NEW YORK — The recession has brought sweeping changes to the way footwear brands and buyers do business, and trade show operators are moving fast to adapt to their needs.
Saving showgoers time and money, and helping them maximize productivity are big priorities. More than ever, organizers are focused on delivering added value, whether by providing interactive online show planners, new exhibitor workshops or even free meals and Internet service.
To find out how shows are reaching out to retailers and exhibitors, Footwear News talked to the leaders of some of the biggest footwear industry events, including Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager of The Atlanta Shoe Market; Chris DeMoulin, president of Magic International; Kenji Haroutunian, Outdoor Retailer show director; Elyse Kroll, chairwoman and founder of ENK International; and Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY.
FN: What are you doing to deliver more value and enhance the show experience for buyers?
KH: Buyers are harder pressed than ever for time, so giving them ways to plan their show more effectively is extremely important. We do things like provide pervasive Wi-Fi and Internet access, mobile apps for your smartphone and other technologies that allow people to still be productive while at the show. In addition, instead of relying on the buyers to search out what’s new, we deliver a really tight package of information [in print and through e-mail] on new brands and products. We’ve also recently started using GoExpo software on our website, which provides a password-protected access point, where qualified buyers can check out the exhibitor list and floor plan, set up appointments, interact with brands and ask questions.
LCO: Education is one [important] thing. We offer a color and trend seminar that’s always sold out. We also do a major opening night party for networking. Making the show cost-effective is also important, as retailers are watching every dime. That’s why we provide things like complimentary breakfast and Internet service.
EK: We plan a trade show as one would plan any event — we make sure our guests are well taken care of in terms of their daily routine. For buyers, the most important thing is time efficiency, so we carefully screen all brands to make sure they are merchandised properly [within the show]. We also have a new program where we do in-store visits with key retailers around the country to hear exactly what they’re looking for [in a show] and to better understand business in their [region].
JM: We’re not trying to do anything different or reinvent the wheel. We have a formula that works and we stick to it. Our industry party is one thing that really has added value. People love the chance to network. But the biggest thing is just staying close to the market and making sure we’re moving with it. We have several major retailers on our board now, and that has been a big asset. We really listen to their feedback and complaints and try to implement their ideas and suggestions.
FN: How do you support new exhibitors?
CD: We’ve started doing workshops in New York and Las Vegas. It’s sort of a “Trade Show 101” that goes over the key things you need to think about before the show, during the show and after the show to maximize your experience and opportunities. This actually started with our Pool show, and they called it “Swimming Lessons.” What it comes down to is preparation: The more planning you put in before you get to a show, the more rewarding your show experience will be.
JM: We have a history of helping young designers coming to the show for the first time. We give them a break on [exhibiting] costs, supply them with a buyers’ list, and advise and support them in any way we can.
KH: At OR, we offer what we call a New Exhibitor Dossier. It’s a piece we produce and distribute in print at the show, as well as on our website. We collect product pictures and short blurbs from each of the new exhibitors, and it’s a way for them to promote themselves to retailers. We also do something fun called “Speed Dating,” which is a fast-moving, 90-minute session where 30 new brands can meet 30 buyers. Each brand has three minutes to do a pitch. We also provide first-timers with a new exhibitor kit, as well as a PR tool kit.
FN: In what ways are you utilizing social media?
CD: For certain parts of our market, social media is the lifeblood of how they communicate, so we try to incorporate that wherever possible. We utilize Twitter and Facebook. We’ve had a lot of fun at the last couple of shows having guest editors walk the floor and tweet their commentary about what they see that is new and noteworthy. You can sign up at the show to get those by-the-minute reports.
KH: We were pretty early on this at OR. We have a strong following on Twitter and Facebook, and we also have a blog on our website that I personally manage. We work with a partner called Channel Signal that collects aggregated Twitter commentary on the show, analyzes it and reports on who the most talked-about brands are and who the influential Twitterers are. And when you walk into the show, you’ll see a live feed of all the commentary up on a big screen.
EK: Twitter has been great for us, as well as using our website and e-mails. [This also ties in with ENK’s mission] to be green, [as we’re] scaling back on printed mailers to save paper and valuable marketing dollars.
FN: How has the role of large-format trade shows evolved in recent years?
KH: In the old days, the big shows were the writing shows, where you went to place orders. Nowadays, there are lots of different ways to place orders, particularly with the Internet. So buyers now come to the big national trade shows with a different, more strategic mission: to see what trends are coming over the horizon, what other retailers are doing that they can get ideas from, what new brands are coming in that can help them differentiate their shop and gain an edge on the competition. It’s also a place where you can come and meet with the principals of the companies you do business with and work out strategic partnerships.
CD: With larger shows, you come to connect with a much more diverse group of retailers. It’s a more efficient way for brands to not only see their existing customers but to meet with potential new customers to expand their distribution. That’s why it’s been more of a challenge for the smaller shows to maintain momentum in this recession. They have more of a niche retailer base.
FN: How has the recession affected trade shows?
LCO: The industry is very cyclical, and what I’ve learned is that when times were good, everybody liked the hoopla of the bigger booths and the parties and all of that. Now, at the end of the day, everyone just wants to have a return on their investment. That’s why the Atlanta Market has grown so much in the last two years. Coming to Atlanta is much less expensive for retailers, and they can see all the lines they need to see under one roof.
EK: To save money, some exhibitors are reducing their space. [On the flip side], to appear strong, some exhibitors are increasing their space.
FN: Based on early registration data, do you see signs that the business is coming back?
JM: It’s not back to [the boom of] 2007 yet, but I think people are cautiously optimistic. There’s certainly a positive trend. And people have learned a lot from this period; they’ve learned better ways to do business. Retailers have learned to operate with less inventory and be better buyers, and vendors now understand the importance of having a better merchandise flow, bringing out new product more often. Both sides of the fence have refined their business, and they will come out healthier in the end.
CD: We’re really starting to see a lot of positive energy now. One of the things that happened in the recession is there weren’t as many new stores and brands coming in. For this show, though, registration of new stores is up dramatically. And overall retail registration is up almost 25 percent. The number of new brands coming in to all our shows is also up, so we’re seeing people coming out of this recession.