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All signs point to an active and profitable fall ’12 season, according to the heads of the industry’s largest domestic trade shows.
Event organizers told Footwear News they expect footwear’s momentum — and profitability — to continue through the fall. And while they were split on whether 2012 would be a turnaround year for the U.S. economy as a whole, all agreed that the prospects were bright for shoes as a category.
FN spoke with the leaders of the major shows about attracting new attendees, utilizing mobile apps and social media, and how the European economy, as well as sourcing issues, could impact the industry in the coming year.
Below are comments from Chris DeMoulin, president of Magic International; Kenji Haroutunian, show director of Outdoor Retailer; David Kahan, president of ENK Footwear Group; Joe Moore, president and CEO of FFANY; and Laura Conwell-O’Brien, show manager of The Atlanta Shoe Market.
What kind of feedback are you hearing from buyers and exhibitors going into the fall shows?
CD: It’s very upbeat. Footwear is on fire right now, and that has translated into the show. We have a lot more brands coming, good growth and pre-registration of buyers is up. It’s going to be a very positive and dynamic show.
KH: Outdoor sales have been [up in the] strong single digits all year, and the expectation is that with smart inventory management and intelligent operations, the shows and the industry should be solid in 2012.
DK: Most [companies] sound cautious, yet optimistic, about the year ahead. While there was a fair amount of promotional activity at retail during the holiday season, key items are selling well and, in general, footwear seems to be outpacing the broader ready-to-wear business.
JM: Buyers remain cautiously optimistic and are buying to plan. They are encouraged that 2012 will be brighter.
LCO: Retailers are being very conservative with their buying this season as they are worried about the future of our economy. In saying that, they also realize that they must buy new product to keep their stores fresh. The exhibitors are having a tough time with how conservative the buyers are being.
Are you sensing that 2012 will be a turnaround year for the economy and a good year for the footwear business?
CD: Footwear was one of the first segments to rebound from the recession, and from a growth standpoint, it seems to be leading everything else. All signs seem to suggest that will continue into 2012.
KH: I wouldn’t call 2012 a turnaround year. “Stabilizing year” might be more how I feel. With the elections coming, and with uncertainty in both the European and Asian markets, demand will still be tepid. For functional and well-made footwear in the specialty outdoor channel, I’m confident that growth will continue, though.
DK: My feeling is that 2012 will be more of the same as far as the general economy goes. This has just become the new normal. Still, footwear should outpace the general economy, as well as the broader ready-to-wear market. Consumers, especially women, still like to believe they deserve a great pair of shoes every so often. Psychologically, even in challenging times, it’s a great purchase.
JM: We are already showing an upward trend for the February show in registrations and exhibitors. The increase in business and new vendors is a sign of changing times.
LCO: 2012 will be a transitional year for everyone. I believe the footwear business will be consistent, but will not show an increase until consumers have regained their confidence in the economy.
What are your main concerns for this buying season?
KH: [There are] the usual weak winter concerns, [because] early snow increases confidence among outdoor retailers. [Another concern is] inaction in Washington, resulting in painful mandated cuts to public services, including parks, trails and water access.
DK: The biggest concern is just consumer confidence. Unemployment is still high, a testy election season lies ahead, and many consumers have become far more accustomed to living on a budget. Still, great new product always drives demand, so I’d have to say, the only concern in the end is whether there will be enough new, exciting product introductions to generate excitement at retail.
CD: We’re focused on creating the best show experience we can. There is no looming dark cloud on the horizon that seems to be an issue for us.
JM: The unknown factors regarding sourcing in China and other countries and the increase in raw material prices remain unsettled.
LCO: Obviously, it’s the economy. If we all knew there was an end in sight, we would be able to deal with it better.
Will the ongoing economic crisis in Europe impact international attendance at the shows?
CD: I’m sure it will hinder some people, but in general, we’ll have more European brands on the show floor and a broader presence from the footwear associations in Europe. Our international buyer pre-registration is up about 10 percent.
KH: I would suspect less of a rise in international attendance [compared with recent shows], so maybe only a 5 percent increase. We don’t overlap the ISPO [trade show in Munich] this year, which helps European attendance. The European exhibitor count is slightly up, so we won’t see much dip [there], if any.
DK: Footwear as a category has continued to outpace the general economy, so I don’t see any impact at all.
JM: The economic crisis in Europe remains unpredictable and confusing with little direct short-term impact on attendance.
LCO: International attendance will definitely be affected because of the economy. [Buyers] still need to attend a show in the U.S., but they will choose their show, length of stay and their buying very carefully.