Editor’s Note: New Year, New Game

When buyers meet sellers this month, the rules of engagement will be different.

Sourcing costs, uneven consumer confidence, global economic volatility and a proliferation of brands could make life very interesting this year. Daunting as they may be, these obstacles are balanced by incredible upside in the still-expanding women’s business, a rise in men’s fashion awareness and the continued strength of the children’s, outdoor and athletic segments. The combined momentum is impressive, driving the shoe business in new and promising directions.

But that heady mix of positives and negatives adds to the current drama, and the onus for success falls on a host of factors that are part luck, part timing, part creativity and a whole lot of innovative leadership.

In Las Vegas this week, the meeting of retail and wholesale minds will put all those factors on the table. As industry powers grapple with the biggest challenges and most promising opportunities, the realities of the crucial fall selling season will come to light.

While some retailers may argue that there aren’t enough hot trends driving the market right now, they also know consumer awareness is at an all-time high with shoppers who are more informed and more selective about what they buy. As this trend continues to pressure the industry to deliver new product closer to season, it has hampered brands that have failed to play the fashion game in a clever and singular way.

The complication of global sourcing costs remains a defining factor as the major branded players solidify their own market positions. As I have said before, there are no better sourcing masters than the powers of the footwear business. Schooled in global economics and sourcing intricacies, many in the business could write the book on finding the right factory at the right price point. But failure often comes to those who make the wrong decisions or are unable to wield the scale needed to secure the best production for the best price. This year, those stakes have never been higher.

Much of that sourcing and positioning prowess comes from a mix of experience and sheer might. The focus this week will be on the strong and charismatic leaders who use that critical combination to blaze a trail for the rest of the industry.

Those pacesetting executives fall into two camps: the legends and what I call the “transformers” — leaders determined to break new ground using a mix of old-school and new-school thinking.

The legends need little in the way of introduction: Robert Greenberg, Vince Camuto and Phil Knight continue to define the business. Those icons, along with pros such as Bob Campbell, Bob Goldman, Marc Fisher and Jim and Larry Tarica, will navigate 2013 as they have many challenging years before. Not only do they understand the nuances of changing market conditions, they know how to profit from them by constantly expanding, reshaping and redefining their brand mix, sourcing options and product offerings.

And then there are the transformers. Impressive and impactful, these change agents are all about pushing the boundaries. They marry best practices with forward thinking. Whether they are designers (Charlotte Olympia Dellal, Nicholas Kirkwood) or online giants (Tony Hsieh and Fred Mossler) or the captains of multibranded powerhouses (Steve Madden, Blake Krueger and Diane Sullivan) this group is on track to make significant directional changes this year. The moves they make will be very telling as 2013 unfolds.

While the defining fall transactions will play out in Las Vegas this week, a more thoughtful conversation about the unique issues and opportunities facing all of us will take place April 29 to May 1 in Miami at the FN CEO Summit. Designed to capture the zeitgeist of this particular moment, the event will focus on the transformative ideas that promise to reshape the business as we know it.

The powerful lineup of speakers will cut across categories, price points and product mixes to examine the innovative ideas that will propel the shoe industry forward. I invite you to join us for a firsthand look at how the best and brightest in this industry are pushing the obstacles aside to create a new playing field with innovative leadership and unique branding stories. The intense, two-day meeting will present an up-close look at key brands, hot-button issues and the smartest power players.

In a year of great change, these are the voices to hear.

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