Both Sides Now


Serving the kids market can be tough. And it’s not just that the stock demands are high (all those sizes!), margins thin and the market competitive — although all those things can be true. Kids stores have two different sets of customers to impress: Style-conscious kids, and their features (and price) obsessed parents. Kids want glitter and lights; parents want quality leathers, podiatrist approval, spot-on style and fantastic fit – all in one shoe. So what does it take to make everybody happy with shoes that kids actually want to wear, day after day? We asked three children’s footwear shops to give us the inside scoop on what kids and their grown-ups are asking for. Here’s how they put together a winning package.

Michelson’s Shoes • Eric Michelson, Owner • Lexington, MA

Michelson’s Shoes is a fourth-generation family-owned firm with two locations. [Ed Note: For more on Michaelson’s, see our profile here.] Kids offerings include Stride Rite, Merrell, Sperry, Nina, Plae, Saucony, New Balance, Under Armour, Adidas, Pediped, Teva, Keen, Crocs, Native and Kamik. “We have a great reputation on parent forums and many come here for their first walkers,” owner Eric Michelson said.

What are parents looking for? “Customers come to us for a proper fit and the expectation of quality products. The starting point to every sale is measuring both feet,” Michelson said.  
Is there a magic price point? “Most [parents] will pay a little more for quality features. Our merchandise mix is primarily moderate price points. Parents expect our products to last — and will complain if they didn’t get the expected time out of their shoes,” he said.

How many pairs do most parents buy at a time? “Most will buy one pair per child at a time because feet grow,” he said. “Today, they’ll buy sneakers for everyday use, later get a pair for a special event, then once the warm weather hits, get sandals. When we sell multiple pairs, it tends to be an everyday pair plus a special event pair or seasonal item.”

What style elements are hot? It all depends on age, Michelson said. “The most sought-after feature is the BOA crank closure for boys and girls ages 7 years and up. It’s easier to use than laces and not as youthful as Velcro. Lights are still popular. Girls 4 to 7 years old like shimmer and glitter. Boys like a touch of pop  color — lime, red, orange — with navy, black, or grey. Girls go for pinks and purples, but we also do a lot with sneakers that are blue or purple and specifically don’t have any pink.”

Which features resonate most with parents? “Parents want the shoes to do as much as possible. Waterproof is a requirement for hiking and winter boots,” he said. “Parents appreciate that we carry extended widths so that their children get a proper fit.”

Fit To Be Tied • Lori Martin, Owner • West Des Moines, Iowa

Lori Martin opened Fit To Be Tied in the Valley West Mall almost seven years ago, initially as an exclusive Stride Rite retailer. While she still carries the brand, nowadays New Balance, Asics, Saucony, Chaco, Keen, Native, See Kai Run, Toms and Merrell also fill shoe walls. “We are the only ‘just kids’ shoe store in Iowa,  and we carry all widths, so we get customers from Omaha, Kansas City and other surrounding areas,” Martin said. The store, she added, also gets referrals from local podiatrists, since they can fit kids with braces.“Parents come in because they know they won’t have to do a thing on their own,” she said. “We handle it.”

What are parents looking for? “Parents want a good fit for their kids. They want growing room in a good quality shoe,” Martin said. “Their kids have to like the shoe when it’s on.”

Is there a magic price point? “I’d say our average price is $50, [but] if the shoe fits very well, at $75, the parent won’t say no,” she said — parents know the increase in price will give them a shoe that isn’t going to wear out. That being said, a bargain is attractive. “We do have parents that will just shop our sale tables because they know that we have good quality shoes on sale,” says Martin.  

How many pairs do most parents buy at a time? “Most buy one shoe. We are not in a high-end mall.”

What style elements are hot? “Girls want glitter. Boys like lights. Girls like rainbows. Boys are simple:  On Saturdays, our store is like a racetrack with kids running around with shoes that are ‘fast.’”

Which features resonate most with parents? “Especially in the winter, parents want waterproof shoes. A lot of boy moms want a more durable shoe where they won’t blow out the toes. Every once in a while, they want something machine washable or with a more flexible sole. Parents are very trusting of us and just want a good quality shoe,” she said.

The Perfect Fit • Lindsay Miller, Owner • Parker, Colorado

In the two-and-a-half years that the store has been open, owner Lindsay Miller has seen parents drawn to her shop for its expertise in fitting kids. “It also helps that we price match every day in store from the major brand websites,” she added. The Perfect Fit carries brands including Stride Rite, See Kai Run, New Balance, Skechers, Keds, Keen, Merrell, Pediped, Bobux, Tsukihoshi, Saucony, Billy Footwear, Plae and Under Armour, as well as about 20 brands that are seasonal options.

What are parents looking for? “Price and sustainability would be the biggest elements that we are seeing a trend in, however, our customers look for a little bit of everything. We stand behind our products knowing that kids are hard on shoes. We look for shoes that offer a variety of elements so that when they come into the store, we can offer them exactly what they are looking for,” Miller said.

Is there a magic price point? “There is not,” she said. “We trust the brands that we carry for what they set the price at for the value of the shoe.”

How many pairs do most parents buy at a time? “Most people buy two pairs at a time, typically a day-to-day sneaker and then in the fall, a boot. In the spring, it’s a sandal with the sneaker.”

What style elements are hot? “For younger girls, light up with an underlying theme of unicorns or mermaids is popular. For younger boys, it is light up with fun colors. Older boys gravitate more towards a clean-cut, versatile sneaker. Older girls tend to go for whatever the current trends are, such as shimmer and glitter, while still maintaining a clean and classic look.”

Which features resonate most with parents? “Waterproof, memory foam, reinforced toes, and flexibility of the shoe are always the go-to things for parents,” she said. “Again, it goes back to something that is comfortable and durable.”

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