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Trade Shows. Take Two.

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Two cities. Two hotels. Two trade shows attended. Four plane rides. Many great conversations.

First, I’m thrilled trade shows are back. There is still nothing that compares to human interaction, as in face-to-face, not screen-to-screen, with the generally accepted fist bump now easing back into the handshake. Ahh, the handshake, remember that? Nothing compares to looking for new brands, touching the product. Flexing the shoe. Stretching the fabric. And, the aisle conversations. Remember those? It is still the best place for impromptu exchanges that usually lead to business.

I travelled to Denver last week for the Outdoor Retailer Show not really sure what to expect. When I got there, it was quite an eye-opener. The entire show was held on the upper level. Even that hall was not filled. We all know, and have written about how outdoor recreation has been hot this year. Yet the show was quiet. So who gave up on whom? Was it the brands? The retailers? Was it the timing of the show? The location? How much did COVID alter travel plans? Was it the supply chain disruptions? Store staffing? Some of the above? All of the above? For the retailers in attendance at OR, they certainly got a chance to spend quality time with the brands that did decide to support the show. I hope that new and stronger business relationships were formed as a result for those brands and retailers who were there.

A word about my hotel in Denver, if I may. As a road warrior, I just have a few small expectations of any hotel that I stay at: a bed that should be made after I leave the room, breakfast available and free wifi. You know, the simple things. I gave up on fresh towels long ago. I got one out of three. Hint: I was able to get online. Yet when I checked out, there was, and I kid you not, an amenity charge tacked on to each night, for the complimentary coffee and wine bar in the lobby and wi-fi. Really?

(photo via instagram.com/atlanta_shoe_market)

Next stop: Atlanta. Just as I reported back in February, Laura Conwell-O’Brien at the Atlanta Shoe Market and the Southeastern Shoe Travelers (SEST) did everything right. Again. The temperature checks and daily colored ribbon bands at Atlanta Shoe Market were in effect at last week’s show just as they were for Atlanta’s February show. Masks were optional this time. I saw and talked with some of the largest and best independent retailers in the country. It was great seeing every one of you. The show, mostly made up of 10’ x 10’ and 10’ x 20’ booths, was inviting, easy to shop and busy. One of the many reasons we attend trade shows is to find new brands and resources, and The Atlanta Shoe Market continues to deliver on that front. The aisle conversations here proved once again there is no place like the trade show floor for exchanging information in real time, and then walking down the aisle and acting on it.

The cocktail reception set up just outside the trade show hall (remember those?) was a welcome sight to extend the day in a relaxed and informal environment, continuing or starting conversations, and nurturing relationships.

As you would expect, there were a few comments on traffic at the Atlanta show. It’s just what we do. But, some of the retailers who had every intention of attending, ran into staffing problems at their store and were forced to cancel their trip. That’s a little different from weather disruptions, or just not wanting to be there. Staffing is a huge concern for our channel, and I hope this resolves itself in the very near future.

Business ideas were discussed at the National Shoe Retailers Association (NSRA) educational seminar held in the morning of the second day of the show in Atlanta. Dan Jablons from Retail Smart Guys, gave an excellent presentation on ‘The Best Buyers Do These 5 Things.” A few points hit home: “You spend more money on inventory than anything else. More than rent, more than on employees. Seek out better vendors. Get your vendors involved. Create a vendor scorecard. What [merchandise] classes can you grow? What sister categories are compatible? What categories to maintain, and yes, what to drop. It’s the science of the business vs. the fashion of the business.” Smart ideas to consider as we walk the show floor.

But, the science of the business must still be combined with great customer service. On that note, Footwear Insight is preparing for the 2021 Gold Medal Service Awards this fall. In one of my many aisle conversations, I chatted with retailer Brenda Felger, a Gold Medal Service Award recipient. I had asked “we’re planning to mystery shop, will you be ready?” Brenda, who informed me that she is increasing the square footage in her store, said without hesitation, “I am ready every day.”

Thank you again Laura. See you again in Atlanta in February. Now if we can only get the hotel to make the beds.

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Aug 18, 2021

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