In The News: Eneslow, DTLR, OR Show, Adidas
By Cara Griffin & Bob McGee
January 6, 2021
Eneslow Shoes and Orthotics, the 112-year old, family-owned specialty retailer has relocated its flagship NYC store uptown to 1319 Third Avenue at 75th Street, next to Citarella. All Eneslow staff, custom workshop and complete shoe and orthotic services are in full operation at the site. Additionally, Eneslow’s suburban store remains in its location on the Horace Harding Expressway in Little Neck, Queens.
This 112-Year-Old Retailer Is Shutting Down Its Park Avenue Store for Good
By Samantha McDonald
Dec 17, 2020
For decades, Eneslow Shoes & Orthotics has resided on New York City’s Park Avenue — just two blocks away from the landmark Empire State Building in the heart of Manhattan. But this weekend, the retailer will be shutting those doors for good.For decades, Eneslow Shoes & Orthotics has resided on New York City’s Park Avenue — just two blocks away from the landmark Empire State Building in the heart of Manhattan. But this weekend, the retailer will be shutting those doors for good.
The comfort shoe chain is permanently closing up shop at its 470 Park Avenue South flagship. In an interview with FN, president and CEO Robert Schwartz — whose family acquired the business 50 years ago — said that the COVID-19 health crisis was the final nail in the coffin for that outpost, which has also contended in recent years with the rise in e-commerce and skyrocketing rents.
“Overall, [the business has been] 70% down since the pandemic [hit] — with no recovery in sight,” Schwartz told FN. “Manhattan is a ghost town. It’s even worse in Midtown Manhattan because there’s nobody in these buildings all around us.”
Eneslow is approaching its 112th year in business; it celebrates another anniversary in January. It has two other locations in the city — one in the Upper East Side on 1319 Third Avenue, which will become its new flagship store, and the other in Queens on 249-38 Horace Harding Expressway. According to Schwartz, the vast majority of its sales — that is, 90% — are derived from brick and mortar, while it operates a “small base” of e-commerce.
“That, of course, is going to have to change,” he added. “[Brick and mortar] is still a place where our customers need us, and we’ll be able to survive that, but we’re going from 30,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet.”
As it spends its last days on Park Avenue, Eneslow has been informing customers of the closure through signs posted on its windows and word of mouth. Although the retailer has been directing local shoppers and patrons to its other boutiques in the city, Schwartz said it doesn’t predict an improvement in foot traffic and subsequently sales — particularly as the country faces a surge in coronavirus cases and the business heads into the first quarter, which is traditionally the slowest fiscal period for retail.
“Unfortunately, we’re in no recovery anytime soon with New York’s current state of being,” he said. “All three stores are basically mired in the same rhythm. Until people take the train and the bus to come back into the city, go to restaurants or the theater or even their offices just to work, we’re not going to see any daylight.”
According to Coresight Research, the retail sector has seen 8,688 store shutdowns in the year to date. The research and advisory firm has also predicted a record-high 25,000 closures in 2020 as companies struggle to keep up with shifting consumer trends, invest their resources in digital platforms and adapt to a new brick-and-mortar environment transformed by the pandemic.
This story has been updated to note that Eneslow’s flagship will move from the Park Avenue address, which is closing, to its existing store on Third Avenue.
Winter Storm Could Bring Heavy Snow to NYC, DC and More Northeast Regions — How Retailers Are Preparing
By Samantha McDonald
Dec 15, 2020
According to the National Weather Service, Winter Storm Gail will intensify into a high-impact nor’easter starting Wednesday. It is expected to bring heavy snow, strong winds and some coastal flooding to certain parts of the mid-Atlantic and Northeast, including New York City, the capital of Washington, D.C., and areas near Philadelphia as well as Boston. (Meteorologists have predicted that the heaviest snowfall will occur along the I-95 corridor.)
