Some 18 months ago, the footwear industry was very much feeling the effects of the global economic crisis. Luxury brands like Christian Lacroix filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, while Prada SpA, which owns the Prada, Miu Miu, Car Shoe and Church's brands, reported a 22 percent decline in earnings for fiscal year 2008. Even more cost-conscious brands were stumbling, as first quarter 2009 results saw Kenneth Cole Productions posting a 15.6 percent decline in revenues, the brightly colored plastic Crocs line weathering a 32 percent drop, and even athletic footwear behemoth, Adidas, getting pummeled by a 97 percent drop in first quarter profits.
Today, however, the shoe is on the other foot. Genesco Inc., which owns the Journeys brand and markets Dockers Footwear, posted a first quarter profit of $8.6 million this year, compared with a first quarter loss of $5.8 million last year, while Brown Shoe Company Inc., which operates Famous Footwear stores and sells Dr. Scholl's, Franco Sarto, and Naturalizer footwear, saw its first quarter net income rise to $10 million, from a $7.6 million loss for first quarter 2009. Likewise, Columbus, Ohio based footwear retailer, DSW Inc., more than quadrupled its first quarter profits, with revenue rising by 17 percent and same store sales up by 16.2 percent, the same amount they retreated during 2009's first quarter.
Athletic apparel and footwear giant, Foot Locker Inc., reported first quarter profits up 74 percent, even as two key components of the athletic footwear market, basketball and running, continue to show declines, according to market research firm The NPD Group, which found that basketball shoe sales were down by 7.5 percent for 2009, and running shoes were down 0.6 percent. Still, NPD says, the overall athletic footwear market declined less in 2009 than it did in 2008. In 2009, athletic footwear sales posted a 1.4 percent decline, and in 2008 sales were down 3.2 percent. The women's market finished 2009 up by 0.6 percent, while the men's market saw a three percent decline.
"In other areas of the fashion industry, women make up the lion's share of the market, but not here," says Marshal Cohen, chief industry analyst, The NPD Group, Inc. "Much of the success in women's can be attributed to toning and shaping footwear. In the men's market that is not so. The challenge is for brands to get men to pick up on this trend. Not the toning and shaping trend, necessarily, but they may just jump on the comfort and wellness bandwagon." Even the downward trends in some of the subcategories in athletic footwear can be reversed relatively easily, Cohen believes. "The number one reason people don't participate in a sport is motivation, or lack thereof. And the lack of innovative product reduces consumer's motivation to purchase," he says. "The brands that understand and play the motivation card in two ways can ultimately win this race. I see this as an additional indicator that the market needs to convince consumers that there are new, exciting, and innovative products awaiting their purchases," Cohen adds. "Beyond the need to just get better, the industry needs to understand that if you give consumers something they can relate to, something that they need, as well as make them understand that the product is indeed new and unique, consumers will buy, even in challenging times."
One happy beneficiary of the athletic shoe upswing is Maurice Williams, owner of 2ManyDealz.com (http://2manydealz.com/). "It's gotten a lot better over the past few months," he says. "Even though our prices have increased, we're still doing really well. Our Nike Shox and Pumas are doing fantastically well." The store's inventory of Nike Shox sell for $65 a pair, or $110 for two pairs, while Pumas are priced at $75 per pair, or $120 for two pairs. Children's shoes, which include Nike Shox, Timberlands, Air Maxes, and Jordan23s, go for $65 a pair or $100 for two pairs. "They're all really popular," Williams says. "The fact that our prices are cheaper than everybody else's just helps us sell more." The company also does well with its line of designer sandals. Featuring such names as Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, Gucci, Prada, and Chanel, sandals are priced at $65 per pair.
2ManyDealz.com also offers a number of discount options for wholesalers. Minimum orders of $75 receive free shipping, while orders of over $300 receive a 20 percent discount, and orders over $400 receive a 25 percent discount. Looking ahead, Williams sees no reason for business to decline. "We should have a really good summer and on into the fall," he says. "After that, it's the holidays, and we're also expecting to do well then."
Business has also been improving at Wholesale Athletic Shoes Inc. (http://www.wholesaleathleticshoes.com/), where president Ricky Young says his line of non-name brand shoes, done in a style similar to those of Nike and K-Swiss, have rebounded nicely after a slow 2009. "Even though business has picked up, everyone is still watching their money," he notes. "For a lot of families, instead of buying $100 pairs of Nikes, they're looking more and more at spending on ours for around $20." Imported from China, WAS' inventory includes such brands as Koling Air, Je-Air, and K-Air; it also offers other footwear, including New York Boots and Grease Monkey work boots. Prices aren't made public, since Young says, "We sell to retailers, and this way keeps individuals from coming to our site and trying to buy direct from us to save even more money. We're dedicated to our retailers."
