Sneaker wars are shifting to the smaller sizes

Source : Boston.com

“All this child knows is gimme, gimme, gimme. … They are buying things for the kid. $500 sneakers. For what?”- Cosby

Sneaker makers are seeing big dollars in little feet.

Once an afterthought, toddler sneakers are now a major focus for brands. Sneakers for infants and toddlers are the fastest growing segment in athletic footwear, with sales over the past three years soaring 34 percent to $1.35 billion in 2007, according to market research firm NPD Group. Sales for adults grew just 3.5 percent over the same period.

New Balance Athletic Show Inc., which has shied away from paying star athletes to shill its shoes, is rolling out a lineup of celebrity endorsers: Elmo, Cookie Monster, and Oscar the Grouch. The Sesame Street collection of infant and preschool sneakers debuts next month, the first of four lines New Balance is planning as part of its largest children’s initiative. The undertaking is projected to bring in $10 million over the next two years.

Rival Reebok International recently launched a line of toddler and children’s shoes featuring the Incredible Hulk and Iron Man. Payless ShoeSource, meanwhile, unveiled an infant-only collection this spring from designer Lela Rose known as Teeny Toes, and a new deal will soon expand the line to toddlers.

Once an afterthought, toddler sneakers are now a major focus for brands. Sneakers for infants and toddlers are the fastest growing segment in athletic footwear, with sales over the past three years soaring 34 percent to $1.35 billion in 2007, according to market research firm NPD Group. Sales for adults grew just 3.5 percent over the same period.

The shift has accelerated as teen demand for basketball shoes – once the cash cows of the industry – has waned and discounters have taken a growing share of the adult sneaker market. The toddler segment is more profitable because more sneakers can be sold at full price, unlike those sold in more competitive markets aimed at adults and teens.

The race to lace up toddlers makes sense because they need new shoes more often for their growing feet and parents are willing to spend more on children than on themselves, retail analysts say. Moreover, brand loyalty can begin at the earliest of ages.

Meredith Armbrust, of Waltham, buys sneakers every three to four months for her toddler, the latest a $40 pair purchased last month at Stride Rite. Over the past year, she has spent twice as much on sneakers for 2-year-old Luke as on herself.

“Toddlers can spontaneously decide they don’t like shoes and aren’t going to wear them,” Armbrust said. “And I would rather pay a little more and get a shoe that I know fits him well.”

But some critics raise questions about the brands’ marketing tactics to lure very young consumers.

“Pulling young children into the ‘must have’ shoe market is one more way to turn tykes into hyperconsumers, creating an entirely new generation of overspenders,” said Lisa Wise, executive director of the nonprofit Center for a New American Dream.

New Balance said its campaign is geared toward mothers. The Sesame sneakers – designed on New Balance’s heritage running shoe the 574 – feature a furry tongue lining, peeking eyeballs, and vibrant colors. The 30-second commercials hawking the shoes, developed with Kids Footlocker, will air on Nickelodeon during Nick Jr. programming which skews younger viewers like the demographic of the Sesame collection.Continued…

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