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Volume resources to mix it up at NSF

Volume athletic resources plan to show a mixed bag of products — from satin athleisure to black leather court shoes — at the upcoming NSF Volume Exposition. And with the International Trade Commission’s ruling on import restrictions looming on the horizon, most resources have adopted a relaxed attitude about the impending decision, which could place restrictions or quotas on imports (see related story).

Athleisure continues to be a strong force in the volume market in both men’s and women’s categories, resources advised, with hook-and-loop closures holding firm in women’s and children’s styles, but disappearing for men.

“Velcro is basically over for men for us,” said Janet Schwartz, executive treasurer of Jack Schwartz Shoes, Inc., makers of the Pro-Players athletic line. The firm, which considers itself a trend setter in the New York area, will be showing its Midnight Collection of Black court/athleisure shoes in eight styles. “It’s been the hottest high arch sneakers,” said Schwartz. She explained that the line began as a basic, lace-up referee’s shoe that was picked up by the gay clientele when it was test marketed in New York. The success of that shoe spawned the idea for a complete line of black leisure styles suitable for both sport and casual wear, Schwartz said.

Maria Pan, vice-president of Handsome Enterprises, Inc., makers of Pro-Joggs athletic shoes, agreed that men were looking for “a comfortable, yet dressed look,” and had reduced their consumption of joggers for casual wear. When they do buy joggers, men prefer lace-up styles, she noted.

Women are gravitating toward fashion colors in joggers with lilac, pink, white and gray/pink combinations being the most popular, Pan said. Hook-and-loop closures continue to sell for women and children, she said. In addition to its joggers, Pro-Joggs will introduce athleisure styles in fashion colors at the show.

Jordache Athletic & Leisure Footwear will be showing women’s fashion joggers and athleisure styles with canvas and satin uppers for both fall ’84 and spring 85, said Tina Kang, designer. The new high and low cut athleisure shoes with aerobics bottoms will retail from $14-$20.

John Balemian, vice-president of Jordache, reaffirmed the company’s position as a fashion, rather than performance, house. He said the line for spring ’85 will be athleisure styles pastel colors, with mint, peach and bold colors dominating. Jordache also is doing sandals for the first time, he said. The line for spring ’85 is 80 per cent completed, Balemian added.

Bob Ranalli, president of Allsport, Secaucus, N.J., said he expects continued interest in children’s and youth shoes with fastener straps and women’s leather or suede aerobics shoes. “Anything in aerobics is doing well,” he noted.

Leather or mesh basketball shoes are still selling, but primarily in three-quarter height, with athleisure shoes doing best in fashion looks like Peter Pan boots, he added.

Kangaroos USA, Inc., St. Louis, will unveil a soccer and baseball line at the show, plus women’s fashion casual shoes, said David Ennion, general manager.

Autry Industries, Inc., Dallas, will show new turf shoes, new running shoe styles and introduce materials in shoe construction, said Jim Autry, president. For example, a new running shoe will include reflective material for safety. Autry also is introducing full nappa leather on court shoes and a supple, “breathable” nylon mesh material, said Autry.

Pro Specs, Avon, Mass., has added a number of performance categories at popular prices because of a perceived increase in interest in sports and physical activities by consumers, according to Richard Meier, vice-president of sales and marketing.

The firm has expanded its cleated footwear for adults and children because the higher priced, branded athletic shoe firms have ignored that market, leaving more market share to those making cleated shoes, he said. “It’s easier to crack that area and do better with it,” Meier said.

Pro Specs had three cleated styles that sold faster than expected and are already out of stock, he said. For spring ’85, the line will expand to six new cleated styles, and another five styles will be introduced the following fall, he said.

Specs also will increase its offerings in tennis shoes for plantar fasciitis with three popular priced leather models for fall shipping. There will also be a new Specs men’s basketball shoes at $27, he said.

Resources generally agreed that the volume market is saturated with athletic shoes, and although brands are strong, consumers are concerned first about value. Ranalli predicted that the oversupply has caused a tightening of competition in the market that will continue for another year. He attributed the condition to overcapacity in Far Eastern factories and the continuing trend of athletic shoe industry executives to break away from their employers and form their own companies.

As a result of the oversaturated market, Ennion said he believes volume distributors will begin promoting their own brands rather than some brands that have been saturated. Bernard Schwartz, president of Jack Schwartz Shoes, agreed. “We feel that branded is very important. That is why we’ve spent money on advertising to develop brand name awareness.” The firm has been concentrating its efforts on New York area radio stations in both English and Spanish. Schwartz said that branded discounters are becoming a strong factor, and he predicted they would break into the sales of list price retailers. “It’s not helping anyone,” Schwartz notrd.

Allsport plans to avoid the pitfall of companies selling to off-price dealers by offering exclusive arrangements with department stores and major retailers, Ranalli said. “Everybody’s trying to sell everybody, and that moves you into areas that you really don’t want to get into,” he said. By offering retailers an exclusive arrangement with Allsport, the stores can merchandise the stylish shoes for bunions better and have no fear they are being discounted by competitors, Ranalli said.

The next trend, said Ranalli, will be chain stores developing their own private label athletic brands to give them more control of the market and increase markup and bottom line retail performance. Ranalli said he expected 10-20 per cent of the volume market to be in private label sales.

Pan and Autry agreed that while brands are still strong, consumers look primarily for value. “Most people are brand oriented. But if you maintain quality and service, you really don’t have a problem,” offered Pan. Retailers are generally most receptive to the quantity, delivery and service offered by a resource, and added that some families are still in tight economic situations resulting in a focusing on quality rather than brand name.

Autry said consumers are becoming more discerning in their athletic shoe purchases and are not so quick to pay $60-$100 for a shoe “when they know they can buy as good a shoe at $40.” “Brands are still strong, but you have to give the public better value,” said Autry.

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