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Spice It Up

Experts weigh in on how to avoid tired retail. By Melissa Knific

we won’t name names, but even industry insiders have complained that lately the world of retail—from the product on the shelves to the means of selling it—has grown tired. In an effort to give the market some extra kick for the fall sales period, Footwear Plus asked store owners and retail analysts for advice on how to add some heat to the world of sales. Here, some of our favorite ideas:

CREATE BUZZ | “We’re not waiting for the media to contact us; we’re contacting them. I’m always supplying stories and pitches to television and print. Obviously it’s self-promoting, but I do it in a way where we’re not just talking about our stores. I’m a regular on a local morning show, ‘Charlotte Today,’ where I talk about fashion. We also dress the anchor and get a credit. The station is working on a local version of ‘What Not to Wear,’ where I’d be like Clinton [Kelly] and my store manager would be Stacy [London]. We’re also hosting Brief!, a tasteful men’s underwear fashion show that raises money for cystic fibrosis. I’m not opposed to doing whatever we can to spin media attention around us. Right now, survival is the new black.” —Dan Mauney, owner, Step by Sloan, Charlotte, NC

PLAY HOST | “Weekly, we are hosting special events, contests and any creative ideas that I can muster. One recent week, if ladies purchased a pair of shoes between 5 and 7 p.m., they stepped into a life-size ‘Barbie Box’ and took a picture with our photographer. The following week, they sent friends and family into the store to vote for them. The winner won a $100 gift card, a beautiful dress and a one-hour photo shoot. Also, we held a family and friends night for all of our staff and community friends and a client appreciation night with champagne and chocolates. I will even begin doing seminars to help build ladies’ self-esteem, like a ‘Walking in Heels 101’ class. We are living off of special events right now. I’ve determined one thing: Quitting is not an option.” —Nicole Jones, owner, Sensual Steps Shoe Salon, Chicago

GET SERIOUS | “Stop the discount coupons, fire your clerks who are jaded and only clerk the merchandise, and remember to show two pairs for every one a customer asks to try on. Have a shoeshine fundraiser with the local high school instead of a car wash. I would personally create a ‘Have you looked at your shoes lately?’ campaign and show various shoes with the idea that new shoes from your shop could make them proud instead of embarrassed. Stop overbuying what you ‘like’ and aggressively get rid of the dogs. Then, only replenish your top five categories and get out of your lowest five. If the market has changed, be proactive. If the swanky sandals didn’t sell this past spring, be assured they won’t next spring either—give them a great discount and get out of them.” —Bob “The Retail Doc” Phibbs, retail analyst

TAP YOUR REPS | “Our main goal is to make customers feel welcome and that they can achieve any fitness goal they may have. Representatives from various companies are invited to come talk about their products. We just had a rep from Pearl Izumi here in partnership with a half-marathon. He brought ‘test’ shoes for people to try out and answered questions about the brand’s products. We also hold drawings for free entries into events and sometimes have shoe or sunglasses giveaways. Our staff can be very entertaining, and our customer service and referrals are what brings most people into our store. We have a website, an e-mail newsletter and a Facebook page where customers leave comments on their experiences at the store.” —Leone Rusher, owner, Shu’s Idaho Running Company, Boise, ID

ADD SOME JAZZ | “Aside from sending e-blasts, advertising in airline magazines and starting a birthday promotion, we have increased our selection of accessories to spice up the appearance of the store. We’re merchandising necklaces, bracelets and earrings to sell with particular sandals and displaying products by color themes and fashion stories. Our business is dependent on the traffic for tourists. This year, Canadians and Australians held up the buy due to favorable exchange rates, but customers still bought what they needed. However, if you had something compelling and different, they would buy it. Luckily, I see definite trends for next season. Brands have worked very hard to bring fresh merchandise to the market. Some of the early Spring ’11 lines look fantastic.” —Paula Sussex, owner, Sandal Tree and Walking In Paradise, Honolulu, HI

OFFER EXLUSIVITY | “Compared to two years ago, we definitely focus less on flashy window-dressing shoes and more on styles our customers can tie into their everyday wardrobe. People buy based on need, but we still work directly with designers to select styles that other retailers don’t offer, including working in some exclusives. We’ve had success with exclusive styles from designers Bettye Muller, Alexandre Birman and Ron Donovan, and we make sure to get the message out that these shoes are rare and unique to customers. We also invite special customers to pre-sales. They like to come in and get a deal without all the signs and hoopla that usually accompanies a sale.” —Richard Erani, president, Chuckies, New York

READ THE RUNWAY | “June and July are typically slow months, so we have a 75-percent-off sample sale with our last pairs. We have little drawers that we use to segment the sizes. We don’t want to lower the value of these shoes since we’re a high-end boutique; we want a subtle sale. Once in a while, I’ll bring customers in and we’ll hang out and talk about shoes—there will be some Pellegrino and champagne—but we don’t pressure them to buy. For example, this is the first season we’re carrying Valentino, so I invited my top 10 customers in to see the line. Some came back the following week and purchased the shoes. In terms of buying, we don’t want to bring in the exact same thing as the department stores. We try to buy more of the runway styles than the more classic shoes. If we know for a fact that a black shoe is being shown in suede in showrooms, we’ll do a different variation, like patent leather, or swap it out with a different heel height. We like to see all variations before making a final decision. Why bring in what everyone else has?” —Chant Asparian, owner, Angelo Shoes, Pasadena and Glendale, CA

SPREAD THE WORD | “I became creative by force. I’m up to almost
4,600 people on my personal Facebook page (the limit is 5,000), I have 1,600 on my fan page and 2,000 followers on Twitter. I’ve been using Foursquare a lot recently, too—the other day, I posted a ‘shout’ that Havaianas were $5 for only three hours. We have a special event planned for mid-September with two local girls who sell organic bags; if you buy a $30 hemp bag and bring it into the store the
remainder of the year, you can get 10-percent off your future purchases. Customer service is probably the most important thing right now—it’s the only thing you can really hang your hat on. [As a former Nordstrom employee], you can take the guy out of Nordstrom, but you can’t take Nordstrom out of the guy.” —Tony Zelaya, owner, Zelaya Shoes, Bethesda, MD

The March 2024 Issue

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