Trade Talk: Six Event Organizers Divulge Digital Details

With competition heating up, footwear trade shows are pulling out all the stops for the next round.

The goal, according to organizers, is to attract retailers and set their events apart from the pack. More than ever, shows are tuning in to the needs of time-crunched buyers by shifting dates, revamping formats, enhancing visitor services and offering new digital tools. There also is a growing push to provide more compelling content, from trend presentations to topical seminars. Here, leaders from six of the largest domestic and international events share what’s new and what’s worth seeing.

Leslie Gallin
President of footwear, Advanstar Global

New this season: “We will set up a special product showcase at the front entrance inside the hall at FN Platform. The display will be curated by me and my team, and it will allow retailers and exhibitors to see all the new and interesting products from each of the different lifestyle categories on our show floor. We’ve had a lot of requests for something like this, so we’re bringing it to life.”

Five new brands
: Campobello, Del Piano, Jinny Kim, Native, Pretty Ballerinas

Digital innovations:
“We continue to grow and refine Shopthefloor.com, Advanstar’s company-wide property. It’s our 24/7, 365-day virtual showroom. We are getting ready to roll out a wholesale marketplace component on the site, so exhibitors can conduct transactions with retailers. Overall, the industry has embraced Shopthefloor. We’ve worked out most of the kinks now, [and the site] is proving to be an effective tool.”

Hottest category:
“At FN Platform, three categories are seeing the most action: women’s, children’s and dual-gender lifestyle — brands like Sanuk and Native.”

Business outlook:
“From what I’m seeing, retail looks pretty good. The economy is improving, and [consumers] are opening up their pocketbooks a bit more. Still, retailers need to be looking for new merchandise. They can’t all carry the same old same old. They need to get out of their stores and come to events like FN Platform to see new product, network and gather ideas.”

Biggest worry: “Stagnation concerns me. To keep things fresh, the industry needs to come together more to discuss issues and share ideas. I would love to see more networking and CEO summit-type events that bring those decision makers — both retailers and vendors — together in a room. Relationships are forged and new ideas emerge. Without this type of regular face time, the industry becomes stagnant.”

Ron Fromm
President & CEO, FFANY

New this season: “One of the things we hear from our members is they like the timing, orderliness and consistency of our show, so we’re not making any major changes. But obviously, running a trade show is a very different business than it was five years ago. With all the digital innovations, there is a very different mindset and toolset, and we will continue to see more of that come to life.”

Five new brands: Bruno Bordese, Giambattista Valli, Glamourpuss NYC, Louis Leeman, N.21

Digital innovations: “The big new thing for us is FFANY 365, our online marketplace tool. So far, we’re thrilled with its progress. It soft launched in January, and participants are now starting to be able to use it and see it come to life in a tangible way. We think it will become a valuable tool for the industry.”

Hottest category:
“The real action is still in that contemporary zone. It’s fresh, exciting, colorful, and that’s what the customer wants right now. Fashion is driving it.”

Business outlook:
“No one ever wants to blame the weather, but we did go through a prolonged winter, and the spring selling season started late. When you have seasonal challenges like that, everyone has to work harder to make sure they plan the following year right. And obviously, there is no crystal ball. Still, we’re in a time when shoes are a very hot item. Consumers are excited about shoes, [so that] will continue to drive sales.”

Biggest worry:
“The economy remains a concern. Things are certainly getting better, but we’re not out of the woods yet. We don’t have much economic growth, and it’s growth that drives opportunity in the market. Also, the industry continues to consolidate, [and that] brings challenges. The winners are those companies that innovate and bring newness to the table. As an industry, we need to support that innovation and the development of new talent.”

Fabio Aromatici
CEO, The Micam

New this season: “We are adding a number of visitor services. We will have a welcome desk at both major airports in Milan, [staffed with] personnel who can provide information, as well as luggage and travel assistance. We also now offer advance registration so the admission lines will be shorter. We will debut Micam Square, a central meeting place with seminars, presentations and other events — all of those non-core business activities. The idea is to re-create the typical Italian square, but with a digital twist. In addition, we’ve reorganized the pavilions to make the layout more practical and homogeneous. You’ll see the full [rollout] of these changes by our February 2015 edition.”

Five new brands:
Bugatti, Colmar, Missoni, Porsche, Twin-Set

Digital innovations:
“We will place screens throughout the show that will play presentations and mood videos so people can see what to expect from that particular area. We also will have touchscreens for accessing directions, maps and other information. And for the first time, the fair will have full Wi-Fi coverage, free for all attendees.”

Biggest critique: “Anytime you reorganize the layout and move booths around, companies are concerned. We’ve tried to place companies according to the kind of products they have, not according to size. It’s never a precise science, but we’re trying to make the layout as logical and homogeneous as possible. Time is always an issue, so we want to make it easy for retailers to navigate the show.”

Business outlook: “In the first two months of 2014, [the most current data available], sales [of Italian shoes] were up in the double digits in the U.S., Canada and the U.K. It seems their economies are recovering faster than elsewhere. Sales in Germany and France also have been strong. The increase in business in these markets is making up for the decline we’re seeing in places like Russia, Ukraine and Kazakhstan.”

