IT’S A SHOE-IN
SPECIALTY STORE OWNERS WHO ADD FOOTWEAR LINES ARE WALKING AWAY WITH BOOSTED PROFITS.

Byline: Kelley Buttrick

Stepping into the accessory spotlight, shoes, with the right combination of fashion and function, are running out of retailers’ doors, leaving a trail of profits behind.
Lou Tatum, owner/designer of Arteffects, an Atlanta-based shoe manufacturer, does his best to convince specialty store owners that shoes drive up total sales. Once they’ve added shoes, they seldom stop carrying them, he said.
“Normally, the first reaction is ‘I don’t have room.’ But destination shoppers today like service and want to do the whole look, head to foot,” he said. “You have to keep shoe business tight and moving, but people are astounded at the volume shoes can add to their business.”
The success of footwear surprised Kellie Poulos, owner of Asinamali in Evanston, Ill., who devotes one of three windows to accessories, including shoes.
“I didn’t know there would be so much excitement about footwear,” she said. “That window above any other pulls customers into my store.”
Clothing manufacturers have launched shoe lines to extend their brand name and offer a complete look.
“We think of the woman and her lifestyle. After adding small leather goods two years ago, we saw the need to add shoes,” said Ame Austin Max, an associate designer at the Los Angeles-based Maxstudio.com. “People respect and trust (designer) Leon Max as a business owner and visionary. We have wonderful expectations for our shoes. They complete our whole look.”
Maxstudio.com will launch shoes for spring, with February, March and April deliveries.
“We design easy, casual shoes with a mid-century feeling,” said Austin Max, describing them as Fifties and Sixties retro looks with a modern spin. The company’s retail stores will offer approximately 15 styles, with additional selections for boutique and department stores.
Designed by Leon Max and Ame Austin Max, shoes are licensed out to manufacturers in either Italy, Brazil or China, depending on their design requirements. BCBG Max Azria added footwear in 1995 as an expansion of its ready-to-wear line. The company now offers two women’s shoe lines: BCBG Max Azria and the more expensive Max Azria BCBG, featuring looks for day, evening, work and weekend. BCBG Max Azria wholesales from $50 and $170, and Max Azria BCBG wholesales from $100 and $275. The footwear is also sold to stores like Saks Fifth Avenue, Bloomingdale’s, Nordstrom and Macy’s, as well as better specialty stores.
For juniors, BCBG just launched To The Max footwear to hit stores this spring, at wholesale prices from $22 to $35. A company spokeswoman reported a 50 percent increase in overall shoe sales over the past year.
Retailers agree the power of suggestion sells shoes.
At Daffodil Hill, a specialty store in Evanston, Ill., owner Stephanie Riley said the key is educating customers.
“Letting customers know what we’ve got and what they can do with it works,” said Riley, who suggests coordinating shoes while customers try on clothes.
Daffodil Hill offers six lines with four styles for fall-winter and six to eight for spring-summer. Her top-selling lines are Yellow Box, Rebels, Lisa B. and Glam.
Riley’s clientele, mostly young mothers, avoids complicated styles and gravitates to thong sandals, slides and mules that retail from $30 to $60. In winter, loafers are bestsellers, along with boots priced from $40 to $100.
Though Riley has not seen a significant increase in total profit since adding shoes, she said the category makes up 10 percent of store sales.
In addition to footwear, gift items like stationary and pushpins with shoe-centric designs also appeal to Daffodil Hill’s customers.
While footwear has been a good brand extension for clothing manufacturers, it is also the hot new category for accessories lines.
Arteffects, a 13-year-old shoe and handbag manufacturer, is riding the footwear wave. Owner Tatum and co-designer Nina Gelardi, have seen increasing shoe demand translate into steadily growing profits.
“In the past several years, shoes have outperformed ready-to-wear, as the garment industry geared itself toward juniors and slimmed-down looks,” said Tatum. “Some customers, who were left high and dry, spent money on accessories like bags and shoes, and made statements with ornamentation.”
Shoes are 90 percent of Arteffect’s business, with sales increasing 15 to 20 percent per year.
“We introduce new product at least four times a year,” said Tatum. “We’re not a huge company. We’re targeting only boutiques and specialty stores who are looking for something fresh.” Arteffects shoes wholesale from $28 and $60, with boots from $70 to $120.
Brighton, a Stafford, Tex., leather accessories line, added shoes five years ago. Wholesaling from $40 to $80, footwear is around 14 percent of total sales. Brighton is a licensee of Legion of California. With 35 shoe styles offered for two seasons a year, independent and smaller retailers are 90 percent of Brighton’s accounts. Brighton also has concept shops in larger retailers such as Parisian.
Brighton’s husband-and-wife design team, Dennis and Lynne Comeau, said shoes can update outfits.
“People are more forward in choosing shoes,” said Dennis Comeau. “Optically, an outfit changes when the shoes change.”
Shoes are not without hazards for retailers, as Daffodil Hill’s Riley learned. “The risk is greater with shoes, as most are sold in case packs with 12 to 18 pairs in a range where you don’t get to pick the sizes,” Riley said.
In addition to style and accessible pricing, comfort sells shoes.
To meet the demand for comfort, Brighton designed its unlined leather shoe to be like “gloves for feet;” many styles have rubber bottoms, to boot.
Comfort also plays a key role at Alec, a one-year-old Stamford, Conn.-based shoe manufacturer.
“Our shoes feature fashion and comfort with a little bit of attitude,” said owner and designer Alex Pisciella.
Alec shoes and boots wholesale from $35 to $60. While small retailers make up the bulk of Alec customers, larger department stores like Dayton-Hudson also carry the line. Apparel shows have driven business thus far, with more than 300 customers reordering almost every shoe at least once.
Currently, Alec’s most popular shoe is a sandal with a Lucite heel, a crinkle-pattern upper, a suede sock and a flower on the sole that matches one on the heel.
“It’s a fairly young company with great prices and hip, fun, fresh looks,” said Poulos, owner of Asinamali, where Alec is a bestseller.
Poulos recently moved into a larger space in Evanston, with one third of it devoted to shoes.
Her total sales increased by 20 percent since adding footwear. For spring, she plans to increase her shoe selection by 50 percent. Currently, Asinamali offers eight lines and 20 styles, many of which are merchandised with outfits and in the accessory window.
“The shoes pretty much sell themselves,” said Poulos. “They are an obvious presence throughout the store.”
The store owner said price range is a key to footwear success. For fall-winter, all shoes retailed for less than $200. In summer, prices range from $50 to $80. For spring-summer, Poulos said new shapes will attract customers.
“The wedge is back and many styles are futuristic, European and fun,” said Poulos. Poulos said a pair of shoes can make an outfit.
“I saw a young woman in a basic jeans and T-shirt outfit, but she looked very hip with the simple addition of a fantastic pair of shoes,” said Poulos. “Footwear can make a huge difference and bring a look up-to-date.”