It sure beats Zoom! That pretty well sums up attendees’ assessment of The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM) held recently at the Cobb Galleria Centre. To conduct business in-person, to flex the shoes, smell the leathers, see the true colors, talk shop, catch up on the family…it was a “reality” show in the best possible ways that, try as one might, can’t be replicated virtually. Other factors that made TASM a success include familiarity, a nearly sold-out space of approximately 760 exhibitors and healthy buyer attendance that spanned majors to leading independents from coast to coast, Delta variant be damned.
All in all, TASM came across just like previous editions that Executive Director Laura O’Brien has overseen in her four decades at the helm. And that was exactly her goal: a format that conveyed business-as-usual despite the incredibly unusual circumstances. That sense of normalcy was found in the layout, décor (think lots of flowers), opening night cocktail party (held outside in an adjacent tent), NSRA education seminar…only temperature checks, wrist bands, hand sanitizer stations and masks were signs of an ongoing pandemic. It required a Herculean effort. “This has been the hardest show to pull off in my 40 years,” O’Brien says. “My expectations a month before were so high—we were sold out and expecting buyer attendance to surpass our February 2020 show—but a week before I didn’t know what to expect because of the Delta variant.” Fortunately, she says the show went beyond expectations in attendance and satisfaction. “People were just so happy to come together and conduct business the way our industry needs it to be done,” she says.
Gary Weiner, owner of Saxon Shoes in Richmond, VA, was one such satisfied attendee. Marking his first in-person show since the pandemic, he says it was great to be back. “I enjoyed being in the ’hood again,” he says. “It’s always good to bump into retailers and wholesalers, some I’ve known for 30 or 40 years. There’s not one disadvantage to doing it in-person. As long as it’s safe, it’s the best way to see a lot of shoes quickly, compare and weigh, foster relationships, and just get a little intravenous shot of ‘footwear.’” As for what was on display, Weiner reports plenty of composite clogs and slides, and 20 brands with Hey Dude slip-ons, a.k.a. Sanuk Sidewalk Surfers. “Every brand has more and more athletics, along with their Birkenstock versions,” he says. “We did find some fun looks at Chocolat Blu and L’Artiste.”
Lester Wasserman, co-owner of Tip Top Shoes and West NYC in New York, agrees that being on the show floor beat virtual buying. “Buyers need to touch the leathers, scrutinize the lasts, see colors—none of which is possible on even the greatest Zoom presentation,” he says. Overall, he reports buyers and wholesalers were enthusiastic about the future, although that varied depending on location. “Big cities continue to be much slower to bounce back than smaller towns and resort areas,” he says. “So there’s life after Covid, but tourists from the U.S. and EU are still missing from places like New York. However, we remain optimistic as vendors kept mentioning that they’re selling dress shoes.”
Max Harrell, vice president Global Sales for Ron White Shoes, reports its buyers were in an order-writing mood—for both its dress and sneaker collections. “Our luxury sneakers continue to blow out everywhere,” he says. “We also saw a strong response to our sandals and special occasion shoes.” Overall, Harrell reports a “better than normal” show. “I opened several new accounts and buyers detailed 50 percent more than normal,” he says, noting he booked twice as many firm appointments than usual, including Von Maur, who usually work the FFANY show. “It was a fantastic show—five stars!”
Renee Newman, vice president of footwear sales for Aetrex, gives similar high marks. “Our booth was very busy throughout the show—when customers were ready to leave, others were waiting to come in,” she reports. Newman says popular styles included the Sydney floral and Lexa ivory wedges, adjustable leather strap sandals like the Daisy or Jillian, and its water-friendly sport sandal collection featuring new glossy and shimmery colors as seen in the Maui and Janey styles. “Athleisure continues to be a hot trend as well,” she adds. “We introduced new colors of our popular Carly sneaker, and the pink multi-colorway was a hit.”
Sneakers were also hot on the menu at Rieker, reports Rich Rask, president. Notably the debut of its functional Revolution collection. (See p. 37 for more details.) “Lifestyle athletic is right on trend with our Revolution launch,” he says. “Also, we had a strong response to our sandals and slides.” Overall, Rask gives high marks to the show. “It was definitely a success on several fronts,” he notes. “Getting to work with our retail partners in-person was priceless. In addition, getting our sales team together to work through the collections and just hang out was a blessing.”
Larry Paparo, CEO of Floafers, couldn’t agree more on the show’s camaraderie factor. “Just to be back in the footwear community, hanging out with old friends at the hotel bar, was extremely satisfying—the best networking of the week,” he says. “The retailers, brands and reps who stayed home will certainly be at a great disadvantage.” Paparo notes that while traffic was understandably down compared to normal, the caliber made up for that. “The quality of the buyers we saw was higher than normal, and they were enthusiastic for Floafers,” he says, citing the launch of its Crayola kids’ scented collection as a hit. “Retailers were dropping paper on the spot, as well as reordering for us to deliver ASAP.”
Frank Cammarata, CEO of the Enjoiya Group, agrees that there was plenty of business to be had in Atlanta. He reports traffic was strong throughout, and while many retailers were strategic in their buys, the overall outlook was positive. “Retailers are expecting a productive fall and hoping to see sizable increases for Spring ’22,” he says. Cammarata expects casual comfort in basics and bright colors to lead the way. “Enjoiya’s active casuals and sport sandal collections were well-received, and mid-covered wedges and mini-lug series with memory foam cushioning in Soft Comfort remain popular,” he says. “And buyers were drawn to Secret Celebrity’s Honeycomb series, a collection of embellished flat sandals in fashion-forward colors.” —Greg Dutter