The storm comes at a challenging time for nonessential retailers: Early in the COVID-19 health crisis, many of them had to shutter for several weeks due to government-mandated restrictions — and a surge in new infections could lead to renewed lockdowns that could precipitate permanent closures and even more layoffs.
Eneslow Shoes & Orthotics is one casualty: The nearly 112-year-old retailer’s flagship on Manhattan’s Park Avenue is permanently shutting its doors on Saturday. The business, said president and CEO Robert Schwartz, has been roughly “70% down since the pandemic [hit] — with no recovery in sight. Manhattan is a ghost town.”
Currently, 90% of Eneslow’s sales are conducted via brick and mortar — through the midtown shop, as well as its boutiques in the Upper East Side and Long Island — with a “small base” of e-commerce. “That, of course, is going to have to change,” Schwartz said. “[Brick and mortar] is still a place where our customers need us, and we’ll be able to survive that, but we’re going from 30,000 square feet to 10,000 square feet in the next week.”
At Washington, D.C.-based Comfort One, which closed for three months in the spring and reopened in mid-June, pedorthic sales associate Todd Lippert explained that store traffic used to be bolstered by the guests who stayed at a nearby hotel — but with travel business cut by roughly 40%, “most of what’s keeping us alive right now is online.”
What’s more, he predicted that the upcoming storm could deliver a hit-or-miss in sales for the retailer. “Some people may have had boots from last year they haven’t worn yet, and some will need to get new snow boots. That could be a few hours of people coming in to get boots,” he said. “But now that we have the pandemic at the same time, the fact that they’re in an enclosed environment all the time, they might not have as great a need this time. We just don’t know.”
In Boston, Justin Burdon, co-founder of Heartbreak Hill Running Co., said he has seen “record sales” so far throughout the holidays, and “there hasn’t been any indication that it’ll slow down.” (The retailer carries brands like Brooks, Asics, Saucony and Hoka One One — all of which have enjoyed marked success amid the athleisure boom further spurred by coronavirus-induced work-from-home lifestyles.)
As for the imminent inclement weather, he explained that the store is “used to these types of storms, so we aren’t doing anything special to prepare. It’ll likely disrupt our in-store business for a day or two, but I’d expect to see stronger e-commerce as a result.” He added, “I’m never too concerned since these short-term disruptions tend to even out across sales channels and over time.”
Over in Philadelphia, Steve Jamison, who owns Blue Sole Shoes, plans to keep business going both online and in stores during the storm. Currently, with the state’s “Safer at Home” restrictions, retailers are permitted to operate at only 50% capacity, with no more than five people per 1,000 square feet, including staff members. (The boutique is currently operating with a three-person team.)
“We’re holding OK, and it’s mainly because there’s not a lot of traffic,” Jamison said. “People are more cautious, so they’re not shopping in person as much, but the people who do come in tend to be more serious shoppers. They do a lot less looking and more actual buying.”
And back in New York, Extra Butter CEO Ankur Amin — which has a store in the Lower East Side and a newly debuted outpost in Long Island City — shared a similar sentiment regarding a slowdown in store visits. He said the main unit on Orchard Street “hasn’t seen much traffic” and is “probably off by 60% to 70%,” while the Long Island City location “doesn’t have any history but traffic seems consistent.” He, too, observed an uptick in mission-driven shopping.
As it prepares for the storm, it could end up temporarily closing the shops or reduced staffing needs. “Right now, it’s a wait-and-see approach,” Amin said. “Our businesses rely on experiential sales tactics, and it’s best for us to keep our stores open,” along with safety precautions including frequent sanitizing of high-touch areas and requiring masks in stores.
Winter Storm Gail also has the potential to severely impact logistics operations, causing delivery delays ahead of the Christmas holiday. Couriers like the USPS, UPS and FedEx are already bogged down with high volumes of packages and shipping constraints amid the coronavirus pandemic.
