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Retailers: Holiday Showed Improvement Over 2008

Footwear stores report end-of-year upswing in sales.

By
with contributions from Jennifer Ernst Beaudry, Lindsay E. Sammon, Marcie Young, Kristen Henning

Footwear retailers found this year’s holiday business to be a welcome change from the dismal numbers they saw at the end of 2008.

MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse, a service that tracks national retail sales, reported a 5 percent year-over-year increase in the period between Black Friday and Dec. 24. And when compared to last year’s figures, many storeowners said their shops did see a rise in sales for the holiday season.

“We’ve had a good holiday, and we’ve made our [monthly target],” said David Pearse, owner of Redman’s Shoes in Alliance, Neb. “We’re ahead of last year.”

Ladies boots, men’s workboots and fitness shoes, such as Skechers’ Shape-Ups and Fit Flops have done especially well for the store, Pearse said.

“We did better than last year,” echoed Tamara Vladic, owner of Deliciouz in Walnut Creek, Calif., noting sales were up more than 30 percent over 2008’s holiday season, “but we had a really strong fall and expected to do a little better [in December]. I was hoping to keep up with the fall months but came in about 20 percent lower.”

Bill Lawson, owner of New York-based Shoe Inn, said that even though last year’s holiday sales were poor, the shopping atmosphere is turning in the right direction, with cold-weather items selling well.

“Against last year, which was a non-performing year, we were flat to up a little bit,” said Lawson about the holidays this year. “We’re really not unhappy based on the fact that our inventory levels were lower and our course of doing business has been reduced.”

At Love My Shoes in Farmingdale, N.Y., holiday selling started out positive, but the days following Christmas — usually a prime time for buying — haven’t been as good.

“The time between Thanksgiving and Christmas [was] excellent, but this week between Christmas and New Year’s has been a disaster,” said owner Robert Yeganeh. “I was hoping for that cherry on top for the holiday sales, but it’s just not happening.”

As a result, the store is offering early spring merchandise at a discount.

“Some of our new spring goods are coming out and we’re trying to beat the competition there,” he said. “We’re saying, ‘We have sandals early, and we’ll give you 30 percent off.’”

Lawson at Shoe Inn also said he was offering sales, mostly on fall product, though over-the-knee boots, Uggs and Tory Burch have stayed at full price.

For a privileged few, holiday sales showed improvements over good sales the previous year. According to Todd Kirssin, DMM for footwear for Hanover, Md.-based DTLR, a division of Levtran Enterprises), a big December snowstorm didn’t affect sales too much.

“Right now, we’re up pretty significantly in footwear for December — in the low double digits, on top of double-digit increases last year,” Kirssin said. “We think a large percent of the shopping this year was pent up demand — customers who were holding back through the year came out in December to shop.”

Though Kirssin said DTLR’s women’s business remains tough, the store found Polo Ralph Lauren, Creative Recreation and New Balance to be bright spots. And the Dec. 23 release of Jordan Space Jam helped drive sales even more.

Still, others said the economy will need to improve before they see any radical improvements in sales.

“Footwear holiday sales were down about 10 percent and most of that was attributable to Crocs,” said David Hill, owner and president of Kids Sports World based in St. Louis. “Crocs sales are at a standstill, if not stopped. If we took out Crocs, we were even or up a little bit for the holiday sales.”

Asi Agajan, owner Ripe in New York City, said luring gift-buying shoppers away from malls and department stores has been difficult this winter

“Shoes are not a gift item and I think now people are using their money to buy gifts,” he said.

To turn things around, Hill said the store would discount less in 2010. “I think the whole world went the discounting route in 2009 and [at] the end of 2008, everybody thought that was the only way to drive business,” he said. “In the latter part of 2009, our efforts were [focused on] having the right product in stock at the right time and good service.”

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