Retail Mood Mixed at FFANY Show

NEW YORK — Most buyers at last week’s FFANY show here were approaching the year with caution, but remained hopeful that new spring styles would spur excitement.

“There’s a lot of newness and reasons for the customer to go shopping for things she doesn’t have in her closet, such as sneakers and the whole active trend, or smoking slippers, pointy-toe pumps and flats,” said Debbie King, VP and DMM of women’s shoes at New York-based Bloomingdale’s.

Tim Morrison, owner of Morrison & Me in Cincinnati, noted that single-sole shoes are having incredible momentum, along with mid-heels and flats. “Our short booties have sold tremendously. We try to add color and give something to the customers that they don’t have in their closet,” he said.

A number of retailers were still doing some last-minute shopping for spring. Noting that mirrored sandals and hidden-wedge sneakers have been popular styles at his store, Abe Rogowsky, owner of New York-based Shoe Parlor, said, “I’m looking to find the hot items. This is a last-minute buy, so it has to be right.”

Robert Fox, president of Fox’s, a 16-store off-price retail chain based in Mineola, N.Y., said his team was shopping the show to see what’s new while he clears out winter merchandise.

Jani Laing, buyer at Pink Shoe Lounge in Randolph, Mass., was also hunting for immediate buys and banking on trends like color-blocking, spikes and embellishments on smoking flats, pointed-toe flats and oxfords.

“We’re more focused on spring. We’re keeping an eye on the fall trends, but we’ll be back in June [to scope those out],” she said.

Looking further ahead, major independents are relying on boots to drive another strong fall season, but the emphasis is on styles that aren’t targeted for cold-weather use, as another warm winter is hurting some sales.

“I’m not going to buy winter boots because it’s almost the end of winter and there’s a lot of inventory out there,” said David Zaken, owner of the David Z chain in New York.

Danny Wasserman, owner of Tip Top Shoes, said, “We’re being more careful with the buy, looking for boots to have a lot more function than just weather-dependent use, with interesting updates on details such as stretch, and keeping them shorter, like mid-calf.”

Outside of boots, retailers said it was difficult to know what else to order.

They did, however, point out that single-sole shoes, ballet flats and smoking slippers remain top styles, while brands such as Toms Shoes, Ugg Australia and Frye enjoy huge momentum at retail.

Another reason for retailers’ cautious approaches to fall is the still-uncertain economy. And the weather continues to be a wild card. (The Northeast was set to get its first major winter storm over the weekend.)

Some retailers reported that sales were up over the same time last year, but they declined to reveal by how much.

“Sure, the economy worries me. When people have less money to spend, it affects everyone,” said Rogowsky. “But right now, the weather is killing everybody. We haven’t had any snow, so people’s shoes don’t get wet or ruined by the snow, [which means they’re not buying new ones].”

Wasserman agreed that people are pulling back. “It’s not just in footwear — you see it even at the butcher,” he said. “[Hurricane] Sandy didn’t help either. The new tax rates are affecting everybody, not just the 1 percent.”

Morrison, who described his store as being in a very affluent area of Cincinnati, echoed the sentiment that people are starting to withhold some purchases.

“It’s still tough out there. We’re finding that anything priced under $250 will sell, while the higher price points are still very tough. It’s just that everybody is cautious. The economy is still not where it’s going to be and will never be back to what it was, and we know that,” he said.

Of course, there are those who remain upbeat, as their business trends show signs of robust growth.

One such retailer is Tracy Gallagher, owner of Flipflop2adopt.com in Memphis, Tenn., an online store that donates a portion of its profits to the Holt Sahathai Foundation in Thailand, which helps place homeless and at-risk Thai children in good homes.

“We’re seeing a trend where shoppers more often are buying multiple pairs of shoes at a time, and I’m hoping that’s a good sign that we’ll have a better year,” she said.

Fox added he is not concerned about the economy or weather because his strategy remains to get the buys at the right price, so he can pass the savings down to his customers.

“We’ll just try to do what we do better, which is offering the best price to our customers,” he said.

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