Straight ‘A’ basics: early on in the back-to-school selling season

Retailers agree that basic styles drive back-to-school (B-T-S) shoe sales, particularly in the US’ more conservative regions. Warm weather and careful spending by parents have, as of mid-August 1995, held down B-T-S sales. Market conditions in the East, West, South and Midwest are discussed. Little Capezio, Nike, New Balance and Reebok are among the popular brands on the East Coast.

Across the nation, kids are just beginning to buckle into the back-to-school mindset. While some retailers still hear the word “jellies” ringing in their ears, as sandal sales have continued mainly due to the heatwave and the appeal of the colorful plastic styles, others are just opening shipments of school shoes.

Basic, say retailers, sells running shoes with good arch support for school, especially in conservative Southern and Midwestern locales. Some brands mentioned by retailers are not traditional children’s brands, as big-footed kids move onto adult sizes in their teens. The upside of the adult size trend is that the ever-maturing tastes of girls and boys em be satiated by grown-up shoes.

Across the nation, warm weather coupled with cost-conscious parents have mounted an early roadblock for a blockbuster back-to-school season, said retailers. Few have afl their fall goods in, anticipating that most b-t-s shopping will be done in mid-to late August. Still those that are selling goods, report a variety of items doing wee, including outdoor gear from Nike and Stride Rite, as well as sneakers and rugged looks from vendors such as Skechers.

The East Coast

Brands: Little Capezio, Jumping Jacks, Nike, Reebok, New Balance, L.A. Gear

Styles: Velcro or other hook-and-loop fasteners, high-top sneakers, maryjanes, basic school oxfords in blue and red, boat shoes, suede bucks, patent party shoes for girls.

Prices:: $35-$65

Comments: The consummate cry from retailers is that parents are buying skads of sneakers, while just a few have started buying traditional school shoes. Omar Warren, salesperson, Two Steps, New York, said sales on summer shoes are just finishing up and all the new styles for b-t-s are just now coming in.

“Last week the back-to-school traffic began,” said Tony Gagliardi Jr., manager, Heathcote Bootery, Scarsdale, N.Y. “People have been cutting back on the number of shoes they’re getting,” he said, noting that hand-me-downs are coming into play as parents pinch disposable pennies. He expects his store to be busy starting this week and continuing through to the end of September when the Jewish holidays hit.

The South

Brands: Nike, Fila, Keds, Valencia and L.A. Gear

Styles: For boys, Nike’s leather GTS and Fila’s Grant Hill; for girls, Keds’ Ashley in black or brown, Valencia’s Rachel brand – specifically its Savannah and brown waxy leather Wyoming styles – Willets’ Hawk style boot, and L.A. Gear’s lighted shoes. Overall, the demand is for sneakers, conservative looks such as loafers and slipons, and oxford laceups.

Prices: $30-$50

Comments: “Right now the hottest thing we’ve got going is the Rebel boot with a high heel for girls. For boys we’re doing real good with Nike Airs,” said Juan Gomez, manager, Stride Rite, North Miami Beach, Fla.

Gretchen Jordon, owner of If the Shoe Fits, Charleston, W.Va., said “Right now there’s a boot from Jumping Jacks called the Hard Hat, a boys’ construction walking boot for plantar fasciitis for $42-$46 retail, that the girls are just cleaning the shelves on. No one’s even blinking an eye on the price.”

The Midwest

Brands: For boys, Jumping Jacks’ CL Kids; for girls, Graphique; and for both, L.A. Gear Lights. Styles: Branded sneakers; hook-and-loop fasteners; lug-heeled styles from Rebels; Skechers’ low and mid-tops in suede and canvas with chunky heels; maryjanes; lug-soled penny loafers in leather and suede; Kinderland’s boot with sock attached; Birkenstock sandals; Converse One Star; Airwalk for older kids.

Prices: $30-$70

Comments: Many Midwest store owners were too busy to comment. But the quick-talking ones said sandal sales were dying off as the mid-to end-of-summer mindset seeps over parents. As far as school shoes go, many have the same sentiment: “It’s a little early to tell,” said Dave Gotskind, owner of two-unit Gotskind Shoes, Oak Park, Ill. “The parochial schools out here still want them in fairly basic shoes – basic straps and ties are selling. And for boys, it’s that little chunkier heel that is still selling. The time of imports at $65, forget it; they don’t want to mess with that anymore.”

We do a promotion for b-t-s in August, so people start early, but some wide shoes for bunions haven’t come in yet. A lot of the industry is late in shipping,” said Beryl Bloch, co-owner, Kickers, Northbrook, Ill. “Doc Marten has some new colors, with the Analine shiny leather selling great,” she added. At Kickers, fast fashion sells, said Bloch, and price has little effect on customers. Of the high-priced Doc Martens, Bloch said: “They’re all sold out. I tried to reorder already… We’re very forward fashion for junior high to adult. We have five-year-olds, too, but our strength is in the junior market.”

The West Coast

Brands: Grendha, Nike, Stride Rite, LA Gear

Styles: Fisherman jellies from Grendha for $10.99; Nike’s Air Turmoil, $46, and Nike Air Diamond Fury, $49; Stride Rite Rimrock hiker; L.A. Gear’s L.A. Lights series for $47-$53; Stride Rite Sprint, a Velcro-hooked sneaker in black and teal, $40; Leo ballet flats, $17.99; Stride Rite Sweet Pea sandal in white, $24; Stride Rite Supercharge, a Velcro low-top for $41; Stride Rite Splashdance leather casual, $40.

Prices: $25-$45 is average

Comments: The weather, if it has delayed the fall buying period, has also prolonged the summer sales. Mike Padilla, a buyer with Brooks Shoes for Kids, Los Angeles, said, “jellies, jellies and jellies” are one of the moving items at his store. Other than that, however, he noted, “we’re in the doldrums right now. We never had to reorder [this summer].”

Others agreed. “There’s not much of a big bang of anything right now. Some of the Skechers’ items are starting to sell along with some hiking boots, but that’s about it,” said Frank Burmann of Chalk Talk Bootery, Thousand Oaks, Calif.

“I can’t even figure a trend out yet,” said Gary Manprin of Burch’s and Combs Footwear, Eugene, Ore. “We don’t know if lighted shoes, hikers or high-tops or going to be big. People are starting to look, but they aren’t buying…but then we only have about half of our fall stuff out yet.”

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