Becoming Al Bundy

Not too long ago, which colors of Vans to stock was a retailer’s biggest dilemma when it came to shoe buying. Now there are more than 25 skateboard-shoe companies and over 100 models. When you consider all the different colors, you have hundreds of shoes to choose from.

The skate-shoe business is booming and bigger than it’s ever been. In a recent SKATEboarding Businesssurvey*, retailers carrying shoes report that shoe sales account for an average of 29 percent of their total business, and in some cases as much as 65 percent. In many shops, shoes outsell hardgoods. Take a look at any skateboarding magazine today and you will find anywhere from fifteen to 35 pages of shoe advertisements. What this all boils down to is that the shoe business is a high-stakes game that can bring you some nice profits, or leave you out to dry. Here are few things to keep in mind when buying, selling, and managing your shop’s shoe business.

Before diving headfirst into shoe lines, take the time to know your customer base. What sizes will be in demand at your store? If you already sell clothing in children’s sizes, then your family-based clientele will require shoes in smaller sizes. On the other hand, if the majority of your customers are teens or older, you will need to go deep in the larger sizes.

Jeremy Smith, owner of Coup d’État in Northfield, Minnesota, says, “It is very important to know the brands of shoes that your competitors sell and do well with, and try to find your own niche.” Many shoe companies may be reluctant to open a new store with their lines if there is already good representation in that area. Working with companies that do not have big representation in your town can help distinguish your shop from others, and draw new customers in.

It is a good idea to get feedback from your existing customers and shop-team riders on what brands are appealing to them. Find out what features they look for in a shoe. Is it style and comfort, or is it function and durability? Their opinions will help you not only pick the right brands, but the right models as well.

Strong marketing is important to consider when picking a shoe line. Does the company promote their product with good advertising? Do they have a pro team with riders who are popular in your area? There will be a direct correlation between how your customers feel about a certain company’s team riders and advertising, and how well a shoe will sell in your shop. Greg Bayer, owner of Innovation Skate shops in Texas and Hawaii, says, “If a certain color and model of shoe is being advertised in the magazines, you can bet that specific color and model will be the most sought-after.”

Unlike most skateboard hardgoods that can be shipped at once, many shoe companies will require you to prebook your order. This can cause many potential problems if the company does not come through on ship dates, or if money you have earmarked for shoes gets spent on other products. Betsy O’Malley, domestic sales manager for D.C. Shoe Co., comments, “We prebook sales so that product can be shipped within a month and a half. When it goes much longer than that, we are hurting our customers by not giving them a chance to turn their money over quickly.”

Terms can be another factor in determining which shoe lines you will carry and how deep you can go with their product. Many retailers live and die by their terms. The lure of big profits and the ability to float payment 30 to 60 days can be quite appealing. Be realistic when buying, and do not put yourself in the position of having to pay a large invoice when the shoes you bought fail to sell well.

Once you have decided on a shoe line, there are a few things to keep in mind to ensure success. Heather Arndt, brand manager for Axion shoes, suggests, “It’s best to start with pro-model shoes because they bring the most name recognition and will tend to have the best sell-through.”

A company’s ability to back up sl-through with fill-in orders will also be very important. Fill-in availability will allow you to reorder the models you have the best success with. When a company can come through with fill-in availability, skipping the half sizes in a model can be a safe way to test the consumer waters. At Coup d’État, Smith says, “Skipping the half sizes allows us to still cover a range of sizes without putting so much money into one model.”

Skate shoes today incorporate a lot of technical features and materials in their construction. Air-cushion soles, triple- and quadruple-stitching, lace loops, and materials with high abrasion rates are some of the key features that will help you effectively sell shoes to your customers. Sung Choi, footwear designer at D.C. Shoe Co. says, “The features of our shoes have become so technical and diverse that we now list them on the box lid to aid retailers and give consumers confidence in what they buy.”

Familiarize yourself with the features of the shoes you sell, and how they compare to shoes you don’t sell. The more informed you help your customers to be, the greater customer loyalty you will build.

Storing and organizing your inventory of shoes can take some effort. Shoes will take up a lot of space in your shop, and being such a high-dollar product, theft can be a problem. Limiting customer access to your inventory will not only help reduce the temptation of theft, but will also make it easier to keep it neat and organized. “It is best to organize your shoes by size and not brand,” says Tim Rigby, owner of Ohio Surf & Skate in Willoughby, Ohio. “If you are out of a customer’s size in a particular style, you will quickly be able to tell the customer what other styles are available in his or her same size.” Organizing by size will also help you keep tabs on which sizes you are low on, and which sizes you may need to thin out.

As with any product, the turnover rate will be very crucial, but with shoes it may even be more important. To be certain, your shoe inventory will tie up a lot of cash. To keep up with the latest styles and fashions, you will have to turn your shoe inventory over anywhere from two to three times a year. In order to do this, you must be willing to discount the price of shoes that are not moving.

Work closely with your sales reps and take advantage of any Point-of-Sale (P.O.S.) materials that are available. Shoe companies have developed numerous ways to help you promote their products through your shop. “We offer everything from displays that are slat-wall compatible to stickers advertising new colors or styles, hanging mobiles, and promotional merchandise bags,” says Arndt of the Axion sales program. All these things will help you merchandise your shoes in an enticing way.

Having a specific shoe policy concerning defects, warranties, and returns can save you a lot of unnecessary trouble. While you may have a general return policy concerning store merchandise posted on the wall or on customer receipts, it may leave certain elements open for discussion. A good shoe-return policy will state that shoes that have been worn cannot be returned for any reason, including poor fit. It should also mention that premature wear from skateboarding is not considered a manufacturer’s defect. Be creative and try humor in the policy to draw the attention of customers. You can take it a step further by having it printed on paper and placed in the bag with every shoe sale.

Shoes are making a big impact on the skateboard industry. While they may be taking money away from skateboard-hardgoods sales, they are also giving you a chance to invest in products with higher profit margins. Getting into a new shoe line will take a lot more money than picking up a new line of decks, and will therefore carry a higher risk. Take the time to research both your target market and the features of the shoes you intend to sell. Work closely with your reps to get the terms and the styles that will work best for your store, and the P.O.S. needed to merchandise effectively. When you do this, you will be ready to compete in the shoe business without wearing your sole thin.

* Spring 1998 TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Survey work best for your store, and the P.O.S. needed to merchandise effectively. When you do this, you will be ready to compete in the shoe business without wearing your sole thin.

* Spring 1998 TransWorld SKATEboarding Business Retailer Survey