How Trade Show Organizers Are Maintaining Their Edge in a Tough Business Climate

Amid a time of tremendous change and upheaval in the footwear industry, trade show organizers are working overtime to adapt and evolve their events. Delivering more value to buyers is a big focus. Some shows are beefing up their special event and seminar offerings, while others are rolling out powerful new digital tools. To help retailers mine new opportunities, many shows also are making a point to highlight new, up-and-coming brands to discover, as well as facilitating networking and idea sharing through social media and even on-site gathering spaces. Here, the leaders of five of the footwear industry’s biggest domestic and international events talk about how they’re stepping up their shows and share what’s on tap this season.


Leslie Gallin, president of footwear, UBM

New this season: “[At FN Platform], we will have an incredible art installation inspired by athletic footwear that will be created by students from Pensole. The designs will be awe-inspiring. We will also highlight all brands new to the show in special glass showcases. We always denote new brands in each aisle and in our directories, but the buyers have asked for more. The showcases will offer snippets of the brands’ products and stories. We also plan to bring back Mobile Beauty [to provide on-site hair and makeup touch-ups to guests], and there are a few other new programs in the works.”
Five new brands to see: Castañer, Chie Mihara, Danner, Werner, Les Tropeziennes
Hottest category: “Embellished sneakers and men’s casual shoes. It’s how the consumer is dressing and living today.”
Social media initiatives: “We are working on enhancing our 24/7 presence via [our digital wholesale platform] ShopTheFloor, and we’ll be rolling out meaningful commentary on-site at the show and through our various social media channels.”
Attracting new buyers: “We have a robust retail relations team, along with state-of-the-art digital marketing programs. We also listen closely and work very hard at being an integral part of the footwear industry.”
Attendance forecast: “FN Platform has become the U.S. forum for the shoe industry. Our show is a twice-yearly meeting place for everyone involved in the business. It is a must-attend event. The networking and non-transactional business that is done at our events keeps our attendance robust.”
Biggest challenge: “The consumer, as we know, is shopping — but shopping differently. Today, it is more about a brand or a retailer telling a story and creating an experience. People like to shop, but it’s more from an artistic, philanthropic and experiential point of view. This means investing in the visual presentations in your store and in advertising, but on a more frequent basis and via multiple channels. The term ‘omnichannel,’ while perhaps overused, is the right word for a 24/7 communications strategy. The goal needs to be to capture the consumer within the platforms that they are paying attention to. This is a hurdle, but it is key to brands’ success.”
Future outlook: “Retailers always say business is tough, and it is. To succeed, you need to be current and have a head for figures. Paying attention to what the next generation is doing will be key to the future.”


Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director, Atlanta Shoe Market

New this season: “We will debut the Fashionada Lounge, located in the Fashion Collection area of the show. It’s a destination for retailers, giving them a platform to exchange ideas, recharge and enjoy complimentary beverages and snacks daily.”
Five new brands to see: Katy Perry, ZeroTie, Sole Society, Brooks, Floafers
Hottest category: “The strongest category continues to be Lifestyle. We’re consistently
sold out of exhibit space [in this area] within weeks, and I see no sign of this slowing down as more people are looking for comfortable everyday shoes.”
Social media initiatives: “With the help of our consulting company, Acuitive, we will be increasing our social media presence to better engage with our attendees through immediate on-site interaction. We also will increase our mobile, social and email campaigns during showtime.”
Attracting new buyers: “While I still think it is important to advertise in printed publications, the social media outlet has become huge for reaching out to new buyers. We have increased our avenues to include every aspect of social media that is available.”
Attendance forecast: “With the closing of so many brick-and-mortar stores, we will be very happy if our attendance matches its previous numbers. There is obviously a huge increase in internet retailers coming to the show, so that helps maintain and hopefully even increase our attendance.”
Biggest challenge: “Trying to predict what the future holds — I wish I had a crystal ball. The industry is changing so fast that it’s hard to keep up and to always remain fresh and exciting.”
Future outlook: “It depends on who you talk to. Some retailers tell me business is great, while others say they are barely able to hang on. Everyone is trying to find that perfect niche to make themselves stand apart from their competition. But it’s hard for small stores to compete with giants like Walmart and Amazon — they can’t hide the fact that their prices are probably higher. With more retail bankruptcies likely, those hoping to survive need to be onboard with a new paradigm largely focused on an omnichannel approach. Much of the business will be online, but just as crucial will be a redefining of brick-and-mortar retail. Local stores need to serve as convenient product-delivery centers and, more importantly, as local hubs for real-life brand experiences and events that can’t be matched online.”


