Retail Report

School Days, Shoe Daze

Retailers Are Ready for the Fall Footwear Rush with Key Product and Smart Promotions.

As the dog days of summer wear on, footwear retailers across America are prepping for fall fashion and an influx of kids (and parents) looking to get set for the school year. To get them excited, retailers are banking on trusted brands such as Nike and Vans, as well as resurgent players like Fila and Diadora, and rolling out new promotions rooted in community outreach to set their shops apart.

At Foot Locker, retro ’90s looks and chunky “dad” styles have been strong, with heat around Nike’s Air Max and Air Force 1 styles, as well as Vans classics and Fila’s Disruptor look.

“The Air Max platforms are prime examples of the innovative product coming from Nike [that] is driving a lot of the excitement and demand across our banners,” Foot Locker president, chairman and CEO Dick Johnson said on a recent call with investors. “There is a tremendous buzz around some of this ’90s influence — Champion has been out in a great run, Fila has been on a great run, and we expect that to continue.”

At Dick’s Sporting Goods, chairman and CEO Edward Stack told analysts on the retailer’s first-quarter earnings call that “the Adidas brand continues to do very well. I think we’ll see some acceleration in Nike going forward and we had a meeting with Under Armour yesterday. We are really pleased with the content and the direction we’re going to be going with them going forward. So, all in all, we’re pretty pleased with what’s going on there.”

NPD analyst Matt Powell said in a recent NPD report that the continued casualization — and yes, those chunky ‘90s looks — will be critical going forward.

“Athleisure has taken over the athletic footwear market and I do not expect the performance categories to improve anytime soon. Growth in retro athletic footwear has slowed, but the market for this is still growing and smaller brands in this space are winning, including Fila, Puma, and Reebok,” he wrote.

For independents, back-to-school means a chance to connect with the consumers — both school-going and not.

Susan Boyle, owner of the Brooklyn, NY-based sneaker boutique Rime, says that the chunky shoe trend has been strong and she expects it to continue through the fall. Adidas’ $120 Yung 1 and Puma’s $120 Thunder styles have sold out in minutes and Nike’s Air Max and VaporMax Flyknit programs have been strong. And women are buying in, too. Boyle says her younger — as well as her most fashion-forward female shoppers — are gravitating toward the ’90s looks.

“I’m selling the Fila Disruptor II and every girl is buying it,” she says. “It’s a mom shoe and it gives them height and it’s only $65.”

To keep the momentum going, Rime  has been doing more events such as listening parties, and has an in-store event with a local artist planned for late September. And starting on September 1, customers who drop off a gently worn pair of shoes for Heeling Soles will get a discount on a new purchase. “I’m going to be the designated drop-off location for Brooklyn — people will bring in their stuff and we’ll go around and give it to people in Brooklyn,” she says.

For the four Philadelphia-based Philadelphia Runner shops, the focus is on performance looks. Owner Ross Martinson says Nike’s Pegasus style has been hot and that On Running and Hoka One One (especially for high school runners) have been growing. And the Diadora Mythos and Mythos Fly  styles have been strong sellers at the store. “Diadora has been a surprise hit and it’s nice to have something that can’t be found anywhere else,” he says.

(Diadora sponsors the Philadelphia Runners track team and the store’s co-founder now works for the brand in the U.S.)

Back-to-school is a good time for the store, he says. Philadelphia Runner is increasing the kids’ selection at its suburban store after seeing growth when a local Stride Rite closed, and the University City location, based near Penn and Drexel, will be hosting events in conjunction with local institution Federal Donuts to “help introduce both of us to incoming freshman,” Martinson says. And track season is a focus: Philadelphia Runner is hosting a track meet with a local school and spike nights at multiple store locations.

At Lively Athletics in Oak Park, IL, owners Anne Pezalla and Kate Pezalla Marlin are using back-to-school as a time to celebrate — and a great time to kick off new initiatives.

The shop introduced “Concierge Shoe Fittings” (appointments outside of regular shop hours for kids that need extra time or attention or a quiet shopping atmosphere) for back-to-school and the response has been so good that they plan to offer it all August. And in partnership with local ice cream shop Oberweis, every kid that buys a pair of shoes in August will get a free scoop of ice cream.

For the first day of school, the shop is sponsoring parent coffee hour at local elementary schools with a local roaster. They’re also doing a “Yoga + Coffee + Shopping” event in conjunction with the yoga studio next door to their shop.

Partnering with fellow small businesses, Pezalla says, is a win-win. Working with community shops amplifies both stores’ messages and roots them into the community consciousness.

“I love other small businesses and we use them in everything we do,” she says. And in a time of big competition for dollars, working together helps make coming into the store a special occasion, she says. “We want to make it an experience.”