Retailers Upbeat at Platform Show

NEW YORK — Buyers were on the prowl for something new and different at FN Platform last week in Las Vegas.

While most were slightly upbeat for fall ’13, they told Footwear News they were looking to switch up their buys with new styles, brands and price points.

“It’s important to keep looking out for newness [to continue to] build a better business,” said Liz Rodbell, EVP and chief merchant of Hudson’s Bay and Lord & Taylor.

Zappos.com buyer Jenn Mummert noted she also was looking to put a twist on her fall buy. While the e-tailer has been experimenting with fast fashion, Mummert said she aimed to expand that offering for fall.

“We’re looking for something below $200 for that fast-fashion customer,” she said. “That’s a customer we haven’t really gone after before, but we are now. Our imagery has been updated on the site to reflect that.”

For independents, having differentiated product continues to be important, to help gain an edge over their competitors.

“With the way the economy has been, people want freshness and newness,” said Tony Fargnoli, owner of Tony Shoes in Westmount, Quebec, where he said taxes remain high and the housing market continues to cool.

Sportie LA co-owner Isack Fadlon noted he, too, was keeping his eyes peeled for something surprising, adding that he hoped to find new canvas styles, athletic looks with pops of neon and some lesser-known brands.

“I’m looking for something to distinguish itself from what we already have on the shelves,” Fadlon said. “Maybe that’s a small brand or a brand launching here [at the show].”

For Tarek Hassan, co-owner of The Tannery in Boston, the focus was on collaborations for fall, from such brands as Nike, New Balance, Sperry Top-Sider and others.

“We’re putting a lot of focus and energy on [finding them],” Hassan said. “We’re trying to be different and more unique than everyone else.”

But as much as retailers said they wanted fresh looks, tried and true trends — such as short boots and athletic-influenced styles — will help drive business this fall.

Jason Brown, owner of Thom Brown, which has stores in Boston and New Haven, Conn., said he was steering away from tall boots, as he “got a little stuck” with them last season.

This time, he intended to buy a number of short Frye boots, such as the Harness, and clean, simple styles with inside zippers and vintage leathers.

Abe Rogowsky, owner of New York-based Shoe Parlor, said wedge sneakers continue to be hot, and brands selling well in his store include Frye and Merrell.

One thing retailers shied away from was cold-weather product.

Charles Weber, men’s shoe buyer at Boscov’s, a 41-unit chain in Reading, Pa., said he would buy less of that category than he did last year, even though his overall buy would be up a few percentage points. “The weather keeps changing,” he noted. “There is such a short season for boots.”

Instead, he was on the lookout for more waterproof product going into fall ’13, as well as classics such as plain-toe oxfords and slip-ons. “Our customer is a classic guy,” Weber said.

Key brands on his shopping list included Dockers, Florsheim and Skechers.

Blaine Beck, president of the nine-store Beck’s Shoes chain in California, said he also would increase his fall budget — by 10 percent.

“We do a lot of industrial business, and we go out and get it. We don’t wait for it [to walk in the door],” he said, adding that he mainly sells workboots with some lifestyle product on the side.

Overall, retailers’ high spirits were visible. Some predicted the promotional environment could continue through 2013, but said they were confident they could tweak their buys to offer customers a balanced assortment.

Fadlon also observed the mood at the show was more positive than in recent seasons. “Buyers are feeling more confident,” he said. “Hopefully, that’s a good sign for our industry.”

And though newness might get customers in the stores, retailers are finding their biggest success with major brands at higher prices.

“When there are recurring expenses in people’s lives, like an extra $200 off paychecks, that’s a pair of shoes we’re not selling,” said Brown. “So you must ensure the customer gets quality, and you give them the names they’re looking for. When things tighten up, people are looking for the brand names they can trust.”

Rob Fargnoli, GM (and son of Tony) at Tony Shoes, agreed: “There’s no sweet spot [in terms of price]. We can sell a shoe at $400 as long as a customer perceives there’s value there. That’s why we’re looking for product that’s a little different from what everyone else has. We try and stay ahead of the curve to keep everything fresh.”

As the elder Fargnoli quipped: “It’s like going to a fruit market — you want to see fresh fruit.”

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