Trade Show Planner: Organizers Talk Big Changes

The organizers of footwear’s largest domestic and international trade shows are working double-time to attract buyers to their events, thanks to stiff competition and economic challenges.

To give budget-crunched, time-starved retailers more reasons to attend their events, trade show chiefs continue to retool existing formats and develop ways to reach new audiences. Some shows are mining business among foreign retailers, while others are appealing to first-time attendees with programs tailored to their specific markets.

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; Kirsten Deutelmoser, director of GDS; Fabio Aromatici, GM of The Micam; and Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of The Atlanta Shoe Market, weigh in on the industry’s outlook and what’s next for their shows.

What’s the mood among potential attendees?
People are feeling positive. Shoes are such a big part of consumers’ worlds right now, a real consumption item. We’re seeing some international growth, which is exciting. Europe obviously is experiencing difficult times, but they are being bullish about their business here. They feel the U.S. will trend strongly in 2015 and beyond. We’re seeing many European companies coming back to the show. Brazil is just exploding. It has a booming middle class, and that’s certainly evident in the exhibitor numbers coming from there.

LCO: The mood is cautious, but getting [slightly more positive]. We are still facing an uncertain economy, although 2013 overall should be better than 2012. Even so, nobody would claim the economy is very healthy. The economic situation in Europe and here in the U.S., the combination of rising production costs and flat prices, and the low-volume [sales] growth all add up to a worrying year.

FA: The weather across Europe has been very bad, so we basically lost the entire spring season. Now that the weather is improving, we hope shoe sales will pick up. The economic situation remains difficult as well. Even the larger, richer countries such as Germany and the U.K. are slowing down. However, we are seeing healthy growth outside of Europe, from countries including Russia, Ukraine, Kazakhstan, China, Japan and the United Arab Emirates.

JM: Buyers and vendors remain optimistic. They are really feeling good about the economy. That was clearly evident at our recent FFANY show, which had a 25 percent increase in registered retailers over the December show. [Although there’s been] slow economic growth, they are dealing with it in a positive way.

KD: The industry is facing great challenges. Retailers and manufacturers [continue to] struggle with tough economic developments. Consumer confidence is very subdued in many countries. In addition, the Internet is driving change and forcing companies to rethink.

KH: The mood is quite positive in outdoor, as it has been for some time. However, there are red flags on the horizon. The Outdoor Industry Association just released its 2012 outdoor participation and economic impact studies, and we’re not seeing a bump in actual participation in outdoor activities. That means the growth the industry has been experiencing is coming from people simply adopting the lifestyle and the look of the activities. This points to a bubble effect, when there is industry growth without participation growth. Inevitably, these consumers will move on to some other fashion look, and this could impact business.

What are you doing to attract new buyers?
Our plan to establish The Micam shows around the world is part of a larger strategy to attract buyers. With our new Shanghai show, for example, we’re attracting retailers who have never come to Micam in Milan. They get an idea, on a much smaller scale, of what Micam can provide and they are then tempted to come to Milan. The new Micam shows will actually increase buyer traffic in Milan, rather than take away from it. We also know one of the biggest hurdles to people attending Micam is the travel complications of Milan. So we’re intensifying our shuttles services, offering more concierge services at the fair and installing checkpoints at the airports.

KD: Attracting new visitors used to be easier. [Everyone is] operating under strong cost pressures. And the number and variety of trade events keep growing. That is why we continue to tout GDS’ [position] as a leading industry show and score points by offering an attractive program.

LCO: Being located near the busiest airport in the world and offering great hotel rates, combined with the opportunity to see everything under one roof, have [helped] The Atlanta Shoe Market.

KH: We’ve realized that for new buyers, one of the most daunting things is getting comfortable with the idea of staying far away from the Salt Palace. People expect to be close, but hotel options are limited. We’re trying to open up more rooms and other alternative housing options, such as local university dorms. We’re also targeting new buyers in certain key market segments. For instance, at our summer market we’ll have a program for fly-fishing retailers where we’ll set up transportation and guides, and curate a whole experience for daily fishing excursions on the Provo River.

LG: We have a new VP of retail marketing, Allison Lombardo, who will bring some fresh ideas to the conversation. We’re doing a lot of outreach to smaller retailers, in particular, who may not be tuned in to all the trade shows.

