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How Footwear’s Largest Trade Shows Are Adapting to an Uncertain Climate

Erin E. Clack

As the industry grapples with tremendous change and challenges — from the looming threat of tariffs to waves of store closures — trade show operators are working hard to maintain their must-attend status and deliver more value to their guests.

Some are making location changes aimed at delivering greater convenience and efficiency, while others are stepping up their service with expanded educational offerings, networking opportunities and hospitality perks such as free meals and coffee.

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Digital initiatives also remain a key priority, as shows increasingly utilize online tools and social media to help brands and buyers better connect and build their businesses. And more than ever, shows are curating a robust roster of established and up-and-coming brands as a way to attract buyers.

Here, the directors of five of the market’s largest domestic and international events share their plans for the season ahead.

Leslie Gallin
President of footwear, Informa (parent of Magic, FN Platform & Project)

What’s new: “August marks a milestone move for Magic. We are bringing all of our Las Vegas shows under one roof at the Las Vegas Convention Center. The move offers a unique opportunity to reposition footwear on the show floor alongside its apparel lifestyle counterparts. It gives footwear-only retailers a look into next season’s apparel trends, helping them select the right shoe colors and styles. The changes also will create a more robust traffic flow and provide our footwear exhibitors access to apparel retailers who buy footwear.”

Fresh faces: Teva, Voile Blanche, Roscomar, Rapisardi, First Steps

Hot categories: “Casual styles for both women and men continue to trend. Also, women’s mid-height heeled boots and mules.”

Social media initiatives: “We are pulling out all the stops when it comes to social media and onsite activations. Engagement is our buzzword. We are looking to create Instagramable moments. Social media is about fun, information, social awareness and branding.”

Top selling points: “As a show, we offer brands that enable retailers to gain a healthy margin. We also provide a lot of value for our attendees, including networking [opportunities], education and experiences to help grow their businesses.”

Attendance forecast: “We expect attendance to be up from the last show because we don’t have any date overlaps with other events.”

Industry challenges: “Retailers need to break out of their comfort zone. In Europe, you see the energy in independent retail stores and it makes you wonder why this is not happening in the U.S. Retailers need better assortments, more unique in-store experiences and more engaged salespeople. They need to offer the consumer something they do not already own and that they cannot easily find on the internet for a lower price.”

Outlook: “Generally positive. There are many retailers out there who have found their niche — they are laser-focused on who they are, what they produce and what makes them stand out from the crowd. They are embracing digital tools and working to build new brand relationships to attract customers.”

John Heron
Executive director, FFANY

What’s new: “We are debuting our brand showcase at 24 W. 57th St. It’s a new venue — centrally located next to FFANY’s member showrooms and the Warwick Hotel exhibitions — that offers retailers an opportunity to preview a curated showcase of top brands while enjoying FFANY hospitality. Featured brands will include Dansko, Birkenstock, Crocs, Cougar, Washington Shoe Company, Propet, Valencia and Bearpaw.”

Fresh faces: “We are thrilled to welcome back Footwear Unlimited and its brands: Baretraps, Lucca Lane, Andrew Geller and Wear.Ever. Other new brands include Enter Beach, QKD and Realplay.”

Hot categories: “After the dreary and wet spring, we are ready to see sandals. Also, there are lots of mules on the street and in stores this spring, so it will be interesting to see the updates to this silhouette.”

Social media initiatives: “We are looking to launch a more interactive mobile application for future shows with tools that make conducting business in New York as convenient and simple as possible.”

Top selling points: “Our core principle of showcasing the top national brands has always been, and will continue to be, the leading attraction to retailers. In addition to that, our hospitality for retailers at a centrally located showcase is going to be terrific. We will have breakfast, lunch, snacks, afternoon wine, as well as made-to-order coffees and smoothies each day.”

Attendance forecast: “Realistically, we expect attendance to be down a bit. As both the retail and wholesale sectors continue to consolidate and a higher percentage of footwear is purchased direct-to-consumer, attendance is naturally declining. We are focusing our efforts on who is coming and how can we make it as advantageous as possible for them to conduct business.”

Industry challenges: “The looming tariff uncertainty is foremost on everyone’s mind and will ultimately determine the success of the year for everyone in footwear.”

Outlook: “The first half of the year has been tough across almost every sector. There have been some bright spots, but all in all — and I hate to blame it on this — the weather has conspired against the industry this year. Even with a late Easter, we have not seen the warm early-spring days that bring out the sandal shopper and jump-start the season consistently across the country. But footwear people are resilient.”

Laura Conwell O’Brien
Executive director, The Atlanta Shoe Market

What’s new: “We have cultivated a unique exhibitor and attendee experience — while not distracting from the goal of writing orders — in several key ways. Our exhibitors are investing in the retailer’s experience with bigger and better custom exhibits. Our cocktail reception is growing and is the place to have fun and continue networking off the show floor.”

Fresh faces: Casta, Regina Romero, Verbenas, Vagabond, Ateliers

Hot categories: “Comfort and lifestyle brands still rule. Comfort lines are becoming more stylish, so the consumer is not compromising on fashion. Athletics are coming in very strong, as well.”

