by Julia

From the September 3, 2009 posting of “shoebizness.com,” an online forum for footwear professionals by footwear professionals.

After all of the uproar over the WSA show these past couple of months I was pleasantly surprised to hear that the Atlanta show was not only up 16% in attendance, but it was also wildly successful for many vendors! Just ask Charlie Podesta of Miami Based, Italian Shoemakers who said to me over the phone that he literally TRIPPLED his business from last show and did far better than at WSA which they did not do poorly at. I was even more convinced of the show’s success when my dear Sheena wrote her “rant” about the show, which was not a rant at all. She had wonderful things to say! So I decided to speak with Laura Conwell-O’Brien who is the Executive Director for the Southeastern Shoe Travelers, Inc. which puts on the show and has been at it for 27 years! I wanted to hear from her why she feels she is seeing such success in this market.

First off, let me tell you a little more about Southeastern Shoe Travelers. It’s a non-profit association which has more than 1,000 members. Laura’s goal with everything she does is to make her members happy and she does so by offering them not only the opportunity to attend 4 shows a year, but she also aides her members with job placement. When a member alerts her of a position, she personally emails all members announcing the opportunity. This is a free service and has proven to be quite successful for companies and candidates. As we all know this industry is small and word travels fast, so this is a great option. Laura also goes above and beyond to truly help her members however she can. She understands the needs of industry people and provides them support through tough times through counseling, encouragement and continued follow-up on their progress. It was great speaking to Laura about her beliefs and it was reassuring as we saw eye to eye in many areas. I love what she does and I know she cares.

So back to the show….why does it work? Well, it’s quite simple. To begin with they are not a company looking to make a profit, which allows them to focus on the people. Laura has observed many changes in the trade show environment over the years and understands the cycle. She realizes that right now the industry needs simple, cost effective solutions and that is what she offers. She said to me, “I have the ingredients the industry is looking for.” The Atlanta show provides an open booth format, where buyers can wander the show and spot new brands that they easily would have missed in Vegas or NYC. There is no showing off here …… it’s all about business, plus in Laura’s own words, it’s a “fun place to come”. She is constantly out on the trade show floor talking to buyers and vendors to insure they have everything they need and are happy. She encourages feedback and looks to resolve issues quickly. She makes her exhibitors feel valued. During our conversation she stated, “I love my job, and I want it to show.” Just by speaking with her for a little bit, I can certainly tell it’s true. What a concept huh???

Laura also believes that the cost is another significant factor in her shows recent surge of attendees. It is only, $625 for a 10×10 fully furnished booth. They also offer a nice continental breakfast, a fun cocktail party and there are inexpensive hotel options in the area. All in all Atlanta is a pretty easy place to get to and you will not feel the need to break your bank in a casino or by hitting a swanky bar in Manhattan. It’s a little more relaxed and more business focused.

Even when it comes to the cocktail party, Laura has it figured out. It starts early and when you enter, you are greeted by a drink ticket and a smile from Laura. The night also has a fun theme (casino night), an entertaining band and nice appetizers. This is one piece that I think other shows miss. The cocktail parties are often just a bunch of industry people standing around with drinks, but no entertainment to distract them from their long days. Laura provides a nice little break where attendees can relax and have fun but be home at a reasonable hour.

So to wrap it up…..this show works because it just makes sense. No hoopla, no excess, just business and people. The way it should be. Laura is really excited to see her show be getting the attention it deserves. She stuck with it knowing that it made sense and the results are growing where others are dwindling. I can’t wait to get to the next show and checking it out for myself. I really enjoyed speaking with Laura. She knows her stuff and is someone after one phone call, that I truly respect. Congrats to her and her team!! I wish them more success to follow!!