On January 15, GDS – The Premier Shoe Event held their 7th VIP workshop to mark the 65th Expo Riva Schuh event. ‘The direct dialogue here between the industry, retail trade and the international trade press is one of the most important tools for further developing market-oriented strategies that make sense. Only through joint dialogue can constructive and target-oriented concept solutions for the shoe market be developed that take the on-going structural changes and altered consumer behaviour into account. Events of this kind are also indispensable for the further development of trade fair concepts’, said Kirstin Deutelmoser, GDS Project Manager since October 1, 2005.

In collaboration with corporate consultants HFU Hermann Fuchslocher Unternehmensberatung GmbH, Düsseldorf, around 25 participants discussed the key problem areas affecting the international shoe market on the basis of current representative market surveys.

The industry is facing on-going structural problems. Now more than ever, the national and international networking of sourcing, production and distribution make differentiated and more complex marketing necessary. ‘One-stop-shopping’ concepts without clear specialisation and segmentation are becoming increasingly untenable. Today, corporate strategies and philosophies must be clearly recognisable. And this applies for the industry, the retail trade and trade fairs alike.

Focussing on and selecting objectives and exhibition content has now become more important than ever. For GDS from March 5-7, this means intensifying the event’s information focus even further. For instance, a strong emphasis will now be placed here on key growth markets like ‘Wellness & Comfort’ or ‘Kids’ and their technical innovations by means of panel discussions also to be covered in the specialist media.

In 2005, it became clear that consumers’ limited clothing budgets will challenge the sector once again in 2006. Economic developments, job insecurity, demographical changes and pension needs all clearly lead to significantly less than 7% of total expenditure being invested on fashion, and of that in turn just 1/5 on shoes. According to experts, the issue of ‘Chinese import quotas’ and the planned increase in VAT in 2007 will also have a considerable influence on shoe strategies and concepts this year.

Therefore, like never before, the consumer will be at the focus of corporate decisions across Europe. Now more than ever, transparent pricing and value for money is demanded. Honesty in price structures is vital in view of the on-going price wars in order to win back consumers’ trust and confidence and to make fashion shopping attractive again. ‘When shopping for shoes, fashion and brand issues now play an increasingly important role with consumers when assessing prices’, confirms Dr Giovanni Lacatena, Managing Director of Wortmann KG in Detmold.

Therefore, experts now believe brand policy is gaining hitherto unseen importance in terms of the added value it can generate. Dr Thomas Ridder, Board Member at Leder & Schuh AG in Graz, Austria, stressed that the problem does not so much lie in the difference between brands, companies’ private brands or outside brands but rather in consumers’ personal rating of the product and the brand’s value they increasingly develop a ‘close relationship’ with. As always, trade fairs are the most important marketing instruments to convey the added and core values of a brand directly and immediately to a wider audience.

This applies equally to luxury fashion brands as it does to retail-oriented, mid-price ranges or discount price segments. To highlight product value and take the wind out of bargain hunters’ sails brand value must be clearly documented in the range in relation to added value and additional benefits. Illogical price cuts in this context often generate mistrust and uncertainty amongst consumers.

Assured range planning/ordering alongside trends, colours and shapes were at the focus of the 7th workshop. In this context, sector experts made it clear that the conflict between assured trends and the range planning/ordering period mentality is growing. On the one hand, there is a need to plan/order ranges increasingly later. While on the other, an inevitable ordering-period approach and the increase in turnaround speed are making it necessary to take decisions earlier and more intensively within the ordering cycles. Clashes are therefore considered inevitable. Lieselotte Frank-Schertel, Managing Director of the shoe firm Frank KG in Bad Kreuznach added that the individual ordering themes must be distinguished from one another now more than ever so as to guarantee up-to-date topicality and ensure a constant flow of new fashion impulses throughout the season.

Alongside price and range differences in Riva, exhibition content and dates also played a key role. Experts agreed that information and a market overview could not come early enough to develop assured range policy in terms of orders and range planning. Here Peter Köster, responsible for ladies’ shoe buying at Leiser Handelsgesellschaft mbH, cited the example of the boot boom announced for 2006/2007 which will now have to be considerably complemented by shoe themes so as not to operate past the needs of the market.

For trade fairs a clearer division of the range segments in terms of exhibition content, price and delivery dates are, it was felt, another key aspect already largely implemented at GDS. Here clear segmentation within the three core areas Modern (featuring Topstyle & Exclusivity, International Selection and Kids Wellness & Comfort), Young (Lifestyle & Sports, Young Fashion) and Global Sources already offers a high level of transparency which ‘can be further optimised in terms of the criteria developed in Riva’, said Kirstin Deutelmoser, from GDS Project Management.

The new dates for GDS, March 5-7, 2006 – a fortnight ahead of MICAM – will bring the date clashes of previous seasons to an end. This new schedule and concentration of dates – from Sunday to Tuesday – are aimed at the needs of the international shoe sector for assured planning and disciplined range ordering.