The Atlanta Shoe MarketTASM: HOT-LANTA

Buyers at TASM in Atlanta shopped the busiest show yet, reports Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager and executive director of Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association. “This isn’t a regional show anymore; this is the new WSA,” she proclaims. Compared to last year, the number of exhibitors at the August show increased 9.5 percent, while retailer pre-registration increased 9.2 percent.

Jason English, a sales rep at Seychelles, says he booked 30 percent more appointments at the August show versus the February edition. “It just keeps increasing every show because it’s such a great alternative to the coastal shows,” he notes. “For the venue, they do a fantastic job. It still has a homey feel, whereas other shows feel more corporate. And it’s a great venue for the buyer to get everything done in a couple of days.”

Even after a week of bleak economic news and a wildly fluctuating stock market, brands remained upbeat about their expectations for Spring ’12, as booths at Toms, H.H. Brown and Naot remained buzzing. Despite his predictions that next year will be “very hard” for retailers, Steve Lax, president of Yaleet Inc., distributors of Naot, says the brand had a “great show.” “I think this retail environment is tough, but we have a lot of new stuff going on, and even in this bad retail environment, we’re one of the stars,” he says.

In fact, many exhibitors said buyers never mentioned the dreaded “e” word. “I would have thought the economic news would affect buying, but I don’t think it has,” Conwell-O’Brien says. “After the last recession people were really conservative , but then they didn’t have enough inventory. You’ve got to have fresh, new things in store to tempt shoppers.”

That’s exactly what Larry Harris noticed at his Corbin, KY-based shop, Bags & Shoes. “We’ve been in a recession for years, but our sales don’t fluctuate like in the big cities,” he says. “I base my buying on how I’m doing, and I did better this year and bought more. If you’ve got what customers want at a reasonable price, they’ll buy.” For Harris’s boutique, Sperry Top-Sider, Toms and Skechers are big sellers for the back-to-school crowd, while comfort styles like Alegria appeal to older shoppers. “Everything is more casual now,” he observes. Harris says the profusion of espadrilles and raffia wedges at TASM were just what he was looking for, adding that platforms are still strong sellers at his store.

Other buyers were also pleased to see pops of detail and color in the spring lines. “We are loving the enhancements of fun metallics,” says Molly Jackson, co-owner of Molly’s boutique in Sarasota, FL. “And we love seeing white. I’m also seeing a lot of laser cuts and geometrics, and wood heels are making a comeback,” she adds. And just as at other shows, color blocking—especially neutral shades of tan, brown and black—was a big hit with buyers, reports Bill Smyly, account executive for Nickels, a division of Brown Shoe.