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IR Show Welcomes All

The San Diego event is charging ahead.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and nor are trade shows. It takes time, commitment, word-of-mouth, good timing, a great location, and support—from both vendors and buyers—to build a successful show. You might also add faith as a key building block. Namely, a collective belief that the industry needs to come together to conduct business with existing customers and, equally important, potential new ones, and in doing so, a stronger and healthier industry emerges.

As IR Show Director Gary Hauss puts the finishing touches on the upcoming fourth edition at the San Diego Convention Center (July 28-30) unity is his overriding message. There is strength in balanced attendance numbers. On that note, he reports registered buyer attendance, as of press time, was up more than 25 percent and exhibitor space up nearly 20 percent. The latter spans a Who’s Who of comfort lifestyle and athleisure brands, a solid and growing work category, and an expanding fashion and accessories segment. IR has quickly established itself as the largest West Coast shoe show housed under one roof and, according to Hauss, is “the easiest one to walk.” Call it the house that Hauss built.

“We’re proud of what we’ve built thus far,” Hauss affirms. “There’s a great buzz in the industry about IR, but we still have a long way to go. Laura Conwell-O’Brien, who’s been terrific with offering advice, reminded me recently that her management of the Atlanta show has been a 30-year, overnight success story. She told me to be patient and build slowly, but with a great foundation.”

If it were only that simple, of course. Building a show is hard work, especially in an industry coming off the pandemic. Times are unpredictable and dollars even scarcer. How, what, and when retailers buy shoes has changed dramatically. Trade shows—the ones that have survived—have been forced to adapt. One can no longer assume people will just show up. Still, not doing so could be a grave mistake, Hauss warns. “Retailers need to take advantage of the opportunity to meet in person with vendors under one roof, the same way vendors need to realize that if they don’t support certain shows then how can they expect buyers to attend,” he says. “Otherwise, we’ll end up with smaller regional shows that requires a greater expense of time and money.”

Hauss believes it takes at least three times before vendors should decide if a show is right for them or not. That enables them to establish a presence, while also helping assure buyers that they will be there. Unfortunately, the patience and willingness to make such an investment isn’t what it used to be, he says. “Lots of smaller and newer brands don’t come back for a second show, because many of them think that since they bought a booth, buyers would just show up,” he says. “But it doesn’t work that way. You have to really work it to line up appointments. It’s a grind.”

Similarly, Hauss believes buyers need to approach shows with a broader perspective. A lifelong shoe retailer, he says top priorities, in addition to seeing brands you already carry, should be to seek out new ones as well as to find direction, be it the latest materials, colors, silhouettes, and categories. “I always sought to add one to three new brands at a show that wouldn’t in any way duplicate what I was already doing to give our customers an extra choice as well as potentially attract new customers,” he says. “But I’m not so sure all retailers today understand what attending a show can really do for their business. Many are flying by the seat of their pants.”

Thus, Hauss’ overriding mission for vendors and buyers to embrace IR Show’s bigger picture potential. There’s much to be gained from such relationship building, he believes. “We welcome all brands, reps, management, and retailers from all over and outside the country,” he says. “It’s an opportunity to spend meaningful time together, whether that’s in booths, the aisles, going out to dinner in the nearby Gaslight District, or at our complimentary Opening Night Cocktail Party.” Hauss adds, “It takes both sides to make that commitment, and it will be to the benefit of the entire industry.”

The March 2024 Issue

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