With the fall trade show season in full swing, The Atlanta Shoe Market (TASM) has become a must-visit destination for retail buyers looking to gain crucial market intel and view a wide variety of product.
In the weeks before the February event, leaders from some of the country’s top family chains and influential independent stores expressed optimism about the coming season and explained the importance of the show to their businesses.
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“[Executive director] Laura Conwell-O’Brien has done a great job assembling brands that will allow our team to see emerging trends,” said John Walker, vice president of merchandising at Shoe Show Inc.
Duffy Baehr, owner of Baehr Feet Shoe Boutique in Spartanburg, S.C., added, “I enjoy TASM because it’s all under one roof. No running all over the city to showroom after showroom. It’s a new vendor every half hour. And now that it has become such a big market, it’s a way to see new categories easily.”
Baehr also highlighted the value of connecting with other retailers to share intel on sales winners. “It’s wonderful to have these friendships where we all wish each other well and prosperity, instead of back-stabbing competition,” she said.
Below, the retailers share some of those valuable market insights, including their buying strategies and top brands.
Vice president of merchandising, Shoe Show Inc.
Buying strategy in Atlanta: “We are looking for newness, but we are evaluating strength of brands and future outlooks by brand.”
Key trends for fall ’24: “Western, comfort athletic, flats and seasonal superstars.”
Wish for the industry: “It is time for brands to get creative again. With the impact of heavy inventories and conservative forecasting, brands have gotten too accounting driven and less product driven. Product always wins, and it is time for new creations to show up again.”
President, Comfort One Shoes
Overall outlook: “We are optimistic for the season. We are coming off a third straight year with double-digit increases in comparable-store sales. We also just completed our second acquisition since 2021. We are especially invigorated by the addition of more than 40 vendor partners through our partnership with Saxon Shoes. This provides us the opportunity to gauge new brands in Richmond and learn how to effectively cross-market to our customer base going forward.”
Buying strategy in Atlanta: “Our focus will be on exploring new categories and discovering new brands. We are entering a new market in Richmond and will be serving a customer base that extends to children’s shoes for the first time. We have a great deal to learn and are invigorated by the new opportunity.”
Top brands to see: “I am particularly excited about Ziera — we introduced their products last season and achieved exceptional results. Additionally, Ugg and Birkenstock have been instrumental in attracting a younger customer base to our stores, which is vital for future growth.”
Key trends for fall ’24: “Women’s platform bottom items are gaining popularity. I anticipate styles with maximum cushioning, like Hoka, will continue to strengthen. There is a resurgence of ’90s styling that is performing well in retail, and I expect this trend to expand in fall ’24.”
Owner, Ahh Comfort Shoes
Overall outlook: “My outlook is positive. December was really good, and January is up. Understand these are small months, but they are ones that are on the right trajectory.”
Buying strategy in Atlanta: “I spend the first day seeing everybody I don’t know, and then my appointments with the vendors I’ve worked with in the past are on Sunday and Monday. I want to start the show fresh Saturday morning to soak in things I need to think about. Plus, the national sales managers and owners tend to be there on Saturday, and when I’m meeting a new brand I like to sit down with them to figure things out. I also encourage all retailers to write orders. It’s unbelievably important to these companies that they get the paper at the show, and we need the trade shows — if we don’t write paper, the brands will stop going.”
Top brands to see: “With Aravon leaving the marketplace [following the changes at Rockport], we are in desperate need of a waterproof booty that comes in widths with a retail price between $150 to $180. We added Skechers this past year — their hands-free technology is phenomenal. I need three more brands like that in medium wide and extra wide. I’m also looking for an athletic brand that’s going to have margins of 50 to 55 percent. That is an ongoing battle for 30 years. New Balance had done phenomenal in that space, but they have reorganized their margin structures.”
Owner, Baehr Feet Shoe Boutique
Overall outlook: “Excitement. ‘What are they going to have that I love?’ A new season is still exciting to me after 19 years.”
Buying strategy in Atlanta: “2023 was my best year since 2005, so I will follow my model from last spring’s market, for pre-fall and fall delivery.”
Top brands to see: “I’ll start with my ‘musts’: Ugg, Birkenstock, Softwaves, Jeffrey Campbell and a few new favorites that performed well, Silent D and Schutz. I then add my cocktail party vendors (Pelle Moda, Vaneli) and sneakers (Woolloomooloo, P448 and Dolce Vita). Ballet flats are having a moment again, so I will see Paul Mayer for sure. And I like to see what Cecelia NY has. I think they have the prettiest selection.”
Key trends for fall ’24: “Ballets, plus I keep a good selection of cocktail/wedding shoes since social events have come back with a bang. I will have to stock up again on Birkenstock Bostons and Big Buckle any style. They all sold very well for me last year. And one must not forget Ugg — the Ugg Ultra Minis (single sole and platform), regular Mini Platforms, Tazz, Tasman, Disquette and whatever newness Ugg has to offer. The brand is the master at supply and demand and, wow, they’ve been in great demand last year and now.”
CEO, Beck’s Shoes
Overall outlook: “We are currently in an election year with increased expenses, as well as inflation to contend with. Consumer confidence is low, unemployment is climbing. Overall, this is going to be a very difficult year and you must get back to the basics. Simplify your business model and invest your time wisely. It’s all about your people, so treat them well.”
Buying strategy in Atlanta: “Absolutely focusing on the 80/20 shoes is a must, [where 80 percent of sales come from the top 20 percent of inventory]. A brick-and-mortar retailer cannot afford to lose a core sale based on lack of on-hand inventory. Looking for newness is always part of the game and shouldn’t stop, but investing in core and doubling down on that will need to be the focus moving into the near future.”
Wish for the industry: “Segmentation for our channel will be the biggest thing that I hope I see more of. I know some very influential individuals in big places are thinking about these types of strategies. I hope these executives make the decision to make this a reality. The cost of doing business continues to increase and the only way to combat that is margin through segmentation.”
Advice for retailers: “Independents need to focus on their communities and tap into creating their own trends on social platforms. Give back to the communities that give back to us. If we can all look at what Ugg did this year with influencers and replicate that in a much smaller way, that would be amazing. Focusing on your paid sponsored social stories within your communities will go a long way.”
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