I’ll be the first to admit I’ve only been back buying sneakers for a few years now. Not quite recently enough to be late to the party chasing the hype stuff, but long enough to remember walking into my local shop and being able cop a recent collab released weeks or months before.
There was something special about wandering in on a weekend and seeing those pairs sitting on the shelf, being able to inspect the materials and maybe even try them on. It seems now we are given a few weeks to decide based on oversaturated glamour pics and cute nicknames and descriptions, we are fed daily by every major blog out there. On release day that timeline is crunched into about 5 seconds of decision making as you rush to checkout and hope you don’t get the dreaded inventory issues message. Struck out? Time to either pay resale or move on to the next one.
The beauty of having a local boutique is that for most limited releases they have traditionally held releases in-store first and if any pairs remain they go online. In other words, take care of your local, loyal customers first and then let the masses have at it. I say traditionally because that doesn’t seem to be the case any more, at least not in my experience. For the past year I’ve watched as releases I’ve anticipated continue to either go online or to the shiny new store in another city. I guess “local” is all relative.
Not all sneaker collectors are lucky enough to live near a local shop carrying limited releases, much less some of the globally known boutiques out there. Those of us who are fortunate tend to make these stores our hangout spot. I mentioned in my Sneak Peek that I would stop by the local shop every weekend and take my daughters with me. The guys in the shop became friends, and not just because they were the source for sneakers. We talked about kicks but also about life and politics and family. Texts were exchanged on birthdays and holidays. It never felt like they were pushing product like your local mall store employees trying to sell you insoles for your new purchase.
Over time the staff came and went but the core remained and the relationships grew. At the same time, the higher ups outside the shop started making strategic decisions that meant more releases went online and less came to the store. I kept hearing of promises made and not kept. Change was coming for the better. This was probably two years ago.
Some of the employees stayed on but many more left. I noticed a change in the attitude and enthusiasm of the diehards and even in the other loyal customers. It wasn’t the same any more. Despite the best efforts of the in-store employees, the quality of the product and lack of community involvement was obvious.
It is a theme I seem to see and hear often outside of my circle, too. It made me wonder “why is this happening?” In my opinion it comes down to two main issues.
First, I credit the rise of the collab and the apparent desire for shops to outdo one another and make a name for themselves outside of their local area. An offshoot of this is the growth of personalities who either own or run the shops. Instead of being a location and destination it has become about portraying a lifestyle and developing trends. “The most premium materials ever put on a shoe” and “game-changers” are so prevalent it has become laughable.
Second, and this is more relevant to my discussion, the apparent desire of big box stores to get involved in the boutique level has brought a new mentality and approach to business. The focus is less on the local customer and more about applying the mall store mentality of metrics and rules and sales goals. When someone owns tens or hundreds of stores, I’m not sure they can identify unique personalities for each location. Instead, the corporate approach is taken and once a store is up and running the hunt is on for the next one. The unfortunate part is the customers in those new locations will likely accept what they get because they don’t know what it used to be like at the original location.
As a businessman I understand the power of the dollar. Sales have to be there, rent has to be paid, paychecks cut and all the other fun expenses. But at the same time when a shop only gets 12-16 pairs of an exclusive release and only 10-12 stores globally get that release, is it really necessary to put them online or not spread them over the multiple locations? The shoes are going to sell either way. Why not give the local and loyal customers the opportunity to purchase first? Again, I think the answer is because the people in charge either don’t care or don’t even understand.
In the end, they are just shoes. Missing out on a release is not really a big deal in the grand scheme of things. At the same time, there is something to be said for loyalty and shopping local. To compound that, seeing the employees who become your friends lose their passion for the culture and get overlooked or go unheard, it is disappointing.
I hate being the old guy talking about “the good old days” but in this case I had to put it out there for discussion. Who else is seeing this out there at their local shop? Is the race for international recognition done at the expense of the people who helped get them there?