“We’re expecting to be affected by the slowing or the congestion of shipments,” added Jamison. “That’s something you can’t really prepare for. We’re just warning our customers in advance about placing orders online or over the phone to expect delays and take that into consideration. They’re still supportive of us in that way.”
He added, “We’re always optimistic. We’ve been able to weather the storm.”
—With contributions from Jennie Bell
The Other Eviction Moratorium: Storefront and Office Tenants are Hanging on. But for How Long?
By Greg David email@example.com
Nov 3, 2020
When the pandemic began, Eneslow Shoes and Orthotics operated four stores in the city. Now it is down to three — two in Manhattan and one in Little Neck, Queens — and by early next year owner Robert Schwartz believes he may be operating only one.
The problem: a mismatch between revenue and rent.
“Our revenue has gone down about 70% since we reopened,” said Schwartz, who was among the speakers at a recent Manhattan Chamber of Commerce town hall on the commercial rent crisis. “Rent used to be 10% [of revenue] and now it is 50%.” ￼
Eneslow Shoes on the Upper East Side, Oct. 28, 2020.
Meanwhile, GFP Properties is collecting only about 70% of its pre-pandemic rent from the 2,800 tenants in its portfolio of 54 office buildings in Manhattan. Co-Chief Executive Eric Gural has cut deals with the restaurants in his storefronts and negotiated terms with some of his hardest hit tenants, including the large number of theater-related businesses with leases in his buildings near Broadway.
“The way we look at it we don’t want to put anyone out of business, but we don’t want to be put out of business,” he said.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo imposed a moratorium on evictions of commercial tenants early in the economic shutdown and recently extended it to January. But a crisis is growing as many retailers and some office tenants have stopped paying, building up big rent bills.
Landlords say they are negotiating to help their tenants. Store owners say the landlords are not being accommodating enough.
Advocates for small businesses say the commercial rent market simply isn’t working and needs structural reform both for the pandemic and for the long term. The Real Estate Board of New York notes that rents are dropping sharply.
Meanwhile, tenants’ lawyers say some landlords are seeking to circumvent the moratorium by filing actions in state Supreme Court rather than in Civil Court, which is overwhelmed by the pandemic and where commercial disputes are usually litigated.
“When I first started out assisting tenants, we had some success with rent rebates and reductions and extensions into the future,” said Debra Guzov, a commercial litigator who is donating time to help members of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce with rent problems. “Now I am seeing more aggressive tactics on the part of landlords.”
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Twenty-Five Things That Caught My Eye Today: Amy Coney Barrett, Anxiety & More (October 26, 2020)
By Kathryn Jean Lopez
October 26, 2020
#9. Nicole Gelinas: New York’s Year from Hell
“The problem with Manhattan business is that there is no business,” says Robert Schwartz, owner of Eneslow Shoes, with three locations, including one on midtown’s Park Avenue, from which it sells orthopedic shoes. “There is no retail business of any kind.”
“The problem with Manhattan business is that there is no business,” says Robert Schwartz, owner of Eneslow Shoes, with three locations, including one on midtown’s Park Avenue, from which it sells orthopedic shoes. “There is no retail business of any kind.” After Covid struck, Schwartz estimates, business at his mid-Manhattan store fell 97 percent. By Labor Day, it had recovered to around 30 percent of normal. “I think there’s a very good percentage of people who just left Dodge. They never came back from Florida. You know, my customers are older.” Responding to plummeting sales, Eneslow has laid off workers, going from 35, most of them full-time, to 19, all part-time.
For Schwartz, as for many retailers, Covid has accelerated preexisting problems. Eneslow, a century-old business taken over by Schwartz’s family in 1968, was already struggling against online sellers such as Amazon. The city’s tax and regulatory policies didn’t help. Schwartz says that he’ll need rent relief to keep his Manhattan store open. He suggests, too, that the city repeal its commercial-rent tax, a unique tax levied on Manhattan commercial renters, not their landlords. Even worthy reforms won’t alleviate the short-term problem: the dearth of office workers and visitors. Schwartz sells a specialty product, but he’s in the same boat as nearly all Manhattan retail: the daytime customer has vanished.
