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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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Tarek Hassan

Photo By Courtesy Photo



Buy Light, Stress Less

Still, most retailers said it’s wise to buy lean and play it safe for the near future.

Fadlon suggested retailers buy less, take fewer risks and wait for signs of a turnaround before laying out cash for inventory. “We’re trying to not make any waves and just let the pond be still,” he said. “You should buy what you know has succeeded. I’m not saying we’re not bringing in anything new — we are — but it’s shifted dramatically.”

It’s possible that this lean-and-mean strategy means retailers might miss an opportunity here and there, but Fadlon said the benefits of waiting outweigh whatever profit would come from such a risk. “If something hits, you’re going to be in a better position,” he said. “If you have to chase it, and if you miss it, you’re still better off than having to do huge markdowns later and give it away.”

Similarly, Hassan said the current selling environment dictates more conservative styling from known, name-brand vendors. “Consumers are going back to more classic, original, authentic product,” he said. “They want to feel that it’s worth what they’re spending their money on. They’re looking for a brand name they can trust that has authenticity and has a life span behind it.”

Wasserman, however, said brand names aren’t quite as relevant as they had been in recent years. Instead, he said, consumers are looking for fashion and then price point. “It used to be [that consumers looked at] brand, fashion, then price,” he said. “Now, it’s fashion, price — and brand is third. If you can give the right fashion at the right price, brand is an afterthought in most cases.”

Jassem agreed that consumers are in a price-conscious mindset, and when they come into a store, they expect to see deals. “At this point, there is no strong fashion direction,” he said. “They sense there is a deal going on and they want to see what they can get for their money.”

Even so, Jassem said retailers shouldn’t chase the consumers with price points. While that might yield short-term success, it can destroy a retailer’s identity. “You have to stick to what your store represents and go with it,” he said. “There are some guys out there who are doing a great job at making shoes at a price, but I don’t think you should start carrying shoes at $100 if your average price point is higher than $250.”

But price certainly is a factor for all to consider. At Los Angeles-based Fred Segal Feet, owner Stanley Silver said he would be focusing on the lower end of his high-low merchandising strategy for fall. While the store is known for carrying items priced from $65 for flip-flops to $6,500 for boots, Silver said he planned to focus on Italian-made shoes — both branded and private label — for less than $200. Also, he will be buying considerably less.

“If I see a style I like, I usually buy 14 pairs,” said Silver. “Now if I see a style I like, I’ll buy six pairs. I’ll miss business, but I’d rather miss business than have excessive inventory — because who knows what’s going to happen.”

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