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A slow show becomes a great show!
Sep '08
But attendance remains stagnant for some events, especially in hard-hit sectors of the economy. "Anything that is in that retail space, they are having troubles," Meyer said.

The short shelf life of fashion trends has always lent an air of even greater volatility to footwear and other fashion-oriented industries.

But current economic problems seem deeper than sartorial sensibilities. On the demand side, consumers who feel insecure about their jobs and the value of their homes are reining in spending on all but the most basic staples, such as gasoline, food and sensible clothing.

It's happening as the supply side faces dramatic increases in the cost of bringing products to market. Petroleum, which is needed to transport and manufