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As Trade Shows Become Less Profitable, FFANY Finds a New Focus

After decades of acting as the primary hub for the independent footwear brands of New York, the Fashion Footwear Association of New York (FFANY) is transitioning back to its traditional role as a trade group and facilitator, leaving its hotel show behind as the trade show business loses steam.

FFANY began more than 40 years ago as a loose collection of New York footwear brands that held a vested interest in simplifying the footwear calendar into something that was more manageable and equitable, current executive director John Heron told Sourcing Journal.

The organization grew with its brands, helmed by co-founder Dick Jacobson, and eventually transformed into the most influential fashion footwear trade group in New York. However, the years brought change to the larger footwear industry—and fashion retail in general—and the nature of FFANY fundamentally shifted over the last decade.

“We’ve had three seismic events,” Heron said. “Number one, we’ve had retail consolidation. Everyone is consolidated and with that consolidation comes a lack of buyers. There is now a smaller number of buyers for a lot more stores.”

There are far fewer middle-of-the-road buyers, people that represent “20 to 30 doors,” Heron said, and that has changed the calculus for FFANY and the brands it represents. For instance, many of the players at the FFANY level are now smaller independent retailers that represent maybe “one or two doors” and therefore must consider whether or not the event expenses will be worth it, considering the profitability challenges many already face.

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The second seismic event, according to Heron, was the evolution of direct-to-consumer sales as more and more viable. The more retailers and brands adapted to DTC commerce, the less they relied on their industry community to do business, he said.

The combination of retail consolidation and ramped up DTC sales led to the third shift that made FFANY’s previous business model untenable: the contraction of wholesale, in general.

“For all those reasons, in the last eight years the trade show business has become unprofitable,” Heron said.

The apex of FFANY’s existence as both a trade organization and a footwear event showrunner may have been in 2012, he guessed, where 854 brands participated in a FFANY Market Week event at the Hilton. Since then, both the brands and the retailers that purchase their stock have dwindled.

Now Heron, who joined the organization in December 2018, and FFANY’s board of directors have envisioned a new future for the trade group that focuses more on its initial role as a trade facilitator.

“We, as a board at FFANY, quickly determined that we can no longer go down this road,” Heron said. “We got out of the trade show business and we’ve shifted our focus. We have 44 members in New York City that are established New York companies with showrooms…we are an association of companies that do business in New York.”

Another major focus for FFANY is its QVC Presents FFANY Shoes on Sale charity, which has raised roughly $59 million for breast cancer research to date. Shoes on Sale relies on product donations from FFANY members, which the organization then sells to consumers, donating the profits to cancer research.

Both of those services feed into FFANY’s ultimate goal: to foster a sense of community in the fashion footwear world.

“[New York’s fashion footwear industry] is like no other industry,” Heron said. “It’s a very tight-knit community and at FFANY we want to foster that. We want to foster the exchange of ideas and experiences and do our part to maintain quality people staying in the footwear industry.”

As far as FFANY’s hotel show at the Warwick goes, it has been taken over and rebranded by long-time FFANY employee, Phyllis Rein. Now known as the Footwear Show New York Expo (FSNYE), the Warwick show will go on, albeit slightly shorter and without the financial or administrative backing of FFANY.

However, FSNYE dates will be published on FFANY’s website for the foreseeable future.

FFANY’s Market Week will continue via brand showrooms in Midtown Manhattan each quarter. The next Market Week showing will take place from June 1 to June 5. In August, FFANY returns from Aug. 3 to Aug. 7 and the final show for the year will take place on Nov. 30 to Dec. 4.