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Men's Buyers Eye Rebound in Spring

The recent men’s shows in Milan and Paris offered a variety of new footwear looks, but also left many buyers wondering if it would be enough.

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For many retailers, $1,000 shoes are a tough sell in the current environment. Bisio said expensive shoes must offer customers something they don’t already have. And value is a major concern.

“Everybody is price-conscious right now,” said Bisio. “Tops on everyone’s minds is ‘what is the price/value quotient?’”

Strategies for adding new brands for spring will vary by store. While some see the difficult business as a time to stick with proven vendors, others are looking for new brands.

Holt Renfrew added Arfango and Yuketen for fall, but the store will probably hold back for spring, Layton said. “We aren’t going to be adding so much as really concentrating on the right looks with the brands that we feel confident about already,” she said. “We’re really looking SKU by SKU. We’ve done a lot of work on our assortment over the past year and discontinued quite a few [brands].”

Jennings said Saks, which also added Yuketen for fall, would leave its options open. “The focus will be finding newness from our current players, but we are always looking for new things. And if it’s right, we’ll pick it up,” he said.

Top sellers at the department store include sneakers across all price points, while dress shoes have been more of a challenge, according to Jennings. “The classic dress shoe has slowed down, as well as classic suits, shirts and ties,” he said. “We’re trying to figure that out and get that guy to shop again. We haven’t seen any resurgence on that lately.”

In addition to Ferragamo, Bloomingdale’s has had continued success with Hugo Boss and Johnston & Murphy. The department store will expand Hugo Boss and Nike in the fall, as well as add sneakers from Generic Surplus and bench-made British dress shoes by Edward Green.

“People forget that buyers are paid to look,” said Leppo. “Three years ago, we didn’t even carry some of our key brands today.”

Smaller stores said they would exercise their freedom to chase product in open-to-buy programs. Such a lack of restrictions should allow them to inject more freshness if sales begin to improve.

“I’m trying to add more new people than ever,” said Farrington. “Sometimes it’s just a new item. I’m not too proud to just buy one item.”

Though the economy has shown hints of recovery lately, retailers looking ahead to spring were reluctant to bank on upturns for the coming seasons.

“We’re not feeling that things are that optimistic yet,” said Holt Renfrew’s Layton. “We’re not planning any increases, or anything like that. We believe it’s just getting back to basics with service and riding this out.”

And with business reaching terrible lows in March, many retailers said sales had nowhere to go but up.

“I really do hope spring ’10 will be the season that, if we don’t flatten out, at least we’ll start to come back a little,” said Farrington. “We won’t bet on it, but we’re hoping.”

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