The Future of Trade Shows

The trade show calendar is still up in the air, as footwear organizations deliberate over the best — and safest — way to bring the industry together. FN furthered this conversation by gathering three leaders in this space for its latest virtual roundtable.

Earlier today, during the “FN Live: The Future of Trade Shows” webinar, FN women’s editor Nikara Johns hosted a roundtable discussion about what the industry can expect from some of its most established show organizers. The conversation was presented by FFANY, Micam Americas and Atlanta Shoe Market, whose leaders offered key insights into the shifting landscape.

They included John Heron, executive director at FFANY; Kelly Helfman, president of WWD Magic, Project Womens, Micam Americas and Sourcing at Magic; and Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of the Atlanta Shoe Market.

Highlights of their conversation are shared below:

On the importance of industry collaboration:

John Heron: Not only between trade shows but in the industry in general, I know there is a lot of discussion, there is a lot of collaboration going on, about how different companies are handling the situation we’re in. The industry no longer has the luxury to work in factions. We need to come together to make sure that we have schedules that align and we’re all working together to move in the same direction. I think one of the things that’s interesting about us is there seems to be less animosity between the major shows than in the past, because we’ve all developed distinct lanes, and while there’s always a level of competition, we all do things specifically well and we have our specific interests that don’t necessarily diverge. So it has been easy to work and collaborate with each other and, as I said earlier, it’s important and meaningful.

John Heron FFANY
John Heron, executive director at FFANY.
CREDIT: Courtesy of FFANY

On the enduring role of the physical show:

Kelly Helfman: The footwear show at Magic has always been a major part of the footwear community and I think that it will forever be … a major part of the B2B market. Bringing the buyers and sellers together is key, especially in fashion. We know that all buyers want to touch and feel the product. They want to meet their vendors in person, build personal relationships. So this face-to-face event business is extremely important and it’s not going anywhere.

Laura Conwell-O’Brien: We are a touch-and-feel-type of industry, so I don’t see that our trade shows are going anywhere. We could possibly have digital components coming into our industry. But I don’t see that the trade shows will be going anywhere anytime soon.

JH: We’ve become really efficient in the last couple of months at communicating digitally and finding ways to do our jobs. But in-person collaboration and connection is really important and it can’t be replaced. Whether it’s a brand presentation in your showroom or in a booth, to have that venue and platform to show your brand, to show your point of view for what fashion is going to be for the future, is unique. Real magic happens when the creative team and the developing teams can work with buyers and merchants to assess what needs to happen to a shoe or a program.

Headshot of Kelly Helfman
Kelly Helfman, president of WWD Magic, Project Womens, MICAM Americas and Sourcing at Magic.
CREDIT: Courtesy

On creating a safe show environment this summer:

LCO: The CDC has handed down guidelines, as well as our convention center and our state. Masks were not something that was a mandatory requirement, however we will be making that a mandatory requirement at our show, [and] masks will be provided. We will be doing temperature checks when you come into the entrances in the morning and you will receive a different color wristband for that particular day, so that our show security will know that you have definitely been tested that day. We will have a waiting room staffed with medical personnel, in the event that someone has a 100-degree temperature and/or COVID symptoms. We will have hand-sanitizing stations throughout all public areas and physical barriers, with Plexiglas shields at all registrations and all food functions. Exhibitors will have the capability of having the Plexiglas barriers at each one of their workstations. There will be floor markings, one way aisles — whatever we can do in that direction to minimize contact. And then we would certainly discourage handshaking, hugging or any other physical contact. Those are listed on our website and we will update those as needed. Currently we feel like we’re in good shape with those.

KH: We are keeping a really close eye on what’s happening in Nevada and what’s happening around us — there are some spikes over there as well. We’re paying attention to what the government’s saying. Should we not feel comfortable to even execute the postponed timeframe at the end of September, we will have to make the hard decision to cancel this. And this is all about the safety of our attendees. Should we be able to execute, we have very strict guidelines very similar to Atlanta’s: temperature checks, mass capacity measurements in foods and halls. Aisles will be 20 feet or so. We’re going to make sure that we have no open food areas — everything’s prepacked. We are working with a company called GBAC. They’re certified and they’re working closely with our operations team and LVCC. The Las Vegas Convention Center also has a ton of incredible investments they’re putting into that venue to make sure it’s safe, with air quality and so forth.

Headshot of Laura Conwell-O'Brien
Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director at Atlanta Shoe Market.
CREDIT: Robin Bish

On the new digital frontier:

KH: Informa Fashion is launching their Digital Trade Event Sept. 1. It’s going to run eight weeks until Nov. 1 and it’s going to be Magic, Coterie and Micam Americas. We’re really excited because Micam Milano just joined our digital event as well. We’re partnering with NuOrder, who obviously is a real leader in this space, has a great platform and a tool to do order writing and connecting with your customers. We felt that that was a really great partner for us. So we’re going for it and we’re learning a lot. Our job is to convene the market, and if we can’t do that physically, we’re definitely going to do that digitally. Nothing will ever replace our face-to-face events, but this will be a great complement to it. You can shop and search before the events, during and after. You can access a lot of great education materials. Our buyers are going to be able to attend the seminars that they know and love at Magic, which are all free. If you’re a buyer and you register for this platform, we’re going to be doing a lot of great work with influencers. We’re going to curate a ton of content. So what makes it different from any B2B order-writing platform is the content, how we’re going to supply education.

JH: New York’s not ready to have people come back to it in August, nor do people have a comfort level traveling to New York in August. So unfortunately, a physical August [show] is not going to take place as we normally want it to and expect it to. But we think it’s really important to come together as an industry and provide a stake in the ground to say, “As an industry, how can we come together and collaborate and interact?” So we are going to be working with Footwear News, with FDRA and Two Ten to have an industry event Aug. 4-5. It’s a virtual summit. We’re going to have interviews with industry leaders; we’ve got some great people lined up. We’re going to have list of topics that are relevant in today’s world: the move to digital; the new retail order; shifts in sourcing; some of the safety concerns that retailers are facing and the shows are facing; diversity and equality in all phases of our business; the rise of digital. We’re going to try to go visit some showrooms and show behind the scenes of what’s going on in some of the key showrooms and give the world a look at New York City in August 2020.

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