Survival Time

Five top independent footwear retailers share their tips and offer advice on trimming costs and preparing for a post-turnaround market.

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The Tannery

Photo By Courtesy Photo


There’s no question that independent retailers are facing unprecedented challenges as the fall buying season begins, but that doesn’t mean they’re helpless — far from it. Retailers interviewed by Footwear News said vendors, landlords and advertising outlets are willing to negotiate terms as never before.

David Jassem, president of Los Angeles-based David’s Shoe Salon, said one of the few upsides of the current economy is that more executives have realized that their successes — or failures — are intimately linked with other businesses.

“At this point, everyone is working together to keep everyone else in business. It’s a new age of working together for mutual success,” Jassem said.

Partnering Up

Now is the time to establish a new working relationship with footwear manufacturers, according to the retailers interviewed. “This is an interesting time because you see the long-term-oriented people and they get it,” said Isack Fadlon, co-owner of Los Angeles-based Sportie LA. “[Those brands] want retailers to stay in business. It’s a breath of fresh air to work with them, frankly.”

Fadlon said vendors are now more open to new ideas, from extending payment grace periods to developing exclusive product, colorways and collaborations. “Everyone is in a position where they understand each other like never before,” he said.

Tip Top Shoes owner Danny Wasserman agreed. “People are open to talking. Nothing is off the table,” he said. “They won’t give you the kitchen sink, but that doesn’t mean they won’t try to help you.”

Tarek Hassan, co-owner of Boston-based The Tannery, said that with consumer confidence so low, retailers are more dependent on vendors to help revive excitement with unique product and fresh advertising. “I’m talking about markdown money, advertising, special makeups, whatever they need to do to help the retailer. That can ease a lot of the challenges out there,” he said.

Part of that easing can come by way of discounts that help improve initial margins on new product, Jassem said. “If retailers have to reduce their margins by 3 to 5 percent to stay in business, it’s only fair that vendors participate in that as well, or else they won’t have anyone to sell shoes to.”

In return, Wasserman said retailers should help vendors by digging deeper into their product offerings, particularly with their strongest suppliers. “You need to see if the brands you are doing business with have a lot of similar items that you would have bought from other brands,” he said. “It’s good to go deeper and spread the line out a little more. This is a time when you really need to cement your relationships with people you’ve worked well with, and make bigger commitments to those people.”

Wasserman recommended approaching vendors with fresh eyes to look for new opportunities and category extensions. “A lot of times you get in a rut, like, we buy boots from these guys but never their shoes,” he said. “So [say to yourself], ‘let’s see what shoes they make now. Maybe they’ll work.’”

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