The Atlanta Shoe Market Returned In-Person — and Outperformed Expectations

The Atlanta Shoe Market wrapped up its February event yesterday, and the reviews from exhibitors were largely positive in regard to the success of the trade show and the health measures put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“The show actually exceeded my expectations,” said Carmen Glass, key account manager for OTBT and Naked Feet, owned by Consolidated Shoe Company. “I was apprehensive about the attendance, but our booth was busy all day long.”

This marks the first time the Atlanta Shoe Market has hosted an in-person gathering since February 2020. Its August event was cancelled due to concerns related to the coronavirus.

Executive director Laura Conwell-O’Brien told FN that as of midday yesterday, 500 exhibitors had attended the show, along with 1,200 retailers.

That represented a decline from a typical show, as many major retailers and brands opted out of attending due to corporate restrictions on travel due to the coronavirus or issues from the severe winter weather that blasted much of the U.S. last week.

However, brand reps told FN that they still benefited from participating in the event.

“The traffic was definitely down, but the retailers who were here were serious lookers and they know their businesses,” said Angela Paterson, national sales director for Enjoiya Group, which was showing its Enjoiya, Soft Comfort and Secret Celebrity lines.

Mike Kerr, national sales director at J/Slides agreed that the retail buyers who attended were eager to do business, but preparation was essential to land those orders. “The brands that did not make appointments suffered the most as they relied on pass-through traffic, which was minimal,” he said. “Our Southeast rep did a terrific job of getting her customers in the booth.”

J/Slides’ Southeastern rep, Connie Cavalier, said that brands that did not participate might have missed out in a significant way — not only from the opportunity to pick up new business, but to network and build relationships with retailers during a crucial time.

“This is the time to show appreciation for the independent retailers,” she said.

The majority of buyers who attended the show were independents from throughout the region. Although Jim Newman, accounts executive with Yellow Box, told FN, “I saw all types of retailers: shoe stores, boutiques and a few big-box stores, mainly from the East and Southeast.”

All the exhibitors FN spoke with were pleased with the COVID-19 safety measures put in place by the show organizers. Those included temperature check kiosks at all entrances, which doled out wristbands to attendees in a different color each day. Aisles also were widened to allow for social distancing, and public spaces were sanitized regularly. And a mask mandate was strictly enforced by the show’s security team.

Overall, Paterson said, the mood was upbeat as buyers began to plan for the fall, when the worst of the pandemic will hopefully be behind us. “It wasn’t somber. People weren’t looking down — they were walking the show and looking at product,” she said. “They want to get back to doing more normal retail business at their stores.”

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