Trade Show Planner: Big Issues for the Marketplace

Amid ongoing economic difficulties, organizers of the industry’s biggest domestic trade shows are moving fast to respond and adapt to the changing climate.

For many shoe retailers, business remains tough and budgets are tight, which means buyers need even more compelling reasons to attend industry events, as well as new ways to maximize their productivity. Shows are stepping up their games with stronger merchandising concepts, new digital tools, buyer-vendor matchmaking services and expanded amenities.

In conversations with Footwear News, show directors discussed their efforts to attract new retailers and set their events apart from the competition.

Here, Leslie Gallin, VP of footwear for Advanstar Global; Kenji Haroutunian, VP and show director of Outdoor Retailer; Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY; and Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of The Atlanta Shoe Market, sound off on the industry’s outlook for the New Year and what’s next for their events.

What are you hearing from attendees regarding the economy and business for 2013?
There are certainly concerns about the economy and the tax situation, but people are excited because footwear is really hot right now. We’re seeing major retailers like Barneys, Saks Fifth Avenue and Lord & Taylor dedicating entire floors to footwear, so it is an exciting time for the industry. Looking ahead to the next six to nine months, the mood is pretty upbeat.

LCO: Attendees are being cautious since business is very tough. They expect a turnaround in the economy, but know it will take some time for that to happen. They do understand it is more important than ever to exhibit at trade shows in these difficult economic times. Buyers seek better value and new, reliable [vendor] sources when business is [challenging].

JM: With all the uncertainty concerning the fiscal cliff and higher taxes [at the end of the year], the overall feeling is that business continues to be tough.

KH: There was a lot of trepidation about the election, followed by trepidation about the expiration of the miscellaneous tariff bills, and then even more trepidation about the fiscal cliff, but there were strong industry sales [in the past few months] that were a counter-trend for overall retail business in specialty. The [colder] weather and the bounce after last year’s performance creates some optimism that there are solid sell-throughs and sales taking place in key categories.

How will the economic situation in Europe impact show attendance?
The major brands that have relationships with American companies will continue to come to New York, but trips will be limited.

LG: With the strong trend in footwear here in the U.S., we’re actually seeing a lot of European manufacturers returning to the market. Many of these companies had been successful here [in the past] but pulled back when our economy [declined]. But now with the European markets struggling and footwear being so hot in the U.S., the timing is right for them to come back. It’s great for U.S. retailers looking for fresh, new brands to excite their consumers.

: It’s a factor, but it’ll be consistent with last year. We’re not going to see a big difference [in our attendance].

LCO: The situation in Europe certainly is impacting everyone, but I don’t feel it will have any effect on our show. We continue to see increases in our attendance and expect to do so going forward.

What issues most impact retailers right now?
The economy is the No. 1 issue. Retailers are buying less [as a result], but they do realize they need to buy so they have new and fresh inventory. Also, the brick-and-mortar retailers are struggling with the growth of the online business. Mobile phones are emerging fast as the preferred mode for online shopping. The whole social media world and the Internet are changing so rapidly it is almost impossible to stay ahead of it all.

JM: The most pressing issue is the fiscal cliff being settled. There is concern about higher taxes [leading to] a reduction in disposable income among consumers. That could hurt business.

KH: The dominance of online is tough. If [retailers] are in the online game, they’re well positioned; if not, they’re in a threatened position. The other piece is mobile shopping and that customers come [to stores] very well educated about product and pricing. The onus is on specialty dealers to keep pace with that and incorporate mobile into their shopping experience.

LG: [A big issue is] showrooming, [when] customers come into brick-and-mortar stores to try on footwear to ensure they have the proper size and then buy the shoes from an online retailer.

What are attendees telling you they want from your show?

JM: Hot-selling shoes. That’s the biggest thing.

LCO: We have been fortunate in that attendees are, for the most part, very happy with [our show]. As long as we continue to keep booth and hotel prices down, our show remains very affordable for everyone. Retailers find everything they need here, and exhibitors see a great return on their investment.

LG: Time efficiency is very important. Time is money, so we are constantly looking at how we can make buyers’ time more productive at our events. We want Magic Week to be incredibly efficient for visitors, and the comprehensiveness of our show is a big part of that. You can come to Magic twice a year and really cover the market well. You can see all the new trends, brands and products. We also present strong merchandising concepts to make buying easier for retailers.

KH: Above all, attendees are looking for new products, new brands and networking opportunities.

What has been working at your show and what hasn’t?
We’ve refocused on qualified attendance. There’s been a creep up in the past five years of local attendance and unqualified attendance, and we’re putting the kibosh on that. We know [that having the right attendees] influences the quality of the show. So as much as we love to tout big numbers, it’s not about numbers but the quality of interactions.

The Atlanta Shoe Market has a unique problem in that we have been sold out the past three years. Our struggle is that while we have the show under one roof, we utilize seven different areas in the convention center to provide booth space for everyone. Obviously, the best scenario would be to have everyone in one hall, but we don’t have that option in our current facility. The brands that have been taken out of the main hall would like to be moved back, but we simply don’t have the square footage to accommodate them.

JM: What’s always worked for us is simply [offering] great brands with great product. Product is key; without it, you don’t do business.

LG: There are always things we are tweaking and changing as we evolve and look to the future. And even when things work well, we think about how can we make them better. We do a tremendous amount of market research with an outside agency to find new ways to improve our show. We really consider every single thing that can either enhance or detract from your show experience while you try to concentrate on getting business done.

How are you differentiating your show from others in the marketplace?
Consistency. We continue to have an amazing assortment of brands and we remain located in New York, the fashion capital of the world. If you’re in the fashion shoe business and don’t come to New York at least four times a year, you’re missing out.

We are a member-owned, not-for-profit association, so we are able to keep our prices down and give maximum benefits to all who attend. In addition, our show is an opportunity for buyers to view all categories of footwear and more than 1,800 different lines, all under one roof.

KH: We merchandise our show like a retailer, designing it in a way that gives buyers an efficient experience, as well as inspiration. We’re putting more relevant presentations in the business education element of the show. We’re also trying not to have as many zone treatments [so we can focus on] a few that are really good.

Our passion for what we do sets us apart. We are very focused on creating the best possible experience. We have an incredible team with extensive knowledge of the industry. For a long time, Magic didn’t have that cachet in the marketplace, but it does now. If you’re in the fashion business, you’re coming to Magic.

What are you doing to attract new buyers?
For winter, we’re focusing on the Northeast and New England regions specifically, as well as making a push to attract more relevant international buyers. For Northeast buyers, we’re [targeting] those who might traditionally go to a ski show [by touting that OR has] nearly double the exhibitors and a lifestyle story, plus all the hardgoods.

JM: We have a new initiative to build relationships with independent retailers, as well as the major stores.

LG: We have Magic Bootcamp, which is basically a 101 course for first-time retailers. In addition, our retail relations team is constantly on the phone, reaching out to buyers and facilitating matchmaking between first-time retailers and exhibitors. We invest a lot of time in this, and we see the impact of these efforts in our turnout. Our attendance numbers have been consistently increasing with each show, and we’ve had very little attrition aside from retailers simply going out of business.

LCO: We are heavily involved in social media, which has become a great tool in attracting new buyers. I also think our efforts to keep hotel prices down and offer [extras such as] complimentary breakfast and parking add value and make it easier for new buyers to attend.

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