In what new ways is social media being worked into your show?
We continue to beat the drum via Facebook and Twitter — our primary tools — but we’re also looking at some gamification opportunities and tools like LinkedIn and Instagram. Social media is amazing in that it has cracked open a whole new element to events like trade shows. Historically, when you were at a show, you could only be in one place at a time. But with social media, you can follow and engage in seminars and other events elsewhere at the show.

LG: We just hired Atlanta-based Everywhere, experts in social media, to help with our strategy. Social media is huge for us. The data is off the charts. People are very active on social media leading up to, during and after the show. And it’s incredible how many hits we get from consumers, especially considering FN Platform is not open to the public. A big push for us is engaging the consumer in conversation and connecting those dots from the manufacturer and retailer to the consumer.

KD: When the social media issue rose to the fore a few years ago, we dealt with it intensively and developed a comprehensive approach. But we’ve come to realize these activities haven’t created any added value for our trade audience. We now limit our online activities to those tailored specifically to the trade. During the show, for example, we will have an online editorial team responsible for Twitter and Facebook. Alongside this, our website offers an editorially managed portal featuring news and market reports year-round.

JM: We have ongoing, serious developments with social media.

LCO: Social media has become the best way to keep exhibitors and attendees updated on the entire show experience. Brand awareness is key, so three months prior to each show our social media company sends out Facebook and Twitter posts at least daily. It is the most effective way to stay connected to what is happening.

FA: We already have our website and our Web TV. But now we’re looking to put all those elements together in one streamlined digital platform. We’ll have everything related to the fair on one side for the industry, and then everything about Italian shoes on the other side for consumers. This will be launched at our March 2014 Micam event.

Some trade shows are looking closer at their exhibitor roster and being more selective about brands they admit. Have you considered this?
KH: We have looked at this. Especially with our space constraints, we have to keep things tight. We do deny a lot of booth expansions, and we use a scorecard to assess potential new brands. At the same time, we don’t want to be too restrictive because often some of the best innovations in outdoor come from the periphery and not the core of the industry. We don’t want to be so aggressive that we lock out entire movements that could be happening. It’s a delicate balance.

LG: We are definitely discriminative at FN Platform. The way we merchandise the floor speaks to that. We have different neighborhoods addressing specific segments and price points. A lot of exhibitors don’t like that. But it needs to be that cut and dried. It is about the product, not who you know or how long you’ve been in business.

We could never get away with it. The strength of Micam is its “one stop, catch them all” [concept]. We still want to portray the possibility of finding everything you want. We understand this is not the current trend, but it makes Micam different.

LCO: Since the Atlanta Shoe Market is managed by the Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association, which is owned by its members and exhibitors, we can’t dictate who should and should not exhibit. As long as the potential exhibitor fulfills the requirements outlined in our bylaws, we will accept them.

KD: Our goal is for GDS to be a reflection of the entire spectrum of the industry. Therefore, it would be absurd to reject certain labels. However, we are stricter within our themes and reserve the right to assign companies to those areas where we think they fit best and where our visitors would expect them.

What are the big challenges facing the industry?
The uncertainty of the economy and the closing of brick-and-mortar stores. Most companies are facing an uncomfortable reality: Their knowledge, skills and relationships are oriented to working through brick-and-mortar distribution channels. However, all the growth is happening online.

KD: Branding is the biggest one. To be successful today, you need a clear identity, a brand with a distinct profile and backstory. The fact that more and more fashion companies are pushing into the market means this issue is steadily gaining importance for established brands.

JM: The biggest challenge is consolidation, on both the wholesale and retail fronts.

KH: The lack of participation growth [in outdoor activities] is concerning. It’s critical for the industry’s future that we make outdoor activities more relevant to more people, especially children, people of color, veterans, all those different consumer groups we haven’t historically moved the needle on.

FA: The big thing is research and development — new materials, new technologies, new products. We constantly hear from buyers that they are having a difficult time finding new, fresh, innovative products to excite their customers.

LG: It’s challenging for companies to continue to reinvent themselves. Also, retailers have to deal with the Internet and showrooming. But I still believe people want that human contact, to touch and feel the product. I don’t think brick-and-mortar will ever go away.


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