It’s all here: key fall trends, show vibes and industry buzz coming out of The Atlanta Shoe Market.

The Atlanta Shoe Market

It was business as usual this February at The Atlanta Shoe Market—meaning more brands and more buyers, as the show continues its steady growth and becomes a go-to show for retailers from the Southeast and beyond. This go-round, exhibitors were even taking over the food court in an area aptly named “The Shoe Court,” and brands like Frye set up shop in the surrounding retail space, creating a fair approximation of its New York showroom. “I had the vision of using the mall stores, and that worked beautifully,” reports Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager and executive director of show sponsor Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association. “We’re trying all kinds of ways to update the show.”

And the effort is paying off: The show boasted a 5 percent bump in exhibiting brands according to pre-registration numbers, as well as an impressive 29 percent increase in retailer attendance. Both set records for the show and continue on TASM’s solid growth curve spanning back nearly a decade. In fact, there was a waiting list of approximately 60 brands who couldn’t find space in the Cobb Galleria Centre. “The show was tremendous for Rieker & Remonte Dorndorf,” says Rich Rask, vice president of Rieker Shoe Corporation. “Traffic in our booth was solid and consistent,” he adds. Blake Vaigneur, owner of South Carolina-based fashion brand Rowen, agrees that TASM is a prime spot for business. Noting that FFANY is good for getting lots of foot traffic and Sole Commerce helps Rowen pick up international accounts, Vaigneur says. “We have a lot of Southern accounts we see, and we also pick up a lot of new accounts at TASM.”

Yet while the show floors were buzzing with business, many buyers—still scarred by years of recession—seemed hesitant to state that 2012 will be a big year for business. “We’re hoping it’s going to be better,” offers Wendy Burgette, owner of Monkees, an apparel and footwear store in Blowing Rock, NC. “We’re excited for spring, because there’s a lot of color,” she adds. “I think it will give people a reason to buy something besides black and brown.” Vaigneur at Rowen seconds the support for brighter hues: “Some of our basics is where we’ve done color, and it’s done really well,” he says, pointing to the brand’s suede wedge pump in shades of tangerine and fuchsia. For fall, Burgette at Monkees predicts fresh shades like burgundy and gray will tempt shoppers to splurge.

However, even neutrals may keep customers coming back for more, as brands tempted buyers with fresh updates like material-mixing that meshes everything from canvas, suede and patent leather with embellishments like haircalf and fur. Tanise Hill, senior designer at Restricted, says the brand’s styles featuring color-blocking in neutral hues have been a big hit with retailers.

All in all, Conwell-O’Brien notes, it added up to a tempting assortment for retailers finally looking to take some risks. “The mood for the retail community is the economy is getting better, so they are opening up their purse strings to buy a little more, which of course makes the exhibitors happy, too.” And the show’s timing and setting are also giving attendees reason to smile. “We’ve stayed focused on the things that make this show so productive for everyone: convenient, affordable, accommodating,” Conwell-O’Brien notes. “It’s what the industry wants and it continues to work. There’s no doubt: This was our best show yet.”

Audrey Goodson