Those retailers continue to look for shoes priced at under $8 a pair, which WAS is happy to supply. Young adds, "Spring and summer are a busy time traditionally, due to kids being out of school and then back-to-school shopping, so April to August, roughly, is when we do a lot of business." The company's weekly inventory, which usually arrives on Mondays and is depleted by Thursday or Friday, has of late been emptying out by Wednesday, Young says. "That's the kind of trend we like to see, and we expect it to continue right through the summer."
While the future may be bright at 2ManyDealz.com and WAS, it may be even brighter at Inbop Flip-Flops Inc. (www.inbop.com), which is the exclusive distributor of Brazil's Cariris sandals in the U.S. "Things are wonderful," enthuses vice president Larissa Hemley. "We've really got nothing to complain about."
Inbop, established in 1963, currently produces in excess of 11.5 million sandals annually, with 50 percent of its profit donated to support Christian missionaries and missions works, primarily in third world countries. Inbop offers a full line of sandals (men's, women's, childrens', toddlers') in a variety of styles (flats, straps, heeled wedges), most priced in the $2.95 to $6 per pair range. The company divides its product into two categories. The first, currently kept in stock year round at its exclusive distribution center in Florida, requires a minimum order of 25 pairs, with shipments made within one business day; the second, not kept in stock in the U.S. and manufactured as orders are received, requires a minimum order of 3,000 pairs, with delivery taking approximately 60 business days.
Hemley says Inbop also does a significant amount of business with its custom made sandals. For flip-flops featuring a company's art or logo on the strap or back of the sole, 100 pairs of flats go for $4.82 a pair ($5.90 per pair for wedges, down from $6.61 per pair), with various pricing schemes going up to 400 pairs at $4.14 per pair for flats, or $5.30 per pair (down from $5.71 per pair) for wedges. Shipping from Florida within 30 days, custom orders have a minimum requirement of 100 pairs. Even though sandals are obviously most closely associated with the warmer months, Hemley says, "We have new styles coming in all the time, and we really sell our product year round."
Meanwhile, owner Brian Pang says that business at Califootwear (http://www.califootwear.com/) was definitely down during the economic crisis, but adds, "It's starting to pick up from last fall. The economic outlook has been better for this spring, but our business is still not as good as it was before the recession hit." Nevertheless, he says Califootwear's best selling item remains its "Brenda" shoe styled sandal, which sells for $12.50 a pair, 18 pairs to a box, in a variety of colors. "They have a special mold and cushion that make them extra comfortable to wear," Pang says. "They've always been a very strong item for us."
Califootwear also does well with its men's dress shoes, taking advantage of what Pang sees as a "renewed interest" in retro styles. Available in a number of styles and in black or brown, these shoes are priced at $13 a pair, 12 pairs to a box. The company's line of casual men's shoes, which range from the sneaker-ish ($32.50 per pair, 12 pairs per box) to loafers ($13 per pair, 12 pairs per box), faux leather work shoes ($13 per pair, 12 pairs per box), and work boots ($30 per pair, 12 pairs per box) have also been selling steadily, Pang says.
Although Califootwear's website features a "Kids" tab, it currently directs to a "No products matching the selection" page. "We're in the process of adding kids' shoes on a makeup basis," Pang explains. "If and when we get more inquiries, we'll add inventory. It's really a very niche market at the moment."
And niche markets may still not be the place to be, at least according to James Le, spokesman for Magic Lace (http://www.shoelacesonly.com/), which as its web address indicates, specializes in shoelaces. "We're not doing too well right now," Le says. "The economy has hit us particularly hard, and there doesn't seem to be any potential at the moment for things getting back to where they were."
The store's line of "magic" shoelaces, which range from squiggly laces to those with flowers or other designs, run $2.99 to $3.99 per pair; its "regular" shoelaces are mostly standard laces at $1.99 per pair, but also include a glow-in-the-dark line that goes for $4.99 per pair. Magic Lace also offers a line of heat transfer laces, featuring smiley faces, peace signs, butterflies and the like, running the length of the laces, priced at $4.99 per pair and available in 3/8 inch or 9/16 inch lengths.
The following were interviewed:
Maurice Williams, Owner
909 Martin Luther King Blvd.
Wauchula, FL 33873
Ricky Young, President
Wholesale Athletic Shoes Inc.
375 Mustang Drive
Russellville, AL 35654
Larissa Hemley, Vice President
Inbop Flip-Flops Inc.
5519 Forest Hills Lane
Milton, FL 32570
Brian Pang, Owner
10122 Rush Street
South El Monte, CA 91733
James Le, Spokesman
9804 Alburtis Ave.
Santa Fe Springs, CA 90670
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