Atlanta Vendors Adapt to Market Flux

Women’s vendors at The Atlanta Shoe Market, which wrapped up Monday, said they were grappling with a still-uncertain economy and cautious buyers.

Retailers were staying well within their comfort zones when it came to product mix, according to Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of The Atlanta Shoe Market. “They are afraid to step out of the box because they don’t know what’s going to happen [with the economy],” she said.

As a result, vendors were striving for flexibility in both their footwear offerings and selling strategies.

Joel Gumpel, Southeast sales representative for Titan Industries, said buyers were increasingly focused on practicality and seeking out more-functional fashion.

His company responded to that trend by bowing its first comfort-focused line, Flogg. The 1970s- and clog-inspired sandals, retailing from $99 to $169, incorporate EVA footbeds with bold colors, patterns and details such as leather cutouts. The footwear will hit stores over the summer, but in Atlanta, it was featured alongside Titan’s fall offerings. “We are covering all the bases,” Gumpel said. “We cater to high fashion, but we are trying to create a new category: comfort-fashion.”

Los Angeles-based Bettie Page Shoes, an emerging brand, also has experienced some challenges, thanks to fickle buyers. Designer Jose Palos said retailers were picking up only a few styles in just one or two colorways.

“Business is difficult because of the economy — that’s a fact,” the designer added. “Retailers are being safer and buying less. Especially with a niche brand, it is a challenge to pique their interest and to get new customers.”

Going into its third season, Bettie Page Shoes switched gears for fall by adding several toned-down styles with lower heels, aimed at the mass market. “It is difficult because we don’t want to stray from who we are,” Palos said. “We have to keep the same flavor while attracting new business.”

Diba Imports also tweaked its product mix, rebranding its namesake line and changing the name to Diba True. It also has refined the look, which is heavily boot-focused for fall, to cater to a more sophisticated audience and raised price points slightly.

Steve Lorenz, the brand’s national sales manager, said the strategy seemed to be working, as the company had just come off of its most successful FN Platform show in Las Vegas and was expecting a positive response in Atlanta as well. Still, he noted, there are obstacles.

“Our biggest challenge is getting [retailers and other accounts] to pay their bills,” he said.

The Atlanta Shoe Market’s Conwell-O’Brien said the market could remain difficult for both vendors and buyers throughout the fall, but she predicted the spring ’14 trade shows would bring renewed energy and more cash flow.

“Everyone is going to be very cautious over the next 30 days, and then I think business will start to pick up,” she added. “We all want it to work, and if they can hang on through this buying season, they’ll make it to spring.”