From sandals on the Fourth of July to toe socks at Christmas, footwear and hosiery are always in season. Continued sales of basic footwear styles ensure that retailers can thrive even in a down economy. Retailers still need to know, of course, what basic styles sell best, and their ability to sell well online. A recent survey of major distributors provides some answers, and there are definitely challenges and opportunities to come in the footwear market.
Georgie Broadhead of Sock Wholesalers is a humble business owner, saying, "We're just a small family owned business that quietly sits and does its own thing." Yet, this simple operation over the years has provided some deep insights on the basics and their salability. "The socks that sell best are athletic socks," Broadhead says. Other hot items are seasonal. "In the winter time and around the holidays, we sell more unusual items such as toe socks, usually a holiday item that retailers market and sell well," she notes. "Retailers buy the specialty socks, but always come back for practical socks." Sock Wholesalers, in fact, does a lot of business with nonprofits and churches, "giving socks to the homeless." Proud of its contribution to society, Sock Wholesalers highlights a number of charities front and center on its homepage. "We've done what we can for those who support the troops or veterans," explains Broadhead, as practical and basic footwear is usually something taken for granted.
At Sefeni Shoes, manager Javier Sanchez says that summer is the hottest time for his company's products. "We specialize in sandals," he says. Located in Miami, sandals are part of the basics, especially casual sandals for home and beach. With his finger on the pulse of the market, Sanchez says that the current popular items are trending to soft styles. "We've seen a softer version of our sandals," he notes. "It's PVC, but a soft version that looks like leather, with an open toe. The kind the foot slides in." He is proud of the products Sefeni offers. "We sell very unique lines that include multi-use products that are really well made," Sanchez explains.
Sanchez also mentions the Asian look that is increasing in popularity. "We have some trendy new styles such as oriental themes," he explains. "Sparkly items also do well." Most sales are seasonal, and Sefeni Shoes generally sells to a wide range of places and customers. In addition to independent retailers, Sanchez says, "right now we are targeting the flea markets and wholesalers alike. We sell to the Caribbean islands, and to Central and South America."
Sanchez emphasizes that the web is a key part of his business. "The Internet is very important to us. We have not opened our online store yet, but the products visible on our site are essential because we have everything there. We can show products anywhere in the world, which is really important." He likened the site to an online catalog, and that's why the most important part of the site is the photography. Sefeni Shoes takes photos of each and every product, and will add a functional shopping cart to the site. "We will open up a store and get things going, with caveats," explains Sanchez, who keeps in touch with his customers through email, postcards, and a catalog, in addition to the website.
Kimberly Bell owns the distribution side of the business at HotFlops, a footwear wholesaler familiar with the ins and outs of the sandal business. "Flip flops are a year-round trend now, and anything blingy and with lots of sparkle are hot products," Bell notes. "For example, take our ?Classy' and ?Wedding' styles that have diamond rings on them." She also says that tropical styles are going to be a hot seller in the months ahead. "Our new line coming out this summer will have a Hawaiian flip flop with coconuts on it that's all the rage," explains Bell. "Anything that is drink or vacation inspired is very popular."
HotFlops has been online since 2007. The site is important to the company, since a lot of traffic comes in online. "We get quite a bit of business," reports Bell. The site also serves the company's wholesale customers through referrals. Retailers carrying HotFlops products are added to the Find a Store feature. "We put them on the site when they become a wholesale customer. There's probably close to 2,000 retailers in the feature." As for the company's wholesale trade, "everything is handled through email," Bell explains. As for social media, Twitter and Facebook are very important for HotFlops. "We get a lot of action on our Facebook site," says Bell. "It's mostly product info and what's coming out, and getting their opinion. We run specials on Facebook all the time." Besides its social networking impact, HotFlops is also making a difference in the world with an initiative called "Soles For Souls." As Bell explains, "it's a charity we support that gives shoes to people in underprivileged countries."
Making a difference is a major motivation for Eros Hosiery Co., according to company president Brad Seiver. "Our breast cancer awareness sock is doing very well. We give part of the proceeds from that to the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation." The footwear, apparel, and sock supplier also sells a lot of basic style socks to nonprofit groups. "We do a lot of basic winter items," says Seiver. "We give wholesale pricing to charities, and they give away the winter items to the homeless and low income people."
The company is a major supplier to merchants as well, and Seiver is in touch with the latest retail trends. "For the summertime, flip flops make the best sales," he says. "A low cut sock, or other summery socks, are also doing well. The basic colors are moving well, and so are lots of patterns." However, looking toward the second half of the year, there is one troubling cloud on the horizon. "We're gearing up now for the fall," Seiver explains. "The trend right now is pricing. Prices are going through the roof, and costs are going up 20 to 30 percent. That's a challenge. We're going strong hoping that the consumer will understand and still keep buying." That's not stopping Eros Hosiery's growth strategy, though. "We're expanding," he says. "For the fall, we're expanding on our slipper socks, especially the nonskid type. That seems to be a big trend."
A key part of that growth initiative is Eros' website, which was completely revamped about a year ago. "The site has been a windfall. It really gets our product out there, and offers smaller stores a chance to come to our site and buy small quantities at a wholesale price," explains Seiver. "We started off with six or seven hundred items, but now we have about 5,000." The company offers tiered pricing based on the volume of total purchasing.
Barbara Peterson sells a special kind of sandal through her company, Prettie Pretties by BJ. Her Strapless Sandal, "adheres comfortably to the wearer's feet," she says. They are made from a skin adhesive similar to that used in medical prosthetics. "To put the Strapless Sandal on," Peterson says, "you simply step on it heel first and then press forward. It'll stay on all day long." Her business gives her an insider's take on the industry. "The color of the year is a honeysuckle pink," she says. "Last year the hot color was turquoise." She also says that tropical patterns are popular, including flowers, palm trees, ocean, and sand.
According to Peterson, the Internet is definitely the bright spot in a tough economy. "In the last six months, I have focused more on the web," she says. "I'm finding that buyers will search for what they want and buy it." Online sales are holding their own, while other sales have been down. That may be in part due to her site. "The website is simple but effective. It has a tropical look, with the pink and turquoise colors. It is designed for my product," she explains.
Peterson is continuing to innovate online, especially in social media. "I felt that if I were to continue with the online business, I was going to need to get into it." Peterson is focusing on Facebook and Twitter. "I just got started. Hopefully it will mushroom. I'm seeing that everywhere I look, on TV, everywhere you go, there's Facebook and Twitter," she notes. Peterson is convinced of the importance of these sites. "I think they are critical to sales, whether in-person sales or online sales. I think it is even more important that people have a website now."
In a market segment that enjoys a certain recession-proof business model, seeing that people will always need shoes and socks, retailers are doing well with basic styles, say these suppliers. Moreover, consumers still crave novelty and fun fashion, and for this season that translates into sales of tropical theme flip flops. Looking to fall and winter, cozy socks will again be in demand, although with higher prices on the horizon, retailers may have to sell that much harder.
For more information:
Sock Wholesalers Inc.
260 Burkhart Road
Rutledge, TN 37861
Toll Free: 800-597-3886
134-35 SW 128th St.
Miami, FL 33186
PO Box 10842
Smyrna, TN 37167
Toll Free: 888-316-3711
Eros Hosiery Co.
6909 Rising Sun Avenue
Philadelphia, PA 19111
Prettie Pretties by BJ
240 North Delaware Avenue
Deland, FL 32720
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