Marisa Nicholson, VP and group show director, Outdoor Retailer

New this season: “It’s our 35th anniversary, and we are kicking off the week with our Demo Experience back at Jordanelle Reservoir. For the last few years, we had to move locations due to water levels not being what was needed. Our paddle education area will feature a full lineup of retail- and paddle-focused seminars, as well as a talk from Casey and Ryan Higginbotham about their 2016 2,200-mile prone paddle from southern Alaska to the U.S.-Mexico border. We also will have a trend presentation by surfer Bethany Hamilton.”
Five new brands to see: Joules, Realtree, Rainbow Sandals, Reebok Performance, Samuel Hubbard
Hottest categories: “A very early, emerging trend is custom orthotics and insoles. And we continue to see the modern outdoor lifestyle apparel and footwear trend.”
Social media initiatives: “We are taking the social experience offline. We will connect people who are interested in the topics we speak about in the seminars at The Camp, where we’ll have networking and meet-up events for photographers, freelancers and designers.”
Attracting new buyers: “We are putting a human face on that connection between retailer and trade show. We are going out and physically visiting stores and soliciting input so that we know what best fits their needs. When you talk to more than 4,500 individuals person-to-person, it really is a lot different. We are getting a very positive response [to this effort].”
Attendance forecast: “We’ve had overwhelming support around the changes we’ve announced [i.e. the Demo Experience and paddle education area], so we are expecting show attendance to be on par with what we’ve seen in the past.”
Biggest challenge: “What we are hearing from some of the larger retailers is that there is excess inventory. So there will be a period when all industries will need to right-size. But things will balance out and we can move forward.”
Future outlook: “Retailers are more optimistic than they had been at the beginning of the year. A lot of change was done so recently that it was difficult for them. They had nothing else they could do except be optimistic about the period going forward.”


Annarita Pilotti, president, Assocalzaturifici and The Micam

New this season: “We are weighing the possibility of holding a photo exhibition Sept. 15-30 on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s fashion district during the trade fair. The 84th edition of The Micam will be held in conjunction with Milan Fashion Week, which is a high-visibility event that will give us the opportunity to display the excellent quality of Italian shoes to buyers from overseas.”
Five new brands to see: “It’s still too early to announce new brands. Right now, we hope to get a number of top brands involved in the networking project inspired by the same spirit that animated the Fashion Square, a futuristic area in the Luxury sector of Pavilion 1 that was unveiled during the past edition.”
Hottest category: “Medium-high and high-end footwear, for sure.”
Social media initiatives: “For Assocalzaturifici’s ‘Italian Shoes, European Footprint’ exhibition [launched last month in Brussels to promote the importance of Italian manufacturing in EU industrial policy], we launched a new Twitter account, @ITfootwear. The Micam also remains active on Instagram and Facebook.”
Attracting new buyers: “Showcasing the best of Made in Italy continues to represent the cutting-edge of The Micam’s range of exhibits. The concept that has always set us apart comes into play: ‘The word is taste — a taste for beauty.’”
Attendance forecast: “The enthusiasm that accompanied our February edition is a strong indication of optimism and encouragement. It means that we are on the right track. We think that in September we will succeed in living up to the expectations of exhibitors and buyers.”
Biggest challenges: “The global [economic] crisis and the competition from countries that swamp the market with cheaper, lower-quality products have seriously damaged the industry. However, the quality of Italian products remains a benchmark for the industry worldwide, which is why the most important challenge we’re facing today is safeguarding Italian manufacturing through legislation that certifies its origin.”
Future outlook: “At the end of 2016, Italy’s footwear exports rose on average 2.4 percent compared with 2015, for a value of 9.2 billion euros, between the finished product and component parts. Obviously, this is only a slight increase, but there are plenty of encouraging signs. I don’t see why we should not be optimistic.”


Ron Fromm, president and CEO, FFANY

New this season: “No. 1 for us is growth in international visitors who are coming to the show for American distribution for the first time. We also are implementing a new membership model with a big digital rollout that we hope to have in place by August.”
Five new brands to see: 4EurSole, Danner, Glamour Chic, Jade Shoes, Maria Mare
Hottest category: “The athleisure segment is still the place to be. We also continue to see lots of excitement in the bootie category, which is probably the next-most-talked-about area.”
Social media initiatives: “Everyone is learning how to make the most out of their digital presence. We held a digital seminar at the show this month, and it had one of the largest attendances for any of our seminars in years. Many people are coming from the marketing areas, as well as the buying areas, with a lot of interest in how to do digital better, how to learn more about it and how to do it quicker.”
Attracting new buyers: “Digital is where we are starting to see our efforts to reach out to new exhibitors and retailers pay off. We utilize surveys to get a better understanding of what people like and what they want to see more of.”
Attendance forecast: “Any increases would be welcome, but we are working on bringing in international groups since everyone wants to participate in the global markets. But I also think you see pressure on lots of companies. So if we could hold steady, that would be good.”
Biggest challenge: “The challenge of change — digital dynamics, marketing dynamics, store closures — is as great as the business challenges. It’s time for both sides of the footwear equation, retail and wholesale, to get together and see what they can do about bringing perspective and moving on from the uncertainty.”
Future outlook: “The marketplace is always looking for fresh ideas, brands and product. While retailers are very concerned about store traffic and consumer behavior, they still feel good about product and product mixes.”

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