The Atlanta Shoe MarketThe Atlanta Shoe Market: Bigger is Better

The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM) once again smashed attendance records during its Aug. 17-19 edition, boasting a roster of more than 900 exhibitors and 1,800 brands that cemented its reputation as the go-to show for retailers from the Southeast and beyond. “We have been sold out for three months, and retailer attendance is up 20 percent,” reports Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager and executive director of the Southeastern Shoe Travelers Association, adding that the numbers hearken those of 15 years ago. “We’ve been working towards this for five to seven years, and as each year has gone on—even with the economy being bad and some trade shows going away—ours has been going up, up, up.”

Attendees throughout the Cobb Galleria Centre awarded high marks to TASM’s easy-to-shop format. “It’s great for people who are just shopping around trying to get a feel of what they want, and it’s also great for people who don’t know if they can access your brand: they can step in and just check out the pricing and quality,” notes Nancy Espaillat, account executive at Fossil. Rick Buchanan, eastern sales manager for Kickers, agrees: “Typically the last day of any show is not good, but that was not the case at this show because on Sunday all of the local merchants were there.”

In addition to Atlanta’s convenience as a travel destination and its relative affordability (hotel rates are in the $100-a-night range), Conwell-O’Brien proclaims the show itself proves to be a bargain in comparison to other shows as exhibit space is a fraction of the cost and hot lunches were available on-site for a mere $5. More importantly, many in attendance wrote orders, helping further build TASM’s reputation as a buying show. “We already had FFANY so we knew what was going to be great,” confirms Sonia Angulo, southeast territory manager for Kenneth Cole. “We weed out everything so what we want our customers to have is what they are picking. We’re giving our best.”

With some retailers on the hunt for unique items and others sticking to core styles, TASM presented a plethora of trends, including spring must-haves like muted pastels, neon, raffia and cork. Wedges, from sandals to sneakers, reigned supreme, while comfort continued to be a huge category. Buchanan points out that while color is always a major player for spring, retailers are not hanging their hats on it completely, choosing instead to ground their merchandise mix in a crop of earth tones. Specifically, Michelle Labrador, DKNY account executive, notes that independent retailers are often gun-shy and cautious, but at the same time you have to “control them from buying too much because they get a little eager,” she says, adding that cork wedge updates are strong sellers for the brand this go-round.

Though French Sole’s Dan Van Antwerp believes that buyers are still concerned about the economy, Conwell-O’Brien thinks that anyone who has survived the past four years can make it. “I think everyone learned how to be more conservative on both ends, which they had to be,” she says. “And that’s why they survived.” She adds, “Even though the general feel is that, as an industry, we’re better, we’re not all the way better.”

Lyndsay McGregor