Rugged outdoor-styled footwear is experiencing strong sales in department stores and other stores. Consumers have taken to the loggers, waterproof boots, the best shoes for standing all day and utility looks in both men’s and women’s styles. However, the weak economy, coupled with reduced prices has caused footwear sales to remain flat. Popular women’s styles include Timberland’s boots and Esprit’s outdoor looks. Popular men’s styles include several of Timberland’s boots.
Many retailers across the country are breathing a sigh of relief as they watch their initial deliveries of men’s and women’s outdoor footwear blow out the door.
After much anticipation, speculation and anxiety about how the rugged/outdoor and work boot categories would perform this back-to-school season, a number of retailers contacted by FN said they already expect their increased orders in the category to pay off.
Consumers’ embrace of the look has also served as a much-needed boon for the young men’s and women’s junior shoe businesses, which had up until now been struggling.
“Super strong across the board are the rugged, work shoe looks,” said Lou Lynn, vice president, director of family shoes for J.C. Penney Co. Inc., Plano, Texas. “We’ve been doing a lot of early fall business, especially in the young men’s and junior areas where we suspect we’re coming into the peak of the season.”
Retailers across the country noted strong sell-throughs on loggers, utility looks and even pricey waterproof boots for men and women. As many retailers noted: “The category is unstoppable.”
Nevertheless, reduced price points for men’s and women’s shoes and outdoor boots, coupled with what is being called a “soft” retail climate nationwide, made many retailers report men’s and women’s overall footwear sales as flat compared with this time last year.
Heading into this back-to-school season, most women’s shoe retailers had their hopes — and dollars –tied to two categories that drove their business last fall: outdoor looks and ankle boots.
While the jury is still out on the latter category, outdoor shoes and boots have already proven a safe bet.
From New York and Atlanta to St. Louis and California, retailers took but a moment to reel off their best-selling shoes: Timberland‘s low boots, retailing for about $100; and Esprit‘s alpine-inspired looks, selling for about $50. This early read on fall selling has many retailers confident sales for both authentic outdoor shoes and “outdoor-inspired” looks will exceed those of last fall and winter.
Yet after declaring these two standouts, retailers were often at a loss to single out other top-per-forming styles. As a result, little consensus could be reached regarding solid best sellers beyond these looks across the country.
While some retailers in the Midwest and Southwest noted fashion looks — especially feminine dress shoes and ankle boots — were already selling, their East Coast counterparts were not enjoying similar sell-throughs.
“Last year at this time booties were already selling. Dress shoes aren’t taking off as expected. I really believe they will, it just hasn’t happened yet,” said Debbie King, divisional merchandise manager at Bloomingdale’s, New York. “Sales of (women’s) dress shoes are much slower compared with this time last year,” echoed Lee Kaplan, divisional merchandise manager of footwear at Rich’s, Atlanta.
Some retailers attributed the delayed take-off of fall fashion shoes to warm weather, which many claimed prolonged the shelf life of slides, mules, and sandals. Comfort remained in the picture — in an Ecco/Mephisto/Birkenstock vein — and retro canvas looks made the back-to-school grade. But with fashion shoes’ slow start neutralizing soaring sales of outdoor boots, most retailers reported women’s shoe sales were flat compared with this time last year.
Timberland Diane ($100), Jayne ($100), Jena ($120), Karrie ($120),; Esprit Toolbox ($45) and Sledgehammer ($50)
Birkenstock Arizona ($85), and American Eagle Hampton ankle boot ($50)
Aerosoles by What’s What T-Bird fisherman sandal in sand and tobacco ($36) and One Mo Time ($29.99); B.U.M. Footwear Palladium-style looks and wash collection of bluchers in burlap, plaids and seersucker ($34.99); Charles David Evian chunky-heel granny boot ($125); Ecco Cosmo in natural ($80) and Shaker in black and chestnut leather ($109); Mephisto Ines in black, dark brown and green ($120), and Oceana in black and brown ($135); Nine West suede pumps ($54-$66), black Kimmy loafer ($66), and Phoebe in black suede ($54); Skechers high and low loggers ($75-$100); Superga sneakers in white and bone ($69); Sequoia Walk About series ($116); Vans retro sneakers in suede and velvet ($39.95) and suede chukka boots ($59.95)
Better safe than sorry? Could images of the winter of ’93 be the reason men are buying hikers in big numbers in August or have the rugged look simply become a footwear staple? Whatever the reason, retailers across the country are reporting strong sales of outdoor looks with Timberland on the top of just about everyone’s list.
“It’s just Timberland, Timberland, and more Timberland,” said Andy Chandler, buyer for men’s footwear, Hofheimer’s, Chesapeake, Va., adding that the hiking category, in general, is way ahead of last year in pairs.
The tried-and-true 6-inch and 8-inch work boots from Timberland are performing, according to stores polled, with one retailer stating that all knockoffs of the look will also be very strong.
According to Corey Simonson, vice president of merchandising for Chernin’s Shoes, Chicago, the Timberland 37043 (a 6-eyelet hiker) looks like it will be a “monster,” while other retailers like Ken Holley, men’s buyer for Gryder’s, Biloxi, Miss., and Joe Costyn, men’s, women’s and children’s buyer for LeBo’s Shoe Store Inc., Charlotte, N.C., report Timberland’s Euro Hiker collection, retailing for $90-$120, is moving as well.
The oxford is another classic that is starting to rack up sales, with Timberland, Bass, and Rockport stealing most of the classification’s fanfare.
For the young crowd, loggers and the work shoe category, in general, are continuing, with Jayme Perez, president of Exotic Shoes, South Beach, Fla., explaining that loggers are showing no signs of weakness. “Even in 100-degree weather we are selling them like crazy.”
Following work shoes in popularity with young men and teens are Dr. Martens. David LaMar, corporate vice president of Young Shoes, Olean, N.Y., said the padded collar workbook, which was delivered two weeks ago, is a “blow-out.” Also, selling is Harley-Davidson harness boots, Frye loggers and utility looks by Skechers.
But casual looks are not always the rule. Retailers reported value-priced wingtips from Florsheim and Nunn Bush leading sales.
Timberland 6-eyelet hiker ($100), Euro Hiker collection ($90-$120), Bush Hiker ($95) and bucks ($110)
Nunn Bush wingtips and hikers ($39-$60); Rockport DresSports ($95-$100), 3351 rugged oxford ($99), 7100 senes ($64.95-$110), Traveler series ($90-$100) and Gore-Tex boots ($140-$165)
Bass Falmouth in dark brown ($74) and The Wing Too ($74); Birkenstock Arizona ($85), Dr. Martens work boots ($119-$139); Florsheim brogue wingtip ($60); Frye campus and engineer boots ($100-$150); Georgia Boot loggers ($90-$150); Skechers utility looks ($50-$80).
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