For several years, the top destinations for footwear trade shows have been Las Vegas, New York, Atlanta and Denver. But in the past year, a growing number of retail buyers and brand reps have been heading to Texas.
As the COVID-19 pandemic forced many trade organizers to shift to digital formats, the Dallas Market Center reopened its doors on May 4, 2020, and has since hosted five in-person Apparel & Accessories shows, as well as a number of gift and home events.
According to organizers, the most recent Apparel & Accessories show, held last week from March 23-26, was its best attended show in more than a decade. It featured more than 100 footwear brands exhibiting in temporary and permanent showrooms, including several newcomers such as Dolce Vita, Bearpaw, Blondo, Anne Klein, Golo and Lauren Lorraine.
Cindy Morris, president and CEO of the Dallas Market Center, said that the footwear category has been one of the fastest-growing areas for the 1 million-square-foot marketplace. “For our temporary booths we have seen a 44% increase in footwear brands versus 2019,” she told FN via email. “Demand is so strong that we have had to expand our temporary floors to keep up with requests.”
Retailer participation also has increased significantly compared with pre-pandemic levels. “Attendance at our March show was up 120% versus 2019, and we continue to see a record number of new buyers show after show,” said Morris. “About 27% of our attendees are visiting the Dallas marketplace for the first time.”
She noted that the buyers last week hailed from all 50 states and represented single- and multi-location stores focused on a range of product categories, from men’s, women’s and kids’ fashion to Westernwear, gifts and souvenirs.
Jim Mavor, VP of sales for Lamo Footwear, exhibited at the recent show and said traffic for his brand was solid all three days. “Mostly it was boutiques [who were eager] to buy at-once, especially slippers and our Lamo Lite products,” he said, adding that while overall turnout was down slightly from the January event, fall bookings picked up compared with January.
Tamara Conti, a sales rep for Consolidated Shoe Co.’s OTBT and Naked Feet lines, reported that a majority of visitors to her showroom were from online or brick-and-mortar boutiques, who came in search of spring-summer or at-once product. “I, of course, got fall pre-books but it was a 70-30 split,” she added.
And similar to Mavor, Conti found the traffic to be lighter in March compared with January, but overall felt it was very worthwhile show. “I believe Dallas is turning into the new ‘Magic’ and becoming more of a nationwide show. I saw customers from all over the country,” she said.
The Dallas Market Center has previously been considered a regional show that attracts buyers within driving or short flying distance. But in a year when options have been limited for reviewing product and placing orders, it has emerged as an enticing option for brand reps and retailers to get back to “normal” operations.
One of the benefits for DMC is that Texas was one of the earliest states to reopen after early shutdowns last spring and it has imposed more-relaxed safety measures on businesses compared with other states like New York or California.
Another advantage is its layout. Footwear execs told FN that the showroom structure allows them to carefully control their environment in order to protect employees and guests from health concerns, by scheduling appointments or limiting capacity. And the sprawling scale of the center provides opportunity for social distancing, with open parking, large entryways, wide hallways and multiple escalators.
Morris also pointed out that the show sets up hundreds of hand-sanitizing stations and conducts enhanced cleaning with hospital-grade products. It also continues to require mandatory face coverings and temperature checks for every person entering the marketplace, despite the fact that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott recently relaxed the state’s requirements for face coverings.
Lamo’s Mavor said that did cause some confusion at the show. “Unfortunately, some people didn’t pay attention as Texas lifted the mandatory mask [rule] prior to this show, but most wore them.”
Morris credited the growth of the Dallas shows to the cooperation between exhibitors, retailers and her staff, as well as to consumer trends. “The demand for new products has remained strong as retailers have operated with resilience and innovation,” she said. “The most common question Dallas exhibitors hear from buyers is ‘what do you have available to ship immediately?'”
And even as more trade shows announce upcoming in-person events, Morris is bullish about further growth. “The word is out about Dallas, which is why we are seeing so many new buyers, many of whom are traveling from the east and west. This is truly a national marketplace serving buyers from across the country,” she said.
Meanwhile, the Atlanta Shoe Market also continues to become a more influential trade show stop. In February, 500 exhibitors attended the show, along with 1,200 retailers.
The landscape will continue to evolve as Magic and Project return to Las Vegas in August, the same month OR reintroduces in-person shows in Denver and FFANY is expected to have a physical event in New York.
An earlier version of this article incorrectly identified the governor of Texas.