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Report from Atlanta

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Happy to report another happy experience — our recent trip to the Atlanta Shoe Market was a good one.

Merriam-Webster defines happy as 1) pleasure or contentment; 2) notably fitting, effective or well adapted; 3) marked by atmosphere of good fellowship. From the brands and retailers that I talked with, the Atlanta Shoe Market, held August 13- 15 at the Cob Galleria Centre, checked all the boxes.

Greeting you each morning as the show opened was a continental breakfast, where conversations start over coffee, and continue into the hall. The Saturday night cocktail reception and live band — with some of the best food stations to choose from — plays up the friendly atmosphere. See happy definition above.  

There was a general feeling of optimism in the air at the show, although our conversations with retailers in the aisles often included the qualifier that the inventory pendulum for retailers has swung completely in the other direction with deliveries appearing all at once at stores or in warehouses. This situation, retailers say, is putting pressure on them when it comes to placing current orders, deciding what to buy and how to sell, and figuring out which brands are the most profitable — not to mention, finding new brands to consider bringing into the store. Yes, the balancing act continues. But it is nothing new and it’s what we do.

A highlight of the Atlanta show, as usual, was the NSRA Retail Workshop seminar, which never disappoints. Dane Cohen from Management One explained during the NSRA Educational Conference, retailers should consider themselves as “Investment Brokers.” You are investing in a brand (read inventory) and should manage your inventory both to do business and to refresh it along the way. At the same time though, retailers have to be investing in themselves. “It’s all about you,” Cohen said referring to why customers shop in your stores. It’s the people, product and messaging that are the retailers’ secret weapons. We all know about BOGO and BOPIS, but when he mentioned the term ROPO (Research Online, Purchase Offline), that hit home with me. When we get nominations from stores that we may not be familiar with for our annual Gold Medal Service Awards Mystery Shop, we do our “RO” which always entails a visit to the store’s website. So, if you haven’t already done it, there should be a very focused message that’s easy to find on what makes you, you. It creates a connection to the consumer that you understand their needs and their lifestyle. “Consumers can transact anywhere. If they want to shop at your store, it’s because of you.” Good advice from Cohen.

And consumers are definitely shopping. Cohen discussed recent surveys showing that consumers are seeking retail experiences outside the home. They expect a seamless experience once they get there. Sales in brick-and-mortar stores grew faster than e-commerce in 2021. And we’re happy to say it also aligns with our exclusive Trend Insight Consumer surveys on shopping behavior that appears in every issue of Footwear Insight magazine. Yes, there was a little more money sloshing around including government stimulus and pent-up demand. And retailers do have some headwinds to deal with including whether to choose to lose a customer or lose profits due to inflation, supply chain and other distractions.

Cohen suggests that 2022 should be considered a Retail Reset. While e-commerce is cooling, here’s the chance to right-size inventory, rethink promos and markdowns, and reinvent the customer experience both physical and digital. “Think beyond your four walls, meet the customers where they are.”  

And that includes attending trade shows. Thank you again to Atlanta Shoe Market executive director Laura Conwell-O’Brien for another show well done.