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How the Pandemic Is Changing the Way Retailers Pick Product for Kids & the Whole Family

Heading into a spring season unlike any other, how top retailers are buying — and what they’re betting on.

Will Cooper, SVP & GMM of women’s shoes, Saks Fifth Avenue, New York

Buying Logistics: “We are currently conducting all market appointments digitally. Vendors have enhanced photography of their collections, with many adding video content to actually see the shoe on a model. We have adapted to this new way of working through leveraging technology, but anticipate returning to the showroom when it is safe to do so.”

Trend Talk: “Through the pandemic, we have seen our customers focused on casual shoes, particularly sneakers and flat sandals, and we expect this to continue into spring ’21. We are excited to see designers elevating casual shoes with embellishments to make women feel ‘dressed up’ while still wearing a casual and more comfortable look. We will continue to offer evening and career options, but in a more limited way until the customer demand for these categories returns.”

Strategy Shift: “We are [focusing] our buys on sneakers, casual sandals, pool slides and mid-heels, as our pump and evening business has slowed.”

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Brian Burnett, VP & GMM, Rack Room Shoes, Charlotte, N.C.

Buying Logistics: “For us, shoe shows are a small component of our overall buying strategies. Over the past several years, we have viewed many of the shoe shows as validation of our plans, as the strategy for our trend work is done much earlier in the process. Most recently, we’ve relied more on Zoom calls with brands, hearing from both the product and sales teams.”

Trend Talk: “The challenge in today’s new normal is determining the difference between a generalization, pattern and/or trend. Right now, there are too many variables impacting the consumer’s buying behaviors. What we know for sure is, the emerging trend is product that lives and breathes in the active space. More people are spending more time outdoors, and they are more conscious about their health and wellness, physically and mentally.”

Strategy Shift: “If there’s one thing we’ve learned over the last several months, it is that we can and will have to do more with less. We will put more pressure on better inventory management to simply turn faster. Easy to say, hard to do, as most brands are doing the same. But the idea is to put the right product out at the right time at the right value.”

tiffany hsu, mytheresa
My Theresa’s Tiffany Hsu said she will be buying hot sellers like Amina Muaddi and Bottega Veneta again.
CREDIT: Courtesy of Mytheresa

Tiffany Hsu, Fashion buying director, Mytheresa, Munich

Trend Talk: “We have been seeing a lot of loafers, slippers and mules, as well as bright colors.”

Sure Spring Bets: “Bottega Veneta is still a hot ticket, and I expect Amina Muaddi to sell out again. Prada, Valentino and Gucci all showed really strong new developments in the shoe category.”

Strategy Shift: “We are placing our orders as usual to ensure the deliveries arrive on time. Compared to last year, we are growing our budget.”

Jon Zalinski, co-owner, Treadz, Denver

Buying Logistics: “We are buying on Zoom meetings with a digital catalog. Our in-person showings are at our merchandise mart in individual showrooms — usually across a folding table and with masks on. I have seen one line on a picnic table outside in one of our local parks, which was fun — and no masks.”

Trend Talk: “It is game on. We are buying all categories. The one that is taking a hit is ‘dress up’ since there have not been weddings, graduations, dances, birthdays, eating out in a restaurant, etc. In my area of Colorado, anything to do with being outside is selling well and will continue.”

Sure Spring Bets: Salomon, Merrell, On

Strategy Shift: “We are probably going to buy flat to sales of this year, and that is with us being closed for 50 days. It will put us in the position to buy. We will be cutting just a handful of fringe brands.”

Ankur Amin, CEO, TGS Holdings Co., New York

Buying Logistics: “Almost all buys for the fourth quarter and Q1 of [next year] were done digitally. We used a combination of video conferencing apps like Zoom or Blue Jeans for product presentation and digital catalogs to make our selection.”

Trend Talk: “Extra Butter’s private label is a big focus for us for 2021. We are also investing in brands that align with our views on the social issues facing our country and the world today. Equality and sustainability are issues that we are very conscious of at TGS, and we want to support brands that stand for similar values.”

Sure Spring Bets: Nike, Adidas, Asics, CDG, Stone Island, The North Face, Stussy

Strategy Shift: “Our buying has narrowed. Luckily, we have not had to cut too many brands or make difficult asks to our vendors. We are aware that most vendors are also under pressure during these trying times and we want to be there for them if our business allows.”

Dan Fitzgerald, co-founder & president, Heartbreak Hill Running Co, Boston

Buying Logistics: “Most of our buying is being done over Zoom. I like it. The appointments are quicker with less BS.”

Trend Talk: “Our category focus hasn’t changed. We’ve always pushed a strong message through apparel, with an awareness of current events and social issues. You’ll see that continue as it’s a space we’re comfortable in and it’s increasing in importance. Within footwear, our focus continues to be training and racing with a little trail mixed in.”

Sure Spring Bets: “At Heartbreak, [our own] brand will be a growing force for spring ’21. Nike has some really exciting footwear coming on all fronts: training, racing, track and trail. We’re bought into all and very excited. Brooks continues kill in the training category, and I think some of their strategic renaming and shuffling of franchises will help make things even better going forward.”

Stephanie Jacob, footwear buyer & GM, West Stride, Atlanta

Buying Logistics: “Most vendors are showing spring ’21 footwear virtually — Zoom, Google Meet-ups, etc. However, a few of our reps have come to show product in-person, but keeping safe distances. It’s definitely much more beneficial to be able to touch and try on the shoes,but we understand the restrictions.”

