IT’S A SHOE-IN
SPECIALTY STORE OWNERS WHO ADD FOOTWEAR LINES ARE WALKING AWAY WITH BOOSTED PROFITS.
Byline: Kelley Buttrick
Stepping into the accessories spotlight with the right combination of fashion and function, shoes are running out retailers’ doors leaving a trail of profits.
According to Lou Tatum, owner of footwear and accessories manufacturer Arteffects, shoes drive up total sales.
“Normally, the first reaction is, ‘I don’t have room,’ but what’s happening in today’s market place is that people are destination shopping. They like service and want to do the whole look from head to foot,” said the shoe designer. “We’ve had very few people who have started this and stopped it. You have to keep it tight and moving, but people have been astounded by the amount of volume they can add to their business.”
At Arteffects, shoes make up 90 percent of business, and sales are increasing at a rate of 15 to 20 percent per year.
“We try to come out with something at least four times a year. We gear it to apparel people who want something fresh,” said Tatum. “What has worked for us is the fact that we’re not a huge company, and we’re gearing everything to boutique apparel and specialty stores.”
Arteffects shoes wholesale between $28 and $60, and boots wholesale from $70 to $120.
Since opening in 1948, footwear has helped business at Whitten’s Town and Country Clothes in Albertville, Ala.
“I think shoes are one of the first things you notice on a woman,” said Trent Whitten of Whitten’s Town and Country Clothes. “In the past five or six years, shoe designs have become incredible.”
Both retailers and manufacturers said shoes are one aspect of what a woman seeks to complete her look, and both are aiming to meet all of a woman’s fashion needs rather than focusing on one category.
“We decided to launch shoes because we think of the woman as a whole. Two years ago, we started with small leather goods, but realized we had a void and needed to add shoes,” said Ame Austin Max, associate designer, Los Angeles-based Maxstudio.com. “People tend to respect and trust Leon as a business owner and visionary, so we have wonderful expectations about our shoes. It completes our whole look.”
Maxstudio.com will introduce shoes for the first time this spring with deliveries to stores in February and March.
The shoe line will be launched with spring styles, including slides.
“We design easy, casual shoes with a midcentury, modern feeling,” said Austin Max. Austin Max stores will offer approximately 15 styles, but Maxstudio.com will provide an additional 15 selections for boutique and department stores.
Another clothier, BCBG Max Azria, added footwear in 1995 as an expansion of the ready-to-wear collection. Currently, the manufacturer offers two lines of women’s shoes, and a line of footwear for juniors will hit stores this spring.
For Marigail Mathis, owner of Marigail Mathis, a specialty store in Florence, Ala., shoes replaced designer soaps as an add-on purchase item at her store.
“I like to keep prices under $100,” said Mathis. “Over $100 is an investment, but under $100, customers think of it as an accessory.”
Mathis said every pair of shoes she carries sells. She estimated that shoes are 15 percent of total sales, with footwear constituting 50 percent of accessory sales.
Retailers agree shoes sell clothes.
“People that come into a shop like mine are looking for a complete outfit,” said Mary Ann Jarusinski, owner of Uptown Girl in Duluth, Ga. “A shoe can be a part of a total look. We carry shoes to help our customers pull an outfit together.”
Footwear is categorized with accessories, at 20 percent of sales at Uptown Girl. Most shoes retail between $62 and $78.
While clothing manufacturers achieved success with the addition of footwear to their line, other companies, specializing in shoes and handbags, have also watched sales climb. Shannon Floyd, owner of Shannon Diego with her husband, Larry, said her business is thriving since boutique owners realized footwear can increase clothing sales.
“As a consumer myself, I don’t have time to shop multiple stores. I like to get everything in one place,” said Floyd. “As people cross-merchandise in stores, they are looking for cute items to catch consumers’ eyes that can’t be found in department stores.”
Dallas-based Shannon Diego designs and produces shoes and handbags, with footwear at 70 percent of total sales. Wholesale prices range from $30 to $60. Since its inception 3 1/2 years ago, sales have increased annually for the $3.5 million business.
Each season, Shannon Diego offers 23 to 33 patterns. For fall, the line includes boots, booties, high heels, flats, midheels, round toe and tapered toes.
Shannon Diego targets independent store owners.
“There is no better group of people to work with than independents who know their business, know their customers and appreciate companies that want to work with them.”
Stafford, Tex.-based Brighton has its name on a variety of items, from gifts to bags and shoes. Shoes were added to the line five years ago. Wholesale prices range between $40 and $80, and footwear makes up 13 to 14 percent of total sales under the Brighton name.
Brighton designs, sells and distributes shoes that merchandise with Legion of California bags and belts. Brighton offers 35 different styles a season, two seasons each year. The company targets smaller retailers and independents, who make up 90 percent of sales. Brighton also has concept stores in larger retailers.
Brighton’s husband-and-wife design team Dennis and Lynne Comeau did not theorize why there was a boom in the shoe business, but said women use shoes to update outfits.
“People tend to be a bit more forward in choosing shoes to wear,” said Dennis Comeau. “Optically, an outfit changes when you change the shoes.”
For retailers, offering shoes is not without hazards.
“I have learned how you can get killed on shoes for sizes you think you need, but can’t give away,” said Whitten, who said he is sometimes left with size 5 and 10 shoes.
To meet consumer desire for comfort, Brighton makes an unlined leather shoe with the concept of gloves for the feet, in addition to putting rubber bottoms on many styles.
Comfort is also key at Arteffects, which created an entire line of comfort shoes called Inspired Soles by Arteffects.
For Jarusinski, Arteffects shoes are top sellers because of the combination of form, function and affordability.
“My customers who have bought Arteffects before come back looking for more styles,” the Uptown Girl owner said.
Constantly providing something fresh and different, Jarusinski orders no more than two cases per style. She will special-order for customers, but will not reorder a particular shoe, with the exception of basic styles.
Uptown Girl stepped into carrying shoes with three lines, in six styles at a time. Shoes are displayed with outfits in the window and throughout the store. In addition, Jarusinski keeps shoes displayed together on a large piece of rustic furniture across from the counter within the client’s line of sight.
While Jarusinski is unsure if she will expand her shoe category, she will continue to order new styles as others sell. Thus far, her best-selling shoe is an embroidered or beaded mule.
Whitten’s Town and Country Clothes has offered shoes for more than 50 years. Twenty-five years ago, he carried nothing but Etienne Aigner before the brand saturated the market.
Now, customers walk out of the shop in BCBG Max Azria, Tommy Bahama and Brighton. Currently, shoes make up less than 10 percent of his total sales.
At his store, Whitten merchandises shoes with outfits rather than delegating a certain space to shoes alone. Only the Tommy Bahama line is shown together. Those shoes have a tropical feeling with casual, microfiber styles. Depending on the season, Whitten’s Town and Country Clothes offers 30 to 35 shoe styles.
Like other retailers, Whitten uses the power of suggestion to sell shoes to his customers.
“We will bring shoes to the dressing room to try on with an outfit,” said the store owner. “Most customers come in with the wrong shoe to try on clothes. If you show them a pair that looks great with the garment, it helps sell the clothes.”
Whitten said he’s had great success with BCBG shoes.
The company offers two footwear lines for women, including looks for day, evening, work and weekend.
For juniors, BCBG launched To The Max footwear, wholesaling from $22 to $35. The line, which has no relation to BCBG Max Azria, will hit stores in spring 2001.
Bestsellers are casual, molded bottom styles and “Euro sport” bowling looks.