Social media initiatives: “Our ‘featured exhibitor’ social casts promote unique stories across multiple channels. This summer, we are introducing the Capture experience, which will provide exhibitors an opportunity to share rich, show-based content across web and social platforms to help deepen engagement and relationships both during and after the show.”

Top selling points: “We continue to find ways to make shopping the show innovative and easy. We offer educational seminars, complimentary hospitality areas, an opening-night cocktail party and casino night and more.”

Attendance forecast: “I expect attendance to be up, as we saw a huge increase in February. Our show has become a very strong contender in the industry, offering attendees great value and ease in shopping under one roof, as well as an opportunity to see all the top brands. In addition, Atlanta is easy to fly in and out of, especially for our international visitors.”

Industry challenges: “The unknown is still one of the biggest. Also, the U.S. and China trade tensions are a huge factor.”

Outlook: “Uncertainty and confusion are two of the most challenging issues facing retailers in the second half of the year and beyond. Digital business continues to grow, and companies are selling direct to the consumer, creating challenges for traditional retailers.”

Tommaso Cancellara
CEO, Micam Milano

What’s new: “The upcoming Micam is particularly dear to us as it’s the 50th edition. As such, it represents an excellent opportunity to listen to companies and buyers and tackle the challenges facing the market with renewed motivation. The mission of Micam remains the same today: to be at the service of operators, providing them with a constantly evolving business tool. And there will be newness, surprises and opportunities to contemplate how far we’ve come in recent years and to identify new goals.”

Fresh faces: “In addition to the most interesting made-in-Italy brands, there will be foreign companies defined by their high quality and variety, not to mention emerging young designers. The latter will have a dedicated area in Pavilion 4, and their collections will be showcased on the runway on Sept. 16.”

Hot categories: “The most lively and well-developed category is still women’s shoes, which tends to be more connected to fashion trends and innovations in design.”

Social media initiatives: “To make our social media presence even more interactive, international influencers have been promoting the event to communities that are strategic for made-in-Italy exports, such as the U.S. and China, and in so doing are contributing to the positive trend that is set to keep growing. We also have new surprises in store for our September fair.”

Top selling points: “To stay in line with retailers who need their businesses to be increasingly profitable but have very little time to spend at the fair, we’re focusing on expanding and improving the standard of our services to make visiting us easier, more efficient and fun.”

Attendance forecast: “Our September 2018 edition had 45,424 visitors, representing a 4% increase in international visitors and nearly 2% increase in Italian visitors. These results show that Micam is increasingly important to the global industry. We’d like this trend to continue, but we’re also sure there will be a slight fall in the number of exhibitors over the next few editions, as we are being more selective with regard to the brands taking part.”

Industry challenges: “Current economic and political changes pose complex challenges. From the return of duties on certain products to the unprecedented Brexit situation, these scenarios complicate the industry’s dynamics. These factors run alongside the difficult balances already at play, such as the aggressive down-pricing strategies of countries like China, the criminal counterfeiting that continues to prosper and the dynamics of international and national economics that impact purchasing.”

Outlook: “We face many challenges at the international level; however, we’re sure that looking beyond the borders of the local market is the only way to remain competitive. It certainly won’t be an easy year, but we implore the sector not to be discouraged.”

Marisa Nicholson
VP and show director, Outdoor Retailer

What’s new: “For the first time, our Summer Market sits at the front of the buying season. That means we’re going to see the latest outdoor gear as it is launched. All three floors of the Colorado Convention Center are full, and Venture Out — the area highlighting trendsetting brands and products — is the biggest it’s ever been, with nearly 100 exhibitors. We also have an expanded overlanding zone and have seen a lot of growth in the CBD and wellness categories. Also, the Demo Experience will be in a new location with a beach, trails and lake to test products. We’re also excited for the ninth annual Outdoor Retailer Inspiration Awards.”

Fresh faces: Jerusalem Sandals, FlipRocks, Chrome Industries

Hot categories: “We’ve seen a resurgence in trail running. Familiar road-racing brands are hitting the trail with new technical models including Nike Trail, Hoka One One and Saucony.”

Social media initiatives: “We’re highlighting the theme of inspiration to coincide with the Inspiration Awards, which will be held on the first night. Across our digital channels, we’re celebrating the people helping the industry grow and evolve. There’s a huge uptick in activity [on our social media] around the shows, and we make it a point to capitalize on those days to truly represent the vibe and sense of community.”

Top selling points: “We have redirected our marketing efforts so they better resonate. In the past, there was an emphasis on direct mail or blanket emails, and now we’ve shifted to more personal outreach to retailers. We’re visiting more stores and attending regional shows to tell the OR story, and we have a scholarship program for stores facing a hardship.”

Attendance forecast: “We expect to see attendance on par with last year.”

Outlook: “Trade and tariffs are a big topic of conversation. So many outdoor products are facing an additional import tariff if sourced from China — from hiking boots to sleeping bags and tent poles — and all other apparel and footwear. These costs will also impact retailers and consumers. As the industry gathers at the show, we expect to see everyone come together to support efforts by the Outdoor Industry Association and others, and hopefully make a collective push to prevent any new tariffs.”

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