While the demand for sneakers continues to increase, it’s no longer enough to sell them in a run-of-the-mill retail environment.
Larger chains including Foot Locker, which closed 24 U.S. stores in 2017, and Shiekh Shoes, a West Coast retailer with 120 stores that filed for bankruptcy in November, must adapt to a changing consumer who wants to buy special product in a thoughtful space and is inundated with alternative ways to purchase shoes — whether that’s an e-commerce site, specialty boutique, resale app, or a festival and marketplace like ComplexCon or Sneaker Con.
“Today I think we have a few too many sneaker stores in the U.S.,” said Yu-Ming Wu, the cofounder of Sneaker Con. “There is an incredible demand for rare sneakers but when it comes to the general release sneakers like Air Jordans, the supply doesn’t meet the demand. Some of these guys have relied on the old model that every Saturday an Air Jordan is going to sell out, but that’s not always going to hold true today.”
Shiekh Shoes owes $16 million to Nike, and the store’s founder, Shiekh Ellahi, attributes his troubles to the shrinking demand for bricks-and-mortar retailers as well as suppliers’ desire to sell their products in premium environments.
Specialty sneaker boutiques are investing in just these types of spaces while regional retailers are becoming global players.
Extra Butter, a sneaker chain that was cofounded by Jason Faustino, Ankur and Nick Amin in 2007, spent close to $1 million to renovate its Lower East Side shop in Manhattan to mimic a movie theater. Sneakers and clothes are displayed on the perimeter of the store and theater seats sit in the center. The outside of the flagship features a marquee and a ticket window. When the store is closed, a screen comes down over the storefront that streams movies throughout the night. They’ve also decreased the amount of inventory they sell in store to only display a top selection of the brands they carry.
Bodega, a Boston-based streetwear and sneaker retailer that’s known for its faux-bodega storefront that leads to a store, is opening a shop in Los Angeles. Sneakersnstuff, which was founded by Erik Fagerlind and Peter Jansson in Sweden almost 20 years ago, opened its first New York store in December. The 3,500-square-foot shop, which was designed by Jenny Askenfors of Bofink Design Studio, features a basement bar that will be open to the public and will showcase exhibitions and activations on the first floor.
Fagerlind said Sneakersnstuff does 80 percent of its business online, but physical retail remains a significant part of its growth strategy and maintaining its relationships with big vendors. “In a world where everything is available and accessible, you have to provide a little bit more than product,” he said. “You have to provide the service to be relevant with your consumer.”
Wu believes that retailers such as Foot Locker are too big to fail, but they will have to respond to the market — quickly — especially as Nike expands its pilot with Amazon.