Watching Your Steps
These retailing tips can help you find your way through the footwear minefield.
By Mitch Rustad
The success of your footwear business can be crucial to your tennis retail operation’s bottom line. But in today’s ever-changing footwear environment, retailers of all shapes and sizes could be forgiven for scratching their heads when it comes to sales strategy.
“Footwear had become very, very tricky,” says Greg Wolf, president of Midwest Sports, who notes that the onslaught of new introductions and subsequent lack of continuity can lead to bewilderment as retailers and consumers look to keep pace with all the changes.
To help navigate the footwear minefield, Racquet Sports Industry has assembled an array of tips — echoed by some of the country’s top tennis retailers — designed to put the spring back in your shop’s footwear sales.
- Who Moved My Shoes?
- As a barrage of new introductions creates faster-than-ever phase-outs of older models, consumers seeking a familiar favorite can be left in the lurch. Keeping close tabs on manufacturer’s changes can help your sales staff suggest compatible replacement models to an old favorite. “We make sure to let our staff know exactly what’s going away, and what is going to be replacing it,” says Wolf.
- Know Your Target Audience
- This golden rule of retail applies to virtually any category, but especially to footwear, which is particularly prone to specific tastes and age groups. “We’ve learned that our members want something simple, so we avoid the flashy silver or multi-colored shoes,” says Jason Havelka, pro at the Sunset Hills Country Club in Thousand Oaks, Calif. “We focus on a more conservative shoe, because that’s what they want.”
- Star Power Sells
- Beefing up your futures with the latest styles worn by an Andy Roddick or an emerging new star can lead to Grand Slam-like sales, but keeping your pulse on a player’s hot factor isn’t so easy. “Keep talking to your rep constantly, to keep in touch with the latest trends,” suggests Wolf. “It’s crucial to react quickly to what the stars are wearing, and to adjust futures accordingly.”
- Make a Solid First Impression
- A crucial factor in booming footwear sales is establishing repeat business. “Make an extra effort to give them the right shoe the first time out,” says Betsy Bromley, store manager at Advantage Yours in Clearwater, Fla. “If you get them fitted properly the first time, that gives them a good first impression, and they’ll be back.”
- Offer a Wide Selection
- Carrying only the biggest, flashiest footwear brands doesn’t always translate into bigger footwear business. Instead, offering an assortment of choices can
- help keep up with your customers’ unpredictable tastes. “Carrying a wide selection of brands, if possible, is definitely the way to go,” says Dan Oh, owner of Dan’s Sports Racquets in Simi Valley, Calif.
- Offer a Specific Close-Out Area
- One of the biggest challenges for retailers — especially those short on display space — is what to do with older models gathering dust on the shelves. Displaying discounted models in a separate area of the store — perhaps near the front entrance — won’t distract or confuse customers seeking the newer models. “If you’ve got five pairs of old shoes left, you shouldn’t display them next to the new, higher priced models,” says Wolf.
- Promote Warranties — with Caution
- A wide variety of footwear manufacturers offer warranties, which can be an effective sales tool for the higher-end, more expensive brands. “It’s almost like a 2-for-1 sale, so a customer might take a look at a more expensive shoe if it has a warranty,” says Oh. But proceed with caution, because warranties also have the potential to steal a sale from you down the road, says Wolf.
- Offer Top Brands at Closeout Prices
- Offering last season’s models at closeout prices can build high-end brand loyalty and reach consumers at a variety of price points. “We always try to have something on closeout, so there’s always something on sale for people,” says Bromley. “There are always people that don’t have or aren’t willing to spend the money, so you’ll lose them if you don’t offer a sale or closeout.”
- Provide a Comfortable Space
- How many people actually buy a shoe without trying it on first? Providing a comfortable, spacious area for customers to leisurely ask questions, use the mirrors, etc., can go a long way toward increasing footwear sales. “Most of the people buying shoes are repeat customers, so it’s important to provide a comfortable area for customers to try shoes on, ask questions and just take their time,” says Oh.
- Give a Shoe Savings Pass/Incentive Card
- Offering a shoe stamp card of some kind — such as an “after 5 purchases you’ll get half off your next purchase” discount — can be a highly effective repeat sales tool, in addition to creating customer loyalty.
- Offer a Selection of Widths
- Carry a variety of brands in different widths for hard-to-fit customers tired of having to go the extra mile just to get the right size. “There are always people requesting different widths,” says Oh. “There’s real a market for it, so I try to carry a variety of widths for men and women.”
- First in, First Out Displays
- Organizing your shoe wall in this manner — categorized by new arrivals, in-line, specials and close-outs — can be a highly effective means of showcasing your inventory. Each proceeding step features a slightly lower price point. “For the customer who wants the latest and greatest, it makes it very easy to shop, and it helps a retailer organize their inventory, because it helps you visualize what you’ve got to move,” says Wolf.
- Carry Quality Brands
- Buyers would be wise to focus their attention on performance shoes — not entry-level brands — to keep footwear customers coming back and to establish higher-end brand loyalty. “In general, with performance shoes you’re going to get a better fit,” says Bromley. “And as people get older, they need shoes with really good support, so you just have to be careful with the quality of shoe you’re buying.”
- Rotate Your Inventory/Mark Downs — Pronto!
- When you know you have a slew of new product coming in, be sure to mark down your old inventory — sooner rather than later — to make enough room for the new shipment. “With all the new introductions in footwear these days, that really has to be watched very closely,” says Wolf.
See all articles by Mitch Rustad
About the Author
Mitch Rustad has been a long-time freelance writer based in New York City.