Shop Talk
Checking the Industry’s Pulse
Best-Made Shoes, Pittsburgh, PA.
From an optimist’s point of view, the footwear industry has turned the proverbial corner and is headed for a rebound in the second half of 2024 and into 2025. This perspective is supported by the segment’s first non-declining sales quarter in two years, per data from Circana, and contracting inventory levels that have been bloated since post-pandemic.

A pessimist has a different outlook. It is one tied to an uncertain macroeconomic environment fueled by persistent inflation, high interest rates, ongoing global conflicts and an uncertain political outcome in the U.S this fall. This outlook suggests inventory levels need to be lower because consumers are buying fewer units but are willing to shell out more for what they want.

In Q1 of this year, aggregate leisure and performance footwear sales each rose by 1 percent to $4.4 billion and $1.8 billion, respectively, according to Circana point-of-sale data. The fashion segment, meanwhile, suffered a 2 percent year-over-year sales drop to $2.8 billion. “The bright spots continue to reflect consumer preferences for comfort and versatility, across both fashion and athletic footwear,” the research firm said.

Footwear Insight reached out to some independent retailers for their thoughts on what’s driving and not driving the business as it heads into the summer and Back-To-School seasons. Here’s what they had to say.


How would you describe business so far this year compared to a year ago? Any big surprises? What is going well?

“The customers’ confidence has improved. And they are dressing up a little more. The athleisure category in ladies continues to grow,” said Greg Augustine at Brown’s Shoe Fit Co., Ft. Collins, CO.

“Business this spring started early for us due to warm weather early,” commented Bill Golden at Golden Shoes, Traverse City, MI. “Sandals especially started to sell earlier than usual. But athleisure is still the hottest category. The customer is spending a lot more this year as our average sale is up.”

“Business this year is up from last year,” opined Marc Rosen of Best-Made Shoes, Pittsburgh, PA.

“(Our) 2024 total business is pretty flat so far. No surprise,” offered Mark Jubelirer of Reyers Shoe Store, Niles, OH.

Brown's Shoe Fit Co, Ft Collins, Colorado


Are there any brands, styles or categories you would highlight as doing particularly well for your store right now?

On is still the brand that is very strong for us. It is our top four selling shoes in both men’s and women’s. Gabor has also been selling very well this spring,” said Golden.

“Strong brands have been Birkenstock, New Balance and Alegria. Consumer confidence is strong with people spending on Classics and good walking and running shoes,” offered Rosen.

Johnston & Murphy business casuals are doing well and Hoka continues to drive traffic,” commented Augustine.

Golden Shoes, Traverse City, MI.


How are you feeling regarding business challenges this year?

“We are in a much better inventory position this year, especially in athletics,” said Jubelirer. “Last year, we were still caught in over-inventoried positions due to supply chain fluctuations. Too much inventory from certain suppliers had backed up in the pipelines, and then was all shipped in a very small window of time… While we have worked our way out of it, it has taken a lot of time, and a lot of markdowns, without much help from certain vendors. When ‘partnerships’ become tests as they recently have been, we question our loyalties, and change our emphases accordingly.”

“Challenges continue to be Direct-To-Consumer from the major brands who either discount their product, or those that have exclusives that brick-and-mortar stores can’t get in theirs,” said Rosen. “Inventory challenges remain from brands that want more and more futures and have less at-once inventory in stock. Some brands are also opening accounts everywhere, taking away business from traditional brick-and-mortar accounts.”

“We are getting fill-ins for the most part,” offered Golden. “Some of the fashion companies are sold out for the season already, so you do need to find something else to take over the shelf space.”

“I am most worried about the rising cost of doing business and shrinking margins,” suggested Augustine.


Any thoughts on issues that the footwear industry needs to address today or in the months ahead?

“Retail will be challenging as it always has been during election years…There’s plenty of inventory available from the vendors, but our relationships with some of them are fraying. When they are more and more aggressively marketing to my customers, it leaves a very bad taste in our mouths,” said Jubelirer.

“Our vendors are giving 15 to 20 percent off at checkout online but holding us to MAP policy,” commented Augustine.

“Just make sure you are communicating with your sales rep with any issues you may have,” offered Golden. “They are there to help you.”

Reyers Shoe Store, Niles, Ohio