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Eric Jennings likes to tell the story of a recent trip to the pedicurist as an illustration of how far the men’s market has come.
At the nail salon, the men’s fashion director at Saks Fifth Avenue looked around and realized that the male clientele outnumbered the women by four to one. And this, he noted, exemplifies the shift that has taken place in the market over the last few years.
“That is the new normal,” he said. “Men are taking their appearance more seriously and focusing on how they can better present themselves.”
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The change has come thanks to a combination of factors: The financial crisis inspired men to dress up — either to land the jobs they wanted or secure the ones they had. And e-commerce sites and fashion blogs came on like gangbusters, showing men what style can really be.
Now, retailers report footwear is among the strongest categories in the market, spurred by more designers getting in on the action, an abundance of trends and a youthful customer seeking unique styles.
According to The NPD Group Inc., total men’s fashion footwear sales rose 3 percent during the year ending January 2013 over the prior period, while women’s revenues remained flat.
“When you get a business that was ailing [a few] years ago to grow, in a market where traditionally women’s is growing at a faster rate, it is big news,” said Marshal Cohen, chief analyst with NPD Group. “When you get [increases of any amount], that’s a really good sign that the men’s market is very healthy, very strong and has continued opportunity to grow.”
Such prospects have retailers taking notice and making changes to their selling floors.
Last year, Selfridges’ London location laid claim to the title of biggest men’s footwear floor — at 15,000 square feet — when it doubled the size of its previous area. A Christian Louboutin shop-in-shop is set to open there in June.
“The Louboutin shop-in-shop is very exciting for us as this is [his] first men’s shop-in-shop and will look and feel quite unlike anything else,” said Richard Sanderson, DMM and buying manager for men’s shoes at Selfridges.
Saks Fifth Avenue, too, upped the ante in its Beverly Hills, Calif., men’s store earlier this year. The retailer is now calling the first-floor shoe department, with its 680 SKUs, the largest selection of designer footwear west of the Mississippi.
But it’s not just about size when it comes to catering to male shoppers.
Saks also has revitalized the store with a basement denim and cocktail bar, a pool table and an attached John Allan salon for a range of treatments or a shoe shine.
The concept now will serve as a model for the department store’s Chicago location, which will be unveiled later this year.
“[For men], it’s more important that you have an environment where you can feel at home and comfortable,” said Jennings. “They aren’t going just for fun, they are going out of necessity, so you really want to make that experience much more pleasant for them.”
Holt Renfrew is heeding that call, leading a $300 million expansion effort that includes massive changes to its men’s floors.
First up, the space in Toronto’s Yorkdale mall, set to debut later this year, will feature a significantly larger footwear and accessories area, said Pat DiBratto, SVP of buying and merchandising for the Canadian retailer. The men’s section also will have a separate entrance, grooming stations, shoe shine, a lounge and dressing rooms with a hidden wet bar and interactive technology.
This store, too, will be a prototype for future remodels through 2015. “We’re focusing on creating an environment highly focused on men,” said DiBratto. “We’ve approached the concept through a male lens — paying close attention to the lifestyles of men and how they want to shop.”
Enlarged men’s departments obviously mean more room for product. Shop-in-shops have become more important, allowing retailers to merchandise a brand’s mix together rather than separately by category.
Holt Renfrew will open the first Paul Smith shop-in-shop in North America in the Yorkdale remodel. Saks’ New York flagship recently added Emporio Armani and Ralph Lauren Black Label. And Bergdorf Goodman, which last year doubled its first-floor men’s shoe department, will debut a space for the LVMH-owned footwear brand Berluti this fall.
The additions help the retailers build appeal with youthful, trendy men with money to spend on shoes.
“It’s a customer we probably don’t have yet, but we are trying to get. That’s the new customer: a young guy,” said Mimi Fukuyoshi, VP and DMM of men’s sportswear and shoes at Bergdorf Goodman. “It’s a very contemporary, designer kind of shoe [shopper], and that’s the kind of guy we’re trying to go after. We already have a classic shoe guy.”
To that end, everyone is keeping a close watch over the latest trends and the brands that best represent them. And today, more choices exist. Between the classic dress shoe and sneaker, men are now offered the boat shoe, tasseled loafer, espadrille, ankle boot, smoking slipper, driving shoe and many more. Most are available in a wide variety of colors and prints, even studded or beaded. And all are selling, said retailers.
“Shoes perform extremely well for us across all departments, but for this season in particular, we have seen the strongest sales from Valentino, Lanvin and Jimmy Choo — largely driven by the sneaker trend,” said Terry Betts, buying manager for Mrporter.com.
Noted DiBratto, “Men’s footwear is one of our leading growth categories. ... Some of the most popular styles are the driving loafer, the dress boot and designer sneakers. Some of our top-performing footwear brands include Tod’s, Lanvin, Gucci, Ferragamo, Prada, To Boot New York and Jimmy Choo.”
Saks has created a “workshop zone,” where it displays emerging brands in the New York flagship and select other locations. Anchored by Rag & Bone, the area features a lot of the retailers’ latest additions, including Del Toro, Louis Leeman and Walk-Over.