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FFANY President Ron Fromm Says Footwear Needs a New Model for Success

FFANY President and CEO Ron Fromm is impressed with Ferragamo’s current emerald-themed window display he passes on his way to the FFANY office.

“When was the last time green was the core pop color?” Fromm asked. “That tells you there’s a strong fashion element out there and that palettes are important. This is the next season color staring you down in the face, the color pop across the industry from high fashion Ferragamo to athletic shoes,” he continued.

The windows, which wrap around Fifth Avenue and 53rd Street, are elegant with gallery-like images of Ferragamo’s green silk scarves and a range of men’s work-to-weekend shoes hoisted onto slabs of green marble. The display is a perfect metaphor for Fromm’s take on the footwear industry—a fresh, clean slate after a sleepy winter, speaking to both the industry’s constant state of renewal and consumers’ demand for fresh and exciting product.

“New opportunities are around the corner. That’s the best thing about the footwear industry,” Fromm said.

After a difficult run, Fromm said a wave of newness and creativity always follows. Brands become more diligent, innovative and original. As of late, the athletic and outdoor categories have supplied most of the growth in the industry, but Fromm pointed out that momentum plays out on different levels in footwear. The tiny spotlight that falls on one area grows into a greater circle when fashion brands begin to adopt those flavors and looks for styles that are more contiguous with everyday streetwear.

Consequently, a crop of high-heel hikers and lug sole fashion boots are trending for Fall ’16.

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Fromm added, “The history of the fashion business shows that when times are challenging, the innovation faucet gets turned on.”

Going into February and the start of the next season, Fromm said buyers are anxious for what’s next, but what is considered a “difficult run” these days in footwear?

Contrary to where many brands place blame, a difficult run is more than a winter with unseasonably warm temperatures. “There’s a disruptive force of how business is being done and conducted. It has everything to do with digital, social media, the Internet and the impact on how much product is sold in the store compared to outside the store,” Fromm said. “It is shaking the industry in every facet.”

The language is not new—retailers have been selling and marketing shoes online for a decade—but Fromm said the industry is beginning to realize it needs to create a new model for success. In the meantime, trying to find the proper balance of omnichannel is absorbing a lot of time, attention and money.

“It’s a new world because we know it means that we have to be able to bring product and experiences to the customer—to where they are—no matter mobile or in store. But what is that doing to the cost structure? And how many stores do you need to open? How much product is needed for each store? How much for drop ship? These are big challenges people are grappling with now,” Fromm said.

There won’t be one answer, but, beginning with the June show, FFANY plans to examine the concept of disruption at a deeper level with a special focus on the independent channel.

Each brand and company has to focus on where they are in the cycle, Fromm said. “For some, the question is how to participate in digital marketing and social media. Others ask, ‘How do I get customers to think about my store?’ It is age-old questions that need new age solutions.”