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16 Best Stores to Shop for Comfort & Athleisure Shoes
By Barbara Schneider-Levy of Footwear News
Apr 23, 2019
Owner: Robert Schwartz
Locations: 3 (New York)
Top brands: Aetrex, Birkenstock, Christian Dietz, Finn Comfort, Hassia
2019 initiatives: “We’re opening our fourth store in May on Manhattan’s Upper East Side,” said Schwartz.
Competitive tactics: “We’re investing in brands not broadly distributed in the U.S. These allow us to offer better value since there’s no middleman, while increasing our margins. We also hold weekly classes to educate our staff and other pedorthic professionals, and conduct the Eneslow Pedorthic Institute, a two-day summer education program.”
Inventory Is Piling Up During the Coronavirus Crisis — This Is How Companies Are Managing It
By Jennie Bell of Footwear News
Apr 17, 2020
As stores around the globe remain shutdown, fashion companies are facing a mounting problem: excess inventory.
The problems began in January, as the novel coronavirus spread rapidly throughout China and forced the closure of factories. Product that was due to arrive in stores for the spring and summer seasons was delayed. “Then China reopened and the inventory started surfacing at companies’ doorsteps at the same time that Europe and North America started to shut down,” explained Ronen Lazar, co-founder and CEO of Inturn, a software company specializing in inventory management.
To address their product overloads, brands and retailers have a few options, but all come with their own challenges. Here, FN looks at six tactics that companies are using to manage inventory issues.
1. Cancel Orders
The best place to start is early in the supply chain, by stopping production.
At the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, many brands took the preemptive step of canceling orders at the factory level. In fact, the China National Textile and Apparel Council estimates that textile and apparel imports to the U.S. from China plunged 31.7% to $2.47 billion in January alone.
Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors and Retailers of America, told FN, “Most of our members on the brand side have canceled orders until we figure out what happens next and when stores will reopen and what demand will look like.”
He noted that factories, for the most part, have been accommodating in regard to the cancellations. “Factories will be patient in order to maintain the relationships, and knowing that ultimately this is short term and, once we get the all-clear, they’ll be back up and running and producing footwear for the American public,” said Priest.
Meanwhile, retailers are also canceling deliveries from brands for the upcoming months.
“We were fortunate in that we stopped domestic orders before we shut down,” said Bob Schwartz, president of the Eneslow shoe stores in New York. “We already had reduced our buying in anticipation of the business struggles in New York City in general. In our European buying, some of our vendors had already shipped, so we own the merchandise now, but for those that did not ship yet, we stopped it.”
And as with the factory cancellations, Schwartz said brands are willing to work with him to accommodate his changing needs.
But it’s not necessary altruism behind their forbearance. For brands with strict pricing policies, such as Birkenstock, they want to prevent a glut of merchandise on the market and widespread markdowns.
David Kahan, president of Birkenstock Americas, told FN the brand was proactive in canceling orders that wouldn’t have sold because stores were closed. “Even in the midst of this crisis, we will insure our inventory level is managed such that our brand equity is always maintained and we are not seen at the consumer level as a brand with excess across the market,” he said.
2. Sell More Online
With the majority of citizens confined to their homes, e-commerce traffic has been surging, so many brands and retailers have pushed more inventory to that sales channel.
According to a study from predictive retail analytics firm Quantum Metric, U.S.-based retailers with both brick-and-mortar and e-commerce channels experienced 52% revenue growth online Jan. 27 to Feb. 23 — the period when the illness began its rapid spread outside of Asia.
And FDRA reported that its own membership saw 61% growth in e-commerce last week, compared with the same period last year.
