<h6>by Ken Proctor</h6>

<strong>From the June 18 posting of “shoebizness.com,” an online forum for footwear professionals by footwear professionals.</strong>

Julia’s topic for the week is “what is my favorite trade show”. This will be a two part answer; the first being about my favorite trade show before maturity and responsibility and part two focusing on my favorite as a business owner.

Last week, Will Weiss and I exchanged emails about a FFANY party he was attending. Apparently, Will noticed several young people gathered together, laughing, and having a much better time than the other shoe people in attendance. Will told me that these people were all comprised of young, hip industry folk, and who should be at the center of the group but our very own Julia!

Will’s story reminded me of my youth in this industry. WSA was more about partying than working. I remember one particular show where my boss had invited the entire buying team for a department store out for dinner. We all met at Smith and Wolensky’s; an incredibly overpriced, crowded, noisy establishment right on the strip. After several “tower of shellfish” appetizers, overpriced steaks, and multiple rounds of drinks, the dinner was over. The buyers did not want the evening to end, so my boss(who was then my age now) said “Ken, show these ladies a good time”. We then embarked on a tour of places like The Beach, and Rum Jungle. I was back in my room at 7:00 a.m. Enough time to shower, and drink several cups of coffee. Great fun then, unthinkable now.

As I matured, my priorities changed. WSA became a bit of a chore, and partying all night truly lost its appeal. Three weeks after one show, I remember having a meeting with our VP of Sales. We were reviewing the invoice from the contractor who put our booth together and we were both marveling at the cost. One item really stuck out in my mind. We paid $200 to have our booth vacuumed each day. The next show, I bought a Dirt Devil and began to sweep the carpet myself. Quickly, a member of the WSA show came over to me and threatened to fine me if she caught me doing this again. I remember remarking to my VP of Sales “When the economy slows down, it is over for this show” (how prophetic).

My priorities of defining my favorite trade show have changed. Of course, priority #1 is cost versus return on investment. Participation certainly remains imperative. Ease of getting around (anyone who has attended the WSA show will agree that regardless of how close a hotel looks, it always is a much further walk than anticipated). Also, a good place to eat adds value too. In these defining parameters, the hands down winner is the Atlanta show.

<strong>The Atlanta show has always exceeded my needs.</strong> It is “not for profit” show which means you do not get hosed with prices. The show is well attended, and very, very easy to get around. It is all under one roof, and best of all, there is no nepotism. Placement of your booth has to do with a point system (based on number of shows attended) versus who you know. Laura, the woman in charge of running the show is incredibly responsive to your needs and moreover, is quite approachable. Her team often takes to the booths to ensure the vendors are happy. The hotel is walking distance from about 4-5 decent restaurants and most people tend to stay at the hotel attached to the convention center (fairly reasonable too).

<strong>I believe that trade shows will become more important in the seasons ahead.</strong> Territories are growing, and expenses need to contract. However, the feel of these shows will change too. We are living in a time compressed world complicated by the need to save money. I doubt I will ever participate in a golf tournament or crash a Skechers party during a show. As a business owner, the days of me spending $125 for the “tower of shellfish appetizer” is long over. For me, I would rather spend the money in a tannery developing a new, hot color. Shrimp just doesn’t mean that much to me anymore.