The Cobb Galleria Centre and adjacent Renaissance Waverly Hotel, home of The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM), sold out in two weeks. The upcoming edition (Feb. 17-19) will be the largest in its 80-year history thanks, in part, to additional exhibit space in the hotel. More than 1,800 brands will be exhibiting.
“The added space is called the Fashion Plaza, which will house 70 booths,” says Laura Conwell-O’Brien, executive director of the show, noting they will consist mostly of higher-end fashion brands from Portugal, Spain, Italy, and Brazil. “It’s an extension of our Fashion Collection in the nearby ballroom, which sold out in two days.” She adds that the new exhibit space, in the Garden Court, will feature an open bar on Saturday and Sunday from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. to welcome buyers. “We want to encourage retailers to grab a drink and mosey around,” she says. “That said, the space is actually closer to the main show floor than the Fashion Collection, and those who are staying in the Renaissance will pass it on the way there, so they’ll see it.”
Overall, being seen shouldn’t be an issue as TASM, as its expected to draw record retailer attendance. That spans leading comfort specialty independents and boutiques to national chains, according to Conwell-O’Brien. “There is nowhere you can go in the U.S. and find a show, under one roof, with all these brands,” she reports. “The show has taken on a whole new vibe over the past few editions. The size and energy…it’s very exciting.”
And if it ain’t broke, Conwell-O’Brien is a firm believer in not fixing it. Thus, the location, format, timing, opening Casino Night party, and NSRA educational conference (second morning before the show opens) remain on the slate. “People ask why we don’t move to another city with a bigger venue to accommodate the growing demand,” Conwell-O’Brien offers. “Well, I’d rather be sold-out than in a convention center where pipe and drape might be blocking off a vacant 20,000 square feet. That’s a vibe killer. Plus, prices at the big convention centers are much more expensive. What has made our show so great is the exhibitors’ return on investment. We’re in the best place possible: a great venue and a great surrounding area with great restaurants.”
There are no complaints from Michael Rich, CEO and founder of Psudo. TASM has fast become a must-attend event for the four-year-old brand. “Atlanta is the most important show on our calendar,” he says. “We’ve been getting amazing support from the industry there—like a nice warm hug. It’s a throwback to when shows were a lot more fun.” Rich adds that Psudo has doubled its booth footprint. “We need the room to work with all our new customers,” he says, adding that the new location in the front hallway is another expected bonus. “It’ll be a new look for us that we’re very excited about.” Rich is also excited for the event the team is doing with Abbadabba’s while in town. “We’re doing a food drive for the Atlanta Community Food Bank. Customers who bring food in for donation receive a discount off Psudo,” he says.
Gary Champion, president of Clarks Americas, has equally high expectations for the upcoming show. “Atlanta is our busiest show, and also where we get the most drop-in visits,” he reports. “Atlanta gives us the right audience to communicate our strategies, showcase our product stories, and continue to expand our premium distribution.”
Ditto for Steven Mahoney, vice president of sales for Samuel Hubbard. Atlanta, he notes, is especially critical to the comfort lifestyle brand that works very close to the calendar as it continues to expand back into wholesale. “Being our industry’s premiere show, Atlanta is a great opportunity to meet a lot of our partners in person, show and tell what we are doing as a brand, and help understand what’s going on in the stores,” he says. “By staying as close to the consumer as possible via our retailer partners, we ensure a higher level of long-term success for both sides. Nothing beats a great show!”
And size matters, according to John Daher, owner of Shoebox and Co. in Kennebunkport, ME. He describes Atlanta as the “perfect” venue for searching for items one would unlikely find at regional shows. “I’m there for interesting new looks and brands that would appeal to our core customer,” he explains, noting it’s no longer viable to show the same styles and brands year after year. “Our customer is relying on us to keep them up to date on what’s new and not in their closet.” Daher adds that Atlanta’s later timing is another asset for his business. “Being more of a resort shop, we’re able to shop closer to the season,” he says. “Our peak season is May through October, which makes the timing of this particular show ideal.”
For Conwell-O’Brien, who is marking her 41st year as TASM’s director, the drive to be the best possible show remains as strong as ever. That consistency is what many attendees appreciate most. They know what to expect when the doors open. But there are always a couple of additions to make a great show even better. For example, the new Retailers Lounge, in the mall entrance near exhibitors Ugg and Camuto Group, will be open 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. “It’s a place where retailers can rest, charge their cellphones, have meetings, and grab free refreshments,” she says. “We also have a new badge system where attendees can pre-register online through our new app, which also includes floor plans, brand listings, contacts, etc. It lets you go straight to the express line to get your badge and avoid the long lines at regular check-in.”
The beat goes on. Conwell-O’Brien says the August (10-12) show will expand into the hotel’s Grand Ballroom to accommodate the 140 brands currently on the waiting list. “I’ve never really been in competition with anyone else from the first day I stepped foot in here,” she says. “I just want to make it the best show possible for all of my attendees.”