Posted on 12/16/2019 1:49:35 PM
For Robin Baker, a career in footwear began while working at a shoe store in high school. Once she’d gotten a taste for shoe retail, Baker was all-in, starting her career with numerous roles at Brown Shoe (now Caleres) before stepping into her journey at DSW, where she has been for the past 15 years.
Baker joined the DSW team in 2004 as a buyer, long before kids’ shoes were even on the company’s radar. She was hired as an associate buyer for Gordmans, an everyday off-price department store, at Affiliated Business Group (ABG), the leased footwear business operated by Designer Brands (then DSW Inc.). She moved up the ranks as a buyer for ABG, continuing her work with Gordmans before working for another ABG partner, Stein Mart. Through these roles, Baker quickly realized the importance of fully understanding what the customer wants and making sure the products offered reflect that sentiment.
It’s that same thought pattern that brought about the eventual addition of kids’ sections in all DSW warehouses—which Baker has helped lead.
When kids’ shoes were rolled out in all DSW locations in 2018, Baker was promoted to senior buyer for the kids’ team. In her new role, she worked to find what the customer wanted. She learned that most purchases of kids’ shoes are need-based, but the average DSW customer wants fashion-forward options, too. While kids need sneakers for playing and for school, or dress shoes for special occasions and boots for rain or snow, their parents want those necessities to be stylish, as well.
Creating a Kids Offering
Now that kids’ shoes have been a staple in all DSW locations for over a year, it’s hard to believe they weren’t always an option, says Baker. Before a kids’ section was added, there was a substantial drop-off in the number of loyal customers shopping at DSW warehouses after having children. While some shoppers stayed, many turned to stores that provided a one-stop-shop for women (DSW’s primary customer) to buy shoes for both their families and themselves in a single place. Lacking the time for a separate shopping trip just to get their own shoes at DSW, they opted instead for retailers where they could buy the whole family’s footwear in one location.
By adding a kids’ department, DSW was able to retain these customers once they had children in the home. Beyond offering a great assortment of styles for kids, DSW also trains their associates extensively on how to properly fit kids for new shoes. These expert services give parents confidence, particularly first-timers who are in need of a safe, reliable place to shop for children’s shoes.
What the Future Holds
The DSW kids’ team is adapting to meet the athletic trend as well ask customers’ desire for a larger selection and more comfortable options, so they’re expanding athletic shoe offerings in spring 2020. They’ve also noted changes in selling patterns. For example, they anticipated that the sale of children’s dress shoes would slow after Easter, but instead this shoe style has continued to sell well.
The kids’ team’s 2019 back-to-school execution was incredibly successful. Because they carried the athletic “it” shoes customers wanted and more than doubled the uniform shoe selection, customer needs were met and exceeded. The team foresees huge growth in the department and continues to look for opportunities to increase the market share of the kids’ business.
How to Pursue a Career in Merchandising
Those interested in pursuing a career as a shoe buyer must have an open mind, understand their customer and be innovative, says Baker. “The retail industry is evolving quickly and what works today won’t work tomorrow,” she says.