Kahan said Birkenstock is relying on its direct-to-consumer channels to reach customers. “We are fortunate since we have developed a relationship with many of our brand fans and engage them via social media and online commerce.” And he noted the brand’s retailers are doing the same. “Our key partners have ongoing e-commerce businesses which are performing well. And many independents are being creative in reaching their consumers via social media to at least generate some sales at the store level.”
However, experts pointed out that the digital gains don’t begin to offset the overall losses from store closures. “The challenge is that e-commerce is only a portion of total sales,” said Priest. “You’d have to have a 400% to 500% increase in e-commerce sales to get even close to the lost revenue that we’re seeing on the brick-and-mortar side.”
And retailers that have not invested enough in digital operations are particularly hard hit right now, noted Lazar. “That’s probably one of the big lessons to take away here,” he said. “The majority of companies are expediting the migration into digitally-driven business. But for those who are operating in the same old way as merchants, that type of business almost no longer works.”
Aside from consumer-facing e-commerce sites, Lazar recommends allocating more funds toward internal digital solutions that can improve inventory management, such as predictive analysis about customer behavior and a more agile PLM environment.
3. Push Goods to the Off-Price Channel
Traditionally, brands with unsold merchandise have been able to pick up the phone and sell that product to one of the major off-price retailers. But in the current economic crisis, that channel is closed for business — literally.
Off-price chains such as Marshall’s and TJMaxx have shuttered their brick-and-mortar stores with no reopening date in sight. And their parent company, TJX Cos., also ceased online operations during the COVID-19 crisis.
“Those channels are pretty much maxed out for product right now,” said Priest, “so brands can’t dump inventory into those channels. It’s a spigot that’s been turned off.”
Lazar predicted that the off-price channel will pick up quickly when the U.S. economy begins to reopen. “The question is: What priority will off-price use to purchase goods?” he said. “Historically there was a mix of marquee brands, smaller brands and private label. Our belief is that the priority will become based on brand and discount or a combination of the two.”
4. Hold Onto It
If cancellations aren’t an option and the off-price channel is closed, what are companies left to do with excess inventory? Hold it and wait, said experts.
John Schuler, CEO of the nine-unit Schuler Shoes chain based in Minneapolis, said he and his team will review their inventory closely to see what items they can carry over to the next season. The challenge, though, is the unknown nature of the shutdown. “We don’t know how many weeks we will be closed,” he said. “How do you plan if you don’t know if it will be May or June?”
Companies with e-commerce operations are maintaining merchandise assortments in their distribution centers, ready to fulfill online orders. But even those facilities are reaching capacity, said Priest. As a result, he said, firms being are forced to keep inventory in empty warehouses, or in shipping containers. “That’s an expensive option to maintain inventory that’s not selling,” said Priest.
5. Collaborate with Other Retailers
Members of industry networks such as the National Shoe Retailers of America and the United Shoe Retailers Association have long worked together to ease the burdens of operating a small business. Now, in the current environment, where some retailers may lack product that others have in abundance, there is further opportunity to coordinate.
Eneslow’s Schwartz explained, “There is definitely going to be some reduction of available inventory in a number of stores. For example, New Balance is shut down and you cannot buy size 8D in the women’s 990 style in gray.”
To address the problem, he said retailers should touch base with each other to see where they can trade or buy extra merchandise. “That way, one can reduce inventory while the other gets filled in on things they need,” said Schwartz.
6. Donate to a Good Cause
The last option for companies is charitable donations — a move that’s been in abundant use in recent weeks as brands such as Crocs, Allbirds, Vionic and Merrell have given away hundreds of thousands of shoes to medical workers and first responders fighting the COVID-19 outbreak.
Additionally, footwear nonprofits Soles4Souls and the Two Ten Footwear Foundation are fielding more offers of donated goods, which can be distributed to individuals in need.
And in the case of Two Ten, the product will be sold to provide emergency financial assistance to footwear families impacted by the coronavirus pandemic. According to the organization, it has received 10 times its normal number of assistance applications and will require more than $3 million over the next six months to meet the needs of industry employees in crisis.
