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Looking for Good

Well, the latest quarterly sales reports came in and—surprise—department stores took another drubbing. The figures were “WannaCry”-like with comparable store sales down at J.C. Penney, Macy’s, Kohl’s and Nordstrom, to cite a few. Perhaps more telling of the latter: Nordstrom Rack sales were up 2.3 percent. As primarily a full-price retailer that’s invested millions in brick-and-mortar shopping meccas in the priciest retail real estate areas, success of its off-price offshoot isn’t necessarily something to hang one’s hat on.

Of course, the media jumped all over the dismal numbers, proclaiming them the death of department stores and the imminent end of brick-and-mortar. The former may be accurate for a few that appear much closer to the abyss than, say, Nordstrom. When, for example, Sears CEO Eddie Lampert blogged recently that the company’s vendors are to blame for the beleaguered chain’s problems, one can assume it has reached the bottom of its long death spiral. Claiming vendors have been embarrassing Sears in the press and—worse—trying to extort better payment conditions is last-gasp reckless. Lampert first attacked the press for Sears’ problems and, to be fair, the media has been laying it on thick. Headlines such as “It’s Not Just Macy’s: Department Stores are in a Death Spiral” (Time); and “Bloodbath for Retail Stocks Rolls On” (Wall Street Journal) aren’t necessarily fair and balanced in tone. And with ones like, “Sears and Kmart Might Not Have Enough Money to Stock Their Shelves” (USA Today) and “Home Depot Crushing Sears and Other Struggling Retailers” (Fox Business News), you can see why Lampert would be angry. Still, accusing vendors of extortion isn’t the best way to maintain the very relationships that enable Sears to be a retailer.

It’s why this month’s Q&A (p. 12) with Kevin Bosco, president of Bos. & Co., is such a refreshing read. The family-owned company (distributors of Fly London and makers of Softinos and a namesake brand) has been on a 28-year streak of sales gains. But rather than pat his company on the back, Bosco credits its loyal retail partners (who are primarily specialty independents) for its success. Bosco has no plans to expand deep into DTC selling. As he puts it, “We’re not interested in helping put our customers out of business.” Good for Bos. & Co. and good for its retail partners, many of whom are doing well, Bosco says. They are nimble and savvy, while aircraft carrier-like department store chains struggle to turn on a dime.

No doubt these are unchartered and stormy waters. No one seems to have a clear view of what lies ahead, other than the online segment continuing to garner a larger piece of the overall retail pie. But maybe a little perspective is warranted before everyone abandons ship on brick-and-mortar. Industry studies peg its current market share at about 85 percent. Granted, online’s share may be snowballing now, but there are shoe shopping–specific factors to consider. While online has its share of positives—selection, convenience, free shipping—it has drawbacks too, like fit issues, return hassles and counterfeiting concerns. Plus, many consumers like to touch and try on shoes before buying. If stores are inviting, service is helpful and the selection is enticing, what’s not to like? It’s not like shopping for cat litter, where the rewards are few and the chance of suffering a hernia picking up a 25-pound box are great. Shoe shopping is about feeling stylish, sporty, comfortablein a word, good. There’s intrinsic value in that experience, provided it can be protected—starting with enforced MAP policies.

This month’s retail profile (p. 22) of The Shoe Hive in Alexandria, VA, illustrates how enjoyable shopping for shoes can be. Owner Elizabeth Todd has been serving a growing swarm of customers since 2003. The store’s setting in the city’s Old Town neighborhood is charming. (Location is everything.) The decor is warm and inviting. The help is friendly and knowledgeable. The selection is killer. Last, Todd has teamed with many of the area’s 200-plus boutiques and restaurants to showcase the district as an all-your-shopping-needs-and-dining destination. “I believe I have a great store, but I’m not good enough for people to fight traffic to just come to my store,” she admits. Perhaps that’s one of Todd’s best retailing attributes—she’s pragmatic. Of course, having a good eye, good taste and a good reputation helps.

Speaking of good things, Footwear Plus, one of the founding sponsors of Two Ten Foundation’s industry-wide charitable initiative, Footwear Cares, is pleased to report that the rapidly growing program is expanding from the month of April to year-round. More efforts benefitting people in need can only be a good thing. Be sure to read our fifth annual wrap-up (p. 18) of all the good being done by our good-hearted industry. It’s a really “good” story.

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