Feminine Styling and Up-and-Coming Brands Can Give Retailers an Edge Over the Internet

The economy may be challenging, but there remain opportunities for retailers and brands that are willing to test the fashion waters with fresh product.

According to Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of The Atlanta Shoe Market, which held its biannual trade show on Feb. 17-19, today’s brick-and-mortar stores can compete against online retailers if they stay on top of trends and tap into up-and-coming brands.

Here, Conwell-O’Brien weighs in on the fashion demands of customers in the southeast, the impact of tax reform and the struggles of young brands.

Laura Conwell-O’Brien

What are some of the biggest challenges for retailers today?
“The competition to stay in business because of online stores. But if you’re a good store, you always get fresh, new product. You know your area, what people are looking for and you cater to them.”

What distinguishes consumers in the Southeast from those in other parts of the country?
“We hear that ladies here still like to dress. Out West, they’re a little more casual, and on the East Coast, they have to dress warmer. In the southern territory, people like to wear pumps. Women like to be treated like women and dress feminine. Salon and better-grade shoes sell very well here because women will spend the dollars. They don’t have to worry about slushing in the snow [in their shoes].”

Will the recent tax reform likely to impact business in the region?
“I don’t think it will have an impact one way or the other. If you want to buy a pair of shoes, you will still buy them. [However], some people might need [the money] for groceries.”

Since women tend to dress up in the Southeast, what is the outlook here for the athleisure trend?

“It [targets] millennials. Here, when we dress, even if it’s not a pump, we like to have a cute sandal, wedge or slide. [However], we all have three or four pairs of tennis shoes in our closets for working out and fitness activities.”

What is the outlook for new brands in the current economy?
“I’m a little afraid for them. It’s hard for a good brand that’s been around for a long time to be successful in this economic environment. New brands are treading cautiously. Some are great and you want to see them stay in business. It’s tough for these people, but if they do things right, there’s a place for them.”

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