Biggest worry: “We are worried about cash flows and retailers being able to pay in full and on time. It used to be that the Russian retailers would pay [their orders] in advance and therefore finance the other countries that paid a little slower. But with the [unstable] political and financial situation in Russia and surrounding areas, that is no longer happening. We also are following the evolution of retailers’ product mix and their growing focus on larger, more-established brands. It is increasingly difficult for newcomers and lesser-known brands to enter the market. It is not a question of product quality or uniqueness, but a matter of not having the same resources and capabilities as bigger brands when it comes to marketing and working deals with larger retailers.”

Kirstin Deutelmoser
Director, GDS

New this season: “GDS will launch a completely new concept [with a revamped floor layout featuring] three major shopping worlds: Highstreet: The Modern Pulse, covering modern and sporty to traditional and wellness, while also showing kids’ [product] and accessories; Pop-up: The Urban Groove, a lively marketplace for trendy streetwear; and Studio: The Premium Note, which presents sophisticated, [higher-end] shoes. We also will introduce 15 Minutes of Fame, a special press day. Exhibitors can use this opportunity to present and promote their products and send out a clear brand message.”

Five new brands:
Barbour, Jil Sander Navy, Lacoste, Replay, Superga

Hottest category: “For summer ’14, urban cycling is in the spotlight at GDS — both as a culture of modern, environmentally conscious mobility and as an urban lifestyle. Urban cycling influences the clothing styles and sets standards for sportiness. We will present urban cycling in a trendy environment.”

Biggest critique: “We are introducing a new concept, and we understand there will be some critical voices questioning the new dates and positioning. But it was more than evident that we had to change, so we took a big step forward. We know this new direction [is necessary], but as organizers, we have to accept that it is not everyone’s way.”

Retail trends: “Today, footwear and accessories are as important as the outfit we wear, and the total look is what consumers want to see in stores. Most of the lifestyle brands recognize this trend and provide footwear and accessories in addition to clothing. [Another trend is focusing] not just on the product but the brand and image presentation. Shop concepts and marketing campaigns [designed] to emotionalize consumers are gaining importance.”

Biggest worry: “Big [show format] changes are challenging for me and my team. But the main objective of a trade fair should be a permanent adjustment to the needs and expectations of the [industry]. To remain up to date, decisions for new concepts and projects [should be made with the] longer-term development of [the industry in mind].”

Kenji Haroutunian
Show director, Outdoor Retailer

New this season:
“We’re bringing back the New Product Zone, which launched at our last show. It’s a central place where buyers can see all the products being introduced. It also will feature retail education forums on topics including running, made in America, fly-fishing, paddle and outdoor technology. To highlight the running category, we will host a mini-relay race in partnership with Ragnar Relay to benefit the Outdoor Industries Women’s Coalition.”

Five new brands: Butora, Emu, Satorisan, SeaVees, Steel-Flex

Digital innovations: “We continue [to develop] our social media profile. We have more than 11,000 Twitter followers and 16,000 likes on Facebook. After the show, social media is a great way to get a read on what trends and products were hot, what events got a lot of buzz. We also have our Preview@OR digital platform, which [functions as] a lead-in and follow-up to the show. It’s a collection of brand microsites that allows buyers to delve deeper and get more information and insight.”

Hottest category: “Running continues to be hot, and we’re definitely pouring gas on that fire by hosting runs at our Open Air demo and doing the Ragnar Relay partnership.”

Business outlook: “Outdoor overall has had a pretty strong run so far this year. We just had an excellent early season for equipment and apparel. Footwear, however, is the one category that’s been depressed in the first quarter. The trend of the foot glove shoe has waned, and that item drove a lot of attention in the past few years. Nothing has come in to replace it, so that’s an issue.”

Biggest worry: “A big concern is how the Internet will play out for specialty retailers. Is it a fair playing field, and can specialty retailers compete online? That’s a huge question right now in the outdoor space. At OR, we want to support retailers as much as possible as they move online. We want to deliver inspiration and tools to help them compete in that digital space.”

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

New this season: “[Our show] has been in a sold-out situation for the last five years. We are researching larger facilities to accommodate the growing number of companies on our waiting list. We also [continue to] add educational seminars and technologies to enhance retailers’ buying experience.”

Five new brands: Anthony Miles, Aspiga, Ilse Jacobsen, Ivylee Copenhagen, Ukies

Hottest category: “Comfort is, by far, our largest category, taking up over half the exhibit space in our main convention hall. Almost every company is stepping up to design shoes that are not only comfortable but attractive.”

Digital innovations: “We are working on several technical options to enhance the show experience, but we are not ready to reveal details yet.”

Retail trend: “Mobile shopping is the big one. Consumers will reach for their phones and tablets even while shopping in the store. Companies need to find a way to integrate the online and offline shopping [experiences]. The consumer wants to buy products at [the best price] wherever they are, whether online or in the physical store.”

Biggest worry: “I am concerned about the economy, as I don’t think we’ve seen the total fallout yet. Many small shoe companies are struggling, and my fear is they will no longer be in business a few years from now. This directly impacts the number of exhibitors trade shows will have, so we need to be conservative and cautious when planning future events.”