measured look at certain categories of boots for fall ’14. Jill Donald, women’s comfort, men’s and athletic buyer for the retailer, began her strategy shift after one of 2013’s most buzzed-about trends — the bootie — failed to live up to the hype. “Short [boots] did not perform as well as we [anticipated],” she said. “With all the casual wear, we thought [booties] would be a big trend, but it ended up being tall [boot styles that had more longevity].”

Still, Donald predicted that, overall, Bon-Ton’s footwear sales next year will be slightly better than in 2013. “We’re optimistic,” she said, adding that the casual trend will likely continue, with Western-influenced styles and the color gray among the hot looks for the year.

FootSmart in Norcross, Ga., also was adjusting its fall boot buy to include more versatile options and fewer cold-weather styles. Jessica Turner, VP of catalog and online merchandising for the store, said, “I’m looking for product that will allow us to go from sandal season to fall.” She noted that FootSmart will emphasize seasonless items such as clogs, mules and slip-ons. The few boots that did catch her eye tended to be shooties and lower-shaft looks that are not winter-specific.

In the contemporary market, however, Modcloth.com associate shoe buyer Helena Levin remained upbeat about fashion boots in general. “We will still focus on booties for now and transition into higher boots as we get further into fall ’14,” she said.

She added that the San Francisco-based e-tailer aims to grow its shoe selection for fall after seeing solid sales for the category this year. “We will increase the product mix so we can have more of a selection,” Levin said. “I definitely have seen a trend in shoes being a big [category] that people want to shop. People are excited about it. They also are buying a lot more pieces that can be worn all year as opposed to seasonal styles.”

For Shoes ’N More of Greenwich, Conn., a major concern was building a tight inventory, to help the boutique gain a competitive edge over e-commerce giants. “We like listening to our customers and being able to chase product rather than sit on it,” said manager Ann Spallone.

Several buyers also said they were still shopping for spring ’14. “People are trying to buy in season,” said Jede Phillips, product manager at San Francisco-based men’s and women’s e-tailer Travelsmith.com. “Last year we had too many boots too early and not enough sandals.”

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