Trend Talk: “Neutral cushion training shoes are the core of our business, serving both current runners and appropriate for someone just starting out. We are seeing more movement in max or premium cushion shoes, as people are basically living in athletic shoes, instead of just putting them on for activity.”

Sure Spring Bets: “Hoka, Brooks, On and New Balance are strong now and show no signs of slowing. The new updates in spring for these brands build on the current models — adding improvements, but no huge overhauls. They are performing well, so that works for us.”

Sylvana Ward Durrett, CEO & co-founder, Maisonette, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Buying Logistics: “Line sheets and lookbooks. We also do video calls — Facetime with our vendors is so important. Thank goodness for Zoom.”

Trend Talk: “Sneakers are, and will, continue to be huge, as well as easy loafers for boys and sandals for girls.”

Sure Spring Bets: “Mini Melissa is always a great spring go-to, Old Soles for easy slide-ons for girls and boys, and we can’t resist a classic L’Amour sandal for girls.”

Carisa Fergers, owner, Little Feet Children’s Shoes, Minnetonka, Minn.

Buying Logistics: “Most of our buys so far have been through vendor’s B2B sites or line sheets. Many have also provided video presentations of their catalog, which has been very helpful.”

Trend Talk: “We are in the process of looking at what categories will continue to perform better than others. We are making some cuts, but we will also be adding in categories that did sell very well both on our website and in-store. In kids’ footwear, we are still predicting that athletic will be popular. Water-friendly sandals will also be a must for next spring. Leather sandals may be on our cutting board as we have seen a drastic decline in the demand for these types of summer footwear.”

Sure Spring Bets: Stride Rite, Keen, Saucony, New Balance, Crocs, Tsukihoshi, Birkenstock

Gary Weiner Saxon shoes
Gary Weiner, president and CEO of Saxon Shoes
CREDIT: Saxon Shoes

Gary Weiner, owner, Saxon Shoes, Richmond, Va.

Buying Logistics: “We were going to try and see if we can see collections in any way we can. We’ve done things virtually on Zoom, and we also had some reps come in the store. We are trying to hold off as long as possible to see what unfolds.”

Trend Talk: “Outdoor shoes seemed to sell well this spring and summer, so we imagine that they will continue for next, as well as comfort-driven and high-performance footwear.”

Strategy Shift: Like many others, we have no idea what next spring will hold. We are tip-toeing everywhere we can. I find that people are getting what they need. There’s not a whole lot of venturing out, so we are focusing on more comfort-driven and performance shoes and brands that people know and love.

Shannon Witcher, Owner, If the Shoe Fits, Cullman, Ala.

Buying Logistics: “I was planning on going to the Atlanta Shoe Market, but that was canceled. If other [regional shows] get canceled, I am open to Zoom calls.”

Trend Talk: “I just spoke with one of my reps, and he said that they’re pretty much manufacturing the same styles again for fall ’20, just changing the colors because they were able to go to the factories. So basically, I’m thinking they will also simplify spring because I’ve already seen the product.”

Sam Cohen, Owner, Avenue J Shoes, Brooklyn, N.Y.

Buying Logistics: “I’m old-fashioned. I can’t buy online or through a line sheet. I need to see, feel and touch the shoes. My first line of defense will be to see people in their New York showrooms, such as Wolverine and Rockport. Some [companies] have flagship stores and allow the sales reps to come in.”

Trend Talk: “I will continue to expand the oxford and derby categories on comfort bottoms. It’s taken root and continues. Comfort and dress shoes are always important; they’re my bread and butter.”

Sure Spring Bets: “I try to get a feeling for a [trend] from back-to-school sales. Florsheim, Cole Haan and Geox have been expanding in my store as they’ve grown their [assortments].”

Steve Vettel, Owner, Kassis Brothers, Charleston, S.C.

Buying Logistics: “We [typically] do line sheets since we don’t go to any shows. I [also] have a few salespeople who come to the store. Right now, we don’t have any appointments with reps since everything’s still up in the air.”

Sure Spring Bets: “My core brands, such as Dansko. New Balance is my biggest line, along with their Aravon and Dunham products since they do a lot of widths.”

Strategy Shifts: “It’s going to be a matter of concentrating on core [brands] with the dollars you have. I’m not going out on a limb for spring ’21. There will be [product] I’ll add from these lines, but not bring in any others. I will also be cutting back on some of my weaker and fringe brands.”

Dan Ungar, Owner, Mar-Lou Shoes, Cleveland

Buying Logistics: “Zoom and Microsoft teams have become integral in buying. We’ll be doing roughly 50% of our buying this way. Touching and feeling product is gone. And here’s the kicker — colors and textures show up one way on someone’s camera and on our monitors, and in real life things are different. That makes it tough. Getting samples sounds great, but it’s almost a step backward to the olden days.”

Trend Talk: “Athletic and casual sandals are going to be strong, no doubt. But we’re seeing a modest return to slightly dressier sandals. Once we conquer this virus, I think we’re going to continue to see growth in open silhouettes that a woman can feel comfortable [wearing] when going out to dinner and to social gatherings. Special-occasion wear will grow commensurate with the events of next spring, like weddings and such.”

Sure Spring Bets: “Our athletic business and comfort-walking categories have been the shining stars since our reopening in May, including Hoka, New Balance, Brooks and SAS. These companies provide some terrific sizes and widths that are crucial for our business. As for buzz for next year, I truly don’t know since the major shows are canceled — and that has been the No. 1 barometer for us all these years.”

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