What’s Working Now
The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a sea change in the retail landscape, altering not only what consumers buy but also when and how they buy it. It’s also changed every aspect of how stores run their business, from buying shoes to building community. But stores across the country have risen to the occasion. Here, stores that are past winners of Footwear Insight’s Gold Medal Service Award for outstanding customer service share what’s working for them, what categories they’re banking on and the strategies they’re using to plan their future buys.
Chandler’s Walk Shoppe, Salt Lake City, UT
Athletic shoes still dominate our sales, as many people are getting out to walk during this COVID time. Hoka One One has been the leader for us. Not much back to school shopping as yet. Schools are still struggling in their decisions to open, when and how, in person or online, or a mix of the two. We’re still functioning at a 50 percent level, hoping for improvements soon. —Skip Chandler, owner
Lucky Shoes, Fairlawn, OH
Athletic is dominant. Women’s sandals and casuals have made a bit of a comeback, but sales are still down, and the business we are doing is very promotional. Eighteen out of our top 20 women’s shoes are athletic. Our best seller in women’s is the New Balance 840. The Brooks Ghost 12 holds two of the top 10 spots, as does the Hoka Clifton 6. Men’s is a similar story, with 12 of the top 20 spots being athletic shoes. The New Balance 990 is our top selling shoe, and New Balance really dominates the top of the charts in men’s. We are currently selling masks extremely well, and athletic socks and insoles are strong riders on the coattails of athletic shoes. Luckily, Akron and Canton have not been as greatly affected as some areas. We are in five different markets, and the smaller the market, the better we are doing. The larger cities are not faring as well. The goal is different this year. In years past, turn, margin and volume were more important. This season is all about coming out as clean as possible. We have been very aggressive with any product or category that we will not need this fall and winter. Unfortunately, we really had to revise our fall buy a lot in order to fit what is going on today. We had to cut out a lot of dressier, more fashionable offerings, and really focus on function. A reality of northeast Ohio is that it is going to snow, and it is going to be cold. We are hoping for an increase in our weather boot sales when the weather turns. Our spring buys are just about complete. We will be carrying over a lot more merchandise than we would like, so our spring ’21 buys reflect that. —John Luck, president
In years past, turn, margin and volume were more important. This season is all about coming out as clean as possible.
Valley Sole, Huntsville, AL
It’s up and down. We’ll have a great day, then an okay one — and okay is the new good. My doors are open and we’re paying all the bills, so that’s good. On Running and Birkenstock are our lifesavers right now, and Naot’s important. Category-wise, that’s what we already would have been expecting, but there’s more customers for those two brands. Dress shoes are dead in the water right now, unless somebody has a wedding. But it’s never been a significant category for us, so we’re not feeling that as much. This is when we should have started our preseason buying, and we’re keeping it real tight. Julie [Pierce, co-owner and McGinness’ daughter] calls the extras the “fluff” — we canceled the fluff. It’s tricky: If we get the vaccine and masks go away, people will want the fluff. But we’ll order the basics and we can fill in a few fun things later. We’re keeping it pretty tight and conservative. But everything’s on social media: Julie really stepped up. I would have hibernated, to be honest with you, but she jumped in there and said, “We’re gonna figure this out.” It’s a whole different landscape out there right now; people are actually watching their Facebook and Instagram videos and opening up their emails to watch the videos. Julie has a huge following. Back in March when she started this, I wasn’t sure, but then the next day we had several customers come in and say, “I watched Julie’s video and I want that shoe.” So we’re just preaching, “Thank you so much for shopping family owned and local,” and more than ever, we’re reinforcing that message. —Holly McGinness, owner
Eneslow Foot Comfort Center, New York, NY
Running and walking is the key category — we’re doing whatever business there is there. We have an older population who want walking shoes, and we had much more demand for walking comfort sandals. New Balance, Hoka, Birkenstock and On Running were the top brands, and Finn Comfort in sandals. We’re also doing orthotics. That part of the business is at least working together. There’s no dress shoe business — it’s only need-based at this point, and people are very specific in what they need. In our Midtown Manhattan store, it’s a ghost town. We’re still 75 percent down: The office building we’re in is completely unoccupied. In our suburban stores, it’s down 60 percent and again, it’s only the need-based customers. Other than filling in basics, we canceled every order and stopped as many spring buys as we could. We’re working with vendors in every single case. We’re going to be 90 percent existing inventory. Athletic vendors are the only ones we reordered and filled in; our open-to-buy is 10 percent of what it’s normally for fall. I would think that spring ’21 might have a little bit of a bump, but it will fall ’21 when we will see a real recovery, when the vaccines and other things get into gear. One of the things we hope will happen is people will want a new pair of shoes to go out for dinner or lunch, to freshen up. —Robert Schwartz, president
I’m not testing new brands right now; it’s not the time to be testing anything out there.
Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., Fort Collins, CO
I’ve been in the business for 40-something years, and I’ve never seen anything like this. We’ve relied on core business more, but it’s been tightened a little bit. Running and walking styles from Hoka One One, New Balance and Brooks are strong, and we’ve seen sales of a lot of that product be as good as it was a year ago. Taos’ athleisure casual styles and Dansko’s athleisure lines are as normal as we can expect, and flip-flops from Oofos and OluKai are ahead of the figures. What we’re seeing is what is essential to people, and dressier shoes are nonexistent in sales. The biggest concern is the comfort sandal business, period: That $130 to $160 sandal has been a bread-and-butter lead category, and that’s fallen off bigger than anything else. It’s a little tough to know what to do there: How do you buy for next spring? What numbers can you use? What process? We have no idea what’s a bad and what’s good sandal right now. We went through and cut every back every order about 30 percent or more, and for spring, I think right now we’re looking at buying absolute necessities. With Hoka and Brooks, I’ll buy as normal as I ever bought and the backups, I’ll monitor. The new brands that have rolled out have a tougher row to hoe than other brands. What’s been super-important has been the Locally business; six of our top 10 brands have been the ones partnered with us on their websites, like Hoka, Keen and Brooks. It helped our website business when we were closed, and we see a lot people who would rather shop local. The amount of conversations we have digitally about product is growing. We have a website, but the website concept is as much about window-shopping. We’re still doing appointment-only shopping for the first and last hours, and home delivery, which we never did before. Most of the things we’ve had to add will become permanent fixtures. —Greg Augustine, owner
How do you buy for next spring? What numbers can you use? What process? We have no idea what’s a bad and what’s a good sandal right now.
The Foot Spot, Kansas City, MO
What has performed well is anything in the walking category. It’s become an athletic shoe business, a slipper business and an arch support business. It is a reallocation of categories and emphasis. Our travel comfort business has always 25 percent of business, and that’s moved to insignificant. But the Hoka One Ones of the world, the Brooks and the On Runnings and New Balance have done decently. Oofos flip-flops have been strong, and the Naot Santa Barbara has been good. We haven’t been able to carry the Birkenstock line. We’re focusing on some of our key fall vendors, and we will treat athletic like it’s high season. When it comes to the boot business, we’re going to focus on a few key brands, such as Naot. I’m not testing new brands right now; it’s not the time to be testing anything out there. For next spring, we’ll do more athletic and more essential-based buys, and be cautious with the fashion heels and wedges. I think the slipper category is probably here to stay. It was typically a fourth-quarter category. But with the whole work-at-home thing, I don’t think it’s going away. — Ryan Richard, owner