The coronavirus crisis has led hundreds of retailers to temporarily close their doors, bringing much of the footwear world to a standstill. As brick-and-mortar stalwarts suffer due to significant declines in foot traffic, consumers have increasingly been calling for support for small businesses.
In the sneaker marketplace, the small businesses are the independently owned boutiques that serve as a barometer of what’s hot and what’s not. Although they are significantly smaller in size than retail chains, boutiques are vital to the health of the overall sneaker industry.
“Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy,” said The NPD Group Inc. senior sports industry adviser Matt Powell. “While tiny in comparison to large corporations, in aggregate, they employ millions and produce a lot of sales.”
Greater sneaker retail is largely experiential in format and people shop at their favorite stores for more than the shoes they’re buying, however at the best boutiques, the relationship with consumers often exceeds even that.
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“There are some people who come to us only for the product, but we like to think that most of our consumers have a deeper connection with us,” said Ankur Amin, CEO of TGS Holdings Co., the parent company of retailers such as Extra Butter and Crusoe & Sons. “They share similar interests, hobbies, lifestyle and even values as we do.”
Because of this relationship, during this uncertain time, store owners believe consumer engagement is critical.
“It’s very important to not disappear and let everyone know that we are still here trying to make things work for our consumers and customers,” Sneaker Politics owner Derek Curry said. “We are working on sales, a musical playlist for customers to listen to while sitting at home and video content to help keep our customers engaged.”
Efforts from the TGS banners include hosting virtual movie nights by streaming on a sharable platform via Netflix and promoting other local business — specifically those in the food industry and other essentials during this period of self distancing.
Aside from the businesses of Amin and Curry, other major boutique players have found ways to appease their consumers. For example, Bodega has offered giveaways to its faithful shoppers and Sneakersnstuff is introducing its staff to the world via social media Q&As.
Because of the mandated closures, both Amin and Curry said that, by necessity, they will shift the focus of their businesses entirely to e-commerce. Amin added he is allocating the marketing resources of his banners to promote the websites and will offer promotions to consumers.
Despite the shift, Powell fears sales may even slow there.
“In times of uncertainty, discretionary items like shoes suffer first,” Powell said. “Money is spent on needs not wants.”
Boutiques are already starting to feel this.
“Online has been slower than normal as we have not activated a big discount sale,” said Lapstone & Hammer founder and creative director Brian Nadav. “We see lots of companies doing big sales and the reality is that we need the revenue as well and may be forced into running a sitewide discount.”
Aside from what sales Lapstone & Hammer may employ, Extra Butter has already introduced its “Flex From Home” sale with discounts of up to 70% off.
Despite the slowdown, Nadav said there has been increased interest in private label products.
“Support for our ‘Two Rivers’ project [with Saucony, which is released March 28] has been amazing, and we are very confident on a complete sellout,” Nadav said. “Looks like we will be paying our bills with Lapstone product rather than relying on the big brands to carry us through this time. Lapstone products have been our best-selling items over the past week. Lots of support there, which is very positive.”
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