For donors, there are business advantages to giving away product, aside from the humanitarian aspect. For example, companies can clear the excess from balance sheets and claim a tax benefit for their gift. Plus there is the goodwill halo effect when consumers learn of their generosity.
Independent Shoe Stores Use SBA Loans as a Stop-Gap During Coronavirus Crisis
By Barbara Schneider-Levy of Footwear News
Apr 15, 2020
It’s taking all hands on deck these days to help keep small businesses afloat during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Independent shoe stores are working with vendors and landlords to renegotiate deals, while the government has stepped in with a range of loan and grant programs as part of its historic $2.2 trillion stimulus package, called the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
Among the financial aid options available to stores is the Paycheck Protection Program (loans that allow small businesses to pay their employees), Small Business Administration funding programs such as Express Bridge Loans and Debt Relief and an Economic Injury Disaster Loan Emergency AWhile retailers agree these loans are easy to apply for, they are a short-term solution as the U.S. shutdown shows no immediate signs of ending. However, for many small businesses, they can help sustain operations in the meantime.
Here, independents share their financial issues and how they’re navigating the stimulus package process.
Owner, Eneslow, New York
Schwartz furloughed all employees during March, closing all stores on March 19. “We applied for the $10,000 maximum EIDL and PPP loans, the latter which is 2.5 times annual payroll. But we have not gotten anything approved,” he said. “There was also supposed to be a $75,000 interest-free loan from New York City that’s still sitting on the shelf somewhere.”
Meanwhile, the retailer is facing issues with its business interruption insurance policy. “We have it for loss of revenue caused by civil authority,” said Schwartz. “However, my insurance company has denied responsibility, noting it specifically excludes viruses. To me, [this marks] a groundswell [of opposition] for all businesses in America who pay insurance for years and years. There has to be a screaming cry from the retail and wholesale industries.”
President, Tip Top Shoes, New York City
Among Wasserman’s first moves was applying for the PPP loan. “Initially, our bank was a little bit slow on the draw, but once they got their system up and running, we [were able] to submit our paperwork.” While the loan assists with payroll for an eight-week period, Wasserman remains uncertain if he will be able to reopen before the money runs out. “Covering the payroll is great,” he said, “but the question remains — are customers ready to shop. The entire situation from top to bottom, leaves us with far more questions than answers.”
President and CEO, Alan’s Shoes, Tucson, Ariz.
Miklofsky applauded the speed at which the government put the CARES Act together, although he remains skeptical the SBA EIDL loans are properly funded. “The legislation does a lot, but isn’t perfect based on the timing requirements, such as requiring a specified eight-week disbursement period that will occur while most retailers are closed and some employees will be receiving higher-than-normal unemployment benefits,” he said.
And in addition to payroll, Miklofsky much address payments to vendors. “These loans can’t fix the issue where spring merchandise was already in the door, got old and became less valuable as the product was sold at a discount nationwide,” he said. “There also remains the expectation that retailers pay full rent during their, slow, closed and rebuilding periods. Additional loans may be available if the retailer can demonstrate it will be in compliance with banking requirements moving forward. No banker will make that loan without collateral (real estate equity) and personal guarantees.”
CEO, Schuler Shoes, Minneapolis
Schuler’s nine-unit chain applied for PPP and SBA EIDL loans, so far receiving approval for PPP. The process, said Schuler, was seamless since the store had all documentation requested in order, and it has already received approval for the PPP loan. “Reporting payroll [numbers] was a big part of it,” he said. “Since our [system] is fairly sophisticated, it was easy to pull what was wanted. However, I don’t know when we’ll see the money in our account. Once we get it, the clock starts ticking and we have eight weeks to spend it, so I’m in no big rush if I have to wait a couple of weeks.”
Meet the Shoe Store That’s Expanding in Manhattan — Even With High Rent & E-Com Competition
By Barbara Schneider-Levy of Footwear News
Aug 2, 2019
Bob Schwartz takes a small-town approach to big-city retailing. The owner of comfort chain Eneslow, which celebrates its 110th anniversary this year, opened a fourth location this summer on Third Avenue on New York City’s Upper East Side, just blocks away from a sister store on Second Avenue.
Schwartz, whose family acquired the business 50 years ago, said he is constantly adapting to changing demographics and neighborhoods. “We went uptown because we saw revenue going down in our Park Avenue location and thought the Upper East Side was a good market for us,” said Schwartz, who made his first move to the neighborhood a decade ago. “It meant more rent and labor costs, but a neighborhood where the demographics are a good fit.”
Although two locations so close to one another might compete, they each draw a distinct clientele. “If you talk to customers who walk into the Third Avenue store, they don’t shop on Second Avenue,” said Schwartz. “New Yorkers are provincial. They don’t go two blocks past where they live to buy food or do their dry cleaning.”
While Eneslow is fluid when it comes to real estate, it’s been consistent in a product offering focused on European brands not readily available in the U.S. In addition, three of the store’s locations are equipped with shoe modification labs staffed by a team of craftsmen.
“Eighty percent of our business is problem feet,” said Schwartz, referring to the steady referrals from doctors who send patients requiring custom footwear and orthotics to the store.
The retailer is currently wrestling with a year-to-date business that’s down nearly 5%, but remains optimistic. “We’re still here, but it’s hard. I don’t lose sleep over it because every small business owner knows that it’s about cash flow. You have to have an intimate knowledge of your business and know your product inside out,” Schwartz said.
Jessica Walker, president and CEO of the Manhattan Chamber of Commerce, where Schwartz serves on the board, agrees it’s a tough time for small businesses, particularly in New York. “It’s the cumulative impact of high rents and the increase in people who shop online,” Walker said. “We live in an expensive town with all sorts of mandates, taxes and fees. These things make it tough to stay here.”
Here, Schwartz talks about negotiating rents, the challenges of the internet and what he looks for in a brand.
What’s the biggest challenge facing independents today?
BS: “There’s really no growth in brick-and-mortar stores. It’s about how much we’re losing this year versus last year. How do we generate profitable revenue? One way is going to Europe to find vendors that aren’t available here. We can work on three or four times cost and give a better value to our customers since we don’t need a distributor or middleman. We’ve been successful in this approach for the last six years.”
With an emphasis on therapeutic footwear, who is your customer base?
BS: “Everyone who lives in Manhattan walks on concrete. They’re walking up and down stairs getting on the subway. Their feet break down. Younger people are demonstrating they want quality, value, service, skills and retail know-how. Birkenstock, which is hot, is [attracting] young people all day long in all our stores.”
In a competitive retail environment, what has been your most effective marketing tool?
BS: “Our windows. People walk by all day and we can show the world we have Birkenstock. We do email blasts and direct mail to zip codes in our geographical area. [We benefit] from word- of-mouth and medical referrals. I am a member of the Manhattan and Queens Chambers of Commerce. When we run an event, they come. If these groups need to host education or training seminars, I will do it in our stores and bring people in. Grassroots has been the key in each neighborhood.”
As the athletic footwear category continues to attract comfort customers, how does it fit into your merchandise mix?
BS: “We have increased our athletic shoe business, with brands including Hoka One One and New Balance. But more than that, it’s about European orthopedic footwear vendors that make beautiful walking shoes and are now making sneakers in wide and extra-wide widths. I have a stretch upper shoe from Berkemann in Germany that blows out.”
How are you finding craftsmen for your customization workshops?
BS: “They come from other countries with skills. It’s a unique niche. They may have made handbags and will now be an upper maker. We’ve brought people into the country, although it’s always been hard to get a green card and legalization. I have six people that we’ve sponsored.”