AAFA to Host Footwear Conference

NEW YORK — Shoe executives will gather May 1 at the Scandinavia House in New York to explore how brands and retailers can work together to grow market share in a year that brings many uncertainties.

The one-day conference, hosted by the American Apparel & Footwear Association and titled “Navigating the U.S. Footwear Market in 2012 and Beyond,” is designed to bring the industry together for a comprehensive look at consumer expectations, said Kevin Burke, AAFA president and CEO.

“While we saw a significant jump in consumption in 2010, 2011 remained flat. 2012 is still anyone’s game,” he said. “The challenge will be to deliver the right product at the right time at the right price by utilizing modern technologies and using the right combination of people. It is clear that consumers drive the apparel and footwear industry. The decisions made today will set the path for the next several years. Getting it right is critical.”

And part of the formula involves quality management, according to Carl Steidtmann, chief economist and director of consumer business at Deloitte Research, who will deliver the keynote address at the conference.

“Retail tends to be very energy intensive because of distribution costs, particularly in apparel and footwear, [which rely on] imports. There are lots of cost pressures out there that will make managing margins a real challenge going forward,” Steidtmann said.

“Inflation is like weight gain — it sneaks up on you and you don’t realize it until your clothes don’t fit,” he added.

“My overall message will be that management matters now more than ever, and the difference between a well-managed business and [a badly managed one] is going to be much more apparent,” said Steidtmann.

Meanwhile, Alison Paul, Deloitte’s vice chairman and U.S. retail and distribution leader, will present results from a recent survey that found consumers may change their shopping plans in the months ahead due to higher consumer goods prices, higher energy costs and higher medical bills — and what implications that has for retailers.

Other speakers lined up for the summit include Rick Darling, president of Li & Fung USA, who will share insights on achieving the right sourcing balance today; and Ricardo Alvar, chief business development officer of global retail at 24Seven, who will address the challenges with today’s talent pool.

The day will conclude with a panel discussion featuring Rob DeMartini, president and CEO of New Balance; Larry Tarica, co-president of Jimlar; Jim Zwiers, SVP and president of the Outdoor Group at Wolverine World Wide; and Danny Wasserman, president of Tip Top Shoes.

Participants will discuss strategies to remain ahead of the curve, including using social and digital media, e-commerce, product innovation and new channels of distribution. The panel will be moderated by Footwear News’ global news director, Katie Abel.

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