Sole Commerce Buyers Bet on Boots, Comfort

The overall mood was upbeat — if slightly subdued — at the latest Sole Commerce trade show, which wrapped up Tuesday at the Jacob K. Javits Convention Center in New York.

Vendors and retailers told Footwear News they felt optimistic going into fall ’13, despite what they said seemed like less traffic at this season’s show.

As for product, the focus was on practicality, with neutrals, comfort features and fashion-friendly boots getting the thumbs up. “It’s always boots [that dominate fall trends],” said Tammy Thomas, owner of Foot Candy Shoe Boutique in Mendham, N.J.

Here, Thomas and other retailers at Sole Commerce sound off on hot brands, top trends and the state of the market.

Owner, Haberdashery of New England
Nantucket, Mass.

Top fall trends: “The boot business is very strong, and we expect to do well with them if we get our fall [styles] in early.”

Fall buying strategy: “For us, fall is about window trim and select pieces. We look at item-driven things. It’s a new way to buy footwear [for us].”

Biggest challenge: “Being different. It’s difficult to be unique. We shop Europe twice a year, and 25 percent of what we buy is coming directly out of Europe with no American representation.”

Market outlook: “It is getting better. Sales are improving, and the [spring] season is good. Money seems to have loosened up, and people are feeling good about shopping. Footwear has become price-driven, with comfort being the priority.”

Owners, Monkee’s of Charlotte and Monkee’s of Lexington
Charlotte, N.C.; Lexington, Ky.

Current top sellers: Tory Burch, Jack Rogers, Paul Mayer. “These are lines we don’t have to mark down. They are classics, not trends,” said Woodworth.

Top fall trends: Booties, smoking slippers, neutrals

Fall buying strategy: “I am buying fewer shoes,” Woodworth said. “Footwear is a tough sell, and your staff has to be very well trained and motivated. It is also hard, as a small business, to compete with [larger retailers] that have big sales.” Added Shaw, “[The fall buy is about] investment pieces. If [people] are going to spend money, they want classics.”

Market outlook: “We definitely have challenges, especially with politics, just coming out of election season, but I’m optimistic,” Woodworth said.

Owner, Foot Candy Shoe Boutique
Mendham, N.J.

Current top sellers: Paul Mayer, Donald J Pliner, Stuart Weitzman, Aquatalia, Jack Rogers

Fall buying strategy: “I am buying less for fall and [concentrating on] classic looks that will last because I feel like this year has been a little slow. People are dealing with [the aftermath of] Hurricane Sandy, and they are more conscious of where their money is going. And I am always looking for shoes you can’t find in department stores.”

Biggest challenge: “Making sure I don’t overbuy and that I have the perfect mix to cover all my bases for a wide range of customers. Also, I like funky looks, while my customers are a little more conservative.”

Owner, Little Red Boutique
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Current top sellers: Frye, Mjus, Heart Throb, Biviel

Fall buying strategy: “I want to attract the customer who likes a sexier look, so this season I am looking for higher heels and lower price points. When I first opened, I carried a lot of heels, but working women [weren’t buying them]. Now the working women want to wear flats to work and carry her heels for later. I’m bringing back Sergio Zelcer because my customers are asking for it again.”

Market outlook: “This season is going to be different. People want to party. They are going out more and treating themselves more often.”

Owner, Due West

Current top sellers: Jeffrey Campbell, Melissa, Swims

Fall buying strategy: “We are just building our shoe business. We have clothing nailed, so footwear is where we need to expand.”

Biggest challenge: “Getting more margins for every buy.”

Owner, Elegance by Edythe

Current top sellers: Donald J Pliner, Stuart Weitzman, Gentle Souls, AGL Attilio Giusti Leombruni

Fall buying strategy: “We are buying more. There is a lot of variety in the market, and everything is in right now. Nothing is out.”

Biggest challenge: “We buy early for early delivery, so the biggest challenges are late deliveries and figuring out [what] colors [will be on-trend].”

Market outlook: “Shoes are important. We are having a good spring, and that always makes you feel more confident when buying.”

Co-owners, Groovy Blueberry
New Paltz, N.Y.

Top fall trends: Clogs, shearling boots, chunky heels

Fall buying strategy: “We shop closer to season, and we try to stay off-brand because our customers just want to buy shoes. They aren’t [as concerned] with labels,” John Cohen noted. Added Amy Cohen, “We are doing small buys, and we are into things that make a statement.”

Market outlook: “We are very optimistic about our business because it is steady,” John Cohen said. “But we do feel like, for 95 percent of [retailers], it will be tough going for the next few years until the economy starts to regulate.”

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