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Athletic Retailers Sound Off On the MVP Category

“If a shoe sits on a shelf for more than two weeks, then it’s dead,” said The Tannery and Concepts co-owner Tarek Hassan. That do-or-die approach to merchandising is why the Boston-based footwear retailer is at the top its game, opening Concepts New York in November, and driving sneakerheads (and its 159k Instagram followers) to its TriBeCa nabe on a near weekly basis for new limited edition and collaborated styles.

Sounds like a lot of work, but according to retailers speaking at the seminar “Athletic/Comfort Footwear – What’s Driving the Trends?” at FN Platform in Las Vegas last week, it’s worth the effort as athletic footwear continues to be a singular ray of light in the footwear market.

The NPD Group reported the footwear industry grew two percent to $62 billion in 2014. While NPD Group executive director and industry analyst Beth Goldstein said the category is at risk of going flat, performance footwear accounted for almost three-fourths of growth, proving that when it comes to sporty footwear, anything goes.

Carl Scibetta, EVP and GMM of Shoe Carnival, said he sees no end in the demand for athletic footwear — be it performance or lifestyle — so long as the ongoing women’s fashion story around yoga pants, leggings and comfort doesn’t change. “The brown shoe world is losing out to athletic brands,” he said, even if more dress and casual brands are incorporating comfort features.

Regarding the yoga fashion trend, Hassan quipped, “I hope that never goes away.” Hassan described women’s athletic as a bright spot in the market. Leading up to FN Plaform, the retailer got a first look at 2016 product from Nike and New Balance. “I have never been so excited by athletic footwear, especially with women’s,” Hassan said of the next year’s collections. “Retro runners has been our best-sellers, but women’s is the next big thing. It’s looking very healthy for us.”

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For Jeff Rosenthal, Hibbett Sports CEO, the bigger issue is getting enough product from vendors. Rosenthal said the Internet is helping get launches off the ground quickly, and with no resistance to prices as high as $250, Rosenthal said it can be difficult to keep stores stocked.

It’s a good problem to have, but Scibetta noted that customers want newness every time they come through the building door, as well as each time they log onto Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. “The response [on social media] is rapid,” Scibetta said. “Consumers you would never reach before are responding — and quickly.”

The reaction time is even faster when the shoe in question is a unique collaboration. “Collaborations are the next wave for us. Customers want something special and that’s something we capitalize on,” Hassan said.

Hassan’s Concepts has somewhat mastered the recipe of gaining consumer trust online. The store sold out of 2,900 pairs of its controversial Concepts x Asics Gel Lytv V ‘8 Ball’ in under a minute in January, shutting down its website. The shoe was inspired by cocaine. “Kids want a reason to buy something,” he said, adding that almost every shoe coming from Nike next year has a story to why it’s being released.

Rosenthal agreed: “It really is about telling the story. Kids see what is available in New York and Boston and they want the same thing.”