The want for comfort and cuteness in children’s footwear has never waned since Step & Stride’s debut in 1969, but how the brand achieves both has.
Today, Step & Stride addresses comfort for children in the same fashion many leading men’s and women’s footwear brands approach comfort using proprietary technology such as the use of Ortholite, notched flexible outsoles, dual density cushioning and removable insoles for better fit in every style. The shoes are made with moisture wicking and antimicrobial materials to help keep feet dry and odor-free.
The brand, a division of Vida Kids, recently re-launched with an emphasis on style—one of many factors that determine whether a brand and a specialty retailer fail or flourish in the competitively-priced and information-dense children’s market.
“While the different channels of distribution present unique forms of competition to specialty stores, the biggest threat is not updating and staying fresh to keep up with the fast-changing consumer,” said John Licata, director of sales for Vida Kids Division, adding that the specialty retailers that are updating business strategies to stay ahead of the consumer are thriving. “With all of the change in the retail market over the past 10 years, one thing remains unchanged—execution is key,” he said.
Step & Stride stays fresh by stepping out of its comfort zone. “Traveling the world for research allows us not only to study the market but also to be inspired by beautiful places, delicious flavors, great experiences and most importantly observing what people are wearing and how they are dressing their children,” said Luis Gonzalez Palacio, Vida Kids Division director of design.
For Spring ’17, Step & Stride designers found monochrome to be dominant on the streets, as well as heavy influences of floral prints, metallic rose gold and simple embellishments. Instead of chasing mainstream trends and creating temporary fashion statements, Gonzalez Palacio said the brand prefers to play with these themes and inject them in the line where they make sense.
“Step & Stride has very intentional design with special attention to detail to ensure we keep our brand identity and offer the best functional and fashionable classic styles for today’s consumers,” he added.
The brand is betting on classic basics for boys, including the Aden, a double Velcro style, and the Cromar fishermen sandal. “We stress the importance of versatility in our line, and both of these styles are great for playtime or [dressier] occasions,” Gonzalez Palacio explained. For girls, Mary Janes with laser cut details and fashion sandals in soft metallics are likely to be the brand’s biggest success stories. Each style reflects the practicality that parents seek with the addition of delicate embellishments girls love.
“With Step & Stride, we create season-less classics with a splash of fashion. We understand the needs of our market and strive to provide our customers with great value through our core benefits. Our goal is to offer moms and kids out there beautiful footwear that not only feels great, but looks great and compliments their wardrobe,” Gonzalez Palacio said.
How can retailers turn that goal into reality?
Here, Licata shares his advice on when to discount, what to promote and why connecting with vendors and the local community are truths in retail that never falter. “Customers still prefer to touch the product, but they also need motivation to come to the store,” Licata said. “Time is a valuable commodity, which is why the in-store shopping experience has to be executed with excellence.”
For end of season clearance events, Licata suggests mid to late June for most climates, however, he said it is important to look at performance on a style by style basis with the overall goal of efficient inventory turnover throughout the season. He added, “Inventory is the most expensive and critical aspect of a retailer’s business and needs to be managed thoughtfully and strategically, so partnering with vendors early on is key.”
First Glimpse of Fall
Licata said fall product should go out on the floor towards the end of the spring/summer clearance period. “Back-to-school starts earlier in some communities, but the goal is to keep the floor looking fresh, while managing payables and turnover. The secret to retail profitability is driving revenue, managing costs, efficient inventory turnover and delivering unexpected customer service and positive shopping experiences,” he said.
As retailers have become much more promotional during back-to-school season, particularly over the past couple of years, Licata said competing on price against the big box and national chain retailers can be very difficult, especially as those retailers typically work off of much higher markups to start the season.
His advice? Plan and be unique. Licata said, “The specialty retailers who are thriving today have created a niche and they stand for something—customer service, selection, brand experience or all of the above.”
For promotions, he suggests a preseason sale limited to one week. An early, well-advertised preseason promotion will drive traffic and revenue early in the season, getting a jump on the competition, Licata said. “Then when you get into the heart of the back-to-school season, you’re at regular price and promotions involve events and GWPs, rather than discounts,” he explained.
Utilizing vendor relationships and asking vendors to help plan in-store events each season is key. “Saturday is a great day for such events; start with your most popular brands first and build to and at least four to six per season. There are a lot of creative, interactive things that can be planned to make it a great shopping experience for the whole family. This can often be funded by the vendor but must be advertised through social media and other means to ensure your customers are aware,” Licata said.
“Getting involved in the local community through sponsorships and in other ways also helps build awareness, recognition and a deeper consumer connection to the store,” Licata offered.
One of the consistent strategies that Licata has seen with the most successful specialty stores is an owner-operator—or “face of the business”—who works in the store full time and is on the floor during peak selling periods, visible and accessible to customers. “These are also great ways to increase customer loyalty by creating positive connections and experiences with customers. Getting involved in the local community through sponsorships and in other ways also helps build loyalty to the store,” he explained.