Keen and Native Are Driving Kids’ Shoe Sales at Independent Retailers This Summer

Here, four children’s independents tell us why Native, Keen and Salt Water Sandals are hot this summer and talk about the decline in dress sales. What else is trending across the country? Read on.

Cathie Mattei, co-owner, Ped-Agree Kids Shoes Wycoff, N.J. 

Top brands:

Keen: “Keen is popular because it’s a three and one shoe. It’s a sandal, a sneaker and a water shoe.”

Native: “I see Native shoes on kids as an everyday staple. It’s kind of like the new kid in town and has a very distinct look to it. I see kids wearing it with socks every day but it can also be used as a water shoe on the beach.”

Nike:  “Nike is a big performer and staple here, but we have a small stock of them because we’re an independent retailer.”

Key trends: “For our store, sneakers are a staple for us. Even when kids go out to a fancy restaurant they wear sneakers. Water shoes are also big because of summer.”

Not selling: “Dress shoes in general for girls and boys have really dwindled down. I think its a more casual world now.”

Hot take: “Sneakers are our bread and butter. Our “first walker business” is booming. First walkers are babies who are just starting to stand and walk, usually around the 10-month-old mark. We get people from all over because they want their child fitted, and no website can provide that service. It’s because around us there are no shoe stores left. So we’re really focusing now on that demographic. Within the last five years, we’ve seen a demand for in-store service. It happened slowly. My grandfather opened the store in 1895. This business is third generation and we weren’t always kids. We decided to become all kids six to seven years ago because we saw a demand.”

Kay Mehrens, co-owner, Walking Tots, Houston

Top brands:

Native: “They’re on fire continually. From a parent standpoint, it’s easy to put on for the summer time. Native holds up extremely well. EVA is a superior product. It’s easy for the playground, it’s durable, and they make great colorways too. They’re a good price and very easy. And the bling styles do great! This brand doesn’t just perform for us well in the summertime, it’s a year-round shoe that continues to do well.”

Tsukihoshi and New Balance: “Athletic brands continue to be strong with us. Tsukihoshi and New Balance are top brands that provide a comfortable fit for little feet.”

Key trends: “Multi-purpose shoes are a must. People are impulse buying one to two pairs of shoes at our store rather than three to four. So a shoe really has to be not just a sandal or a water shoe. Athletic is also a dominating trend just because it’s comfortable and durable.”

Not selling: “Dress shoes are not selling at all.  Native is now the Easter shoe or dress shoe. Docksiders and sandals are not selling like they used to. Our customers want quality but not a high price point. Parents are also opting for comfort and practicality as well over formal style.”

Hot take:  “We have found that while online retailers are the competition our customers want a good fit for their child. The internet isn’t going away and online retail is amazing for ease but savvy customers are still continuing to shop brick-and-mortar. People will want a good fit for their children. We’re also a multi-channel retail business, we’re active online and through social media as well. But there’s nothing like an in-store experience. We’ve found that a lot of first-time parents come in and buy shoes. They might buy shoes for their child online and it wasn’t quite right. The internet is not the human eye and as amazing as descriptions are the human eye is best for shoes.”

Brittany Russell, sales associate, Lonnie Young Shoes, Nashville

Top brands:

Keen and Native: “People are getting ready for camp and stuff. They want a durable shoe for their kid that they don’t have to worry about.”

Salt Water Sandals: “Salt Water Sandals from Hoy Shoe Co. are nice looking and come in all kinds of colors. We sell out of the tan for the boys and for the girls white, rose gold and hot pink are top performers.”

Key trends: “Water play shoes are big. Multi-purpose shoes like Native are doing really well right now because people want shoes they can slip on for camp or to head to the pool.”

Not selling: “Boots are not selling, but because it’s warmer weather. We’re still selling a significant amount of dress shoes, for summer weddings and events.”

Hot take: “We’re word of mouth and family owned for 40 years. A lot of our customers come from three generations of buyers and continue to come to get shoes from us. Our customers are really loyal. Also, kids shoes have such specific sizes. We have moms coming in saying they ordered a bunch of shoes for their kids online and none of them fit. At our store we properly size and you really get what you pay for.”

Morgan Jones, manager, Little Feet Denver, Denver

Top brands:

Keen and Native: “They’re versatile brands. A lot of kids go for Keen and Native because they’re two-in-one shoe brands.

Salt Water Sandals: “These are durable yet nice sandals. The metallic colors are doing really well for us right now too. It’s a good substitute for a dressy shoe.”

Key trends: “Metallic sandals are really hot right now, especially for Salt Water Shoes and Birkenstocks. Rose gold, gold, silver are doing really wear for us. And then on the sneaker front, lightweight mesh and airy shoes are selling well this summer.”

Not selling: “Rain boots aren’t really in anymore. Here in Denver, we don’t get too much rain but regardless we’ve had some pairs of rain boots in our stock. Now there’s waterproof sneakers and hiking shoes. Stylistically its lost intrigue. Now there are multi-purpose shoes that can do the trick.”

Hot take: “I’d say we are definitely doing really well. On a weekly basis were getting at least 15 new customers that have never been to our store. Often times we do get people who bought shoes online for their kids and they don’t fit. Children’s foot development plays a big role in the growth in development and making sure the shoe doesn’t hinder that is very important to people. So a lot of our customers come in and want that custom fit experience. They want to find the right shoe for their kid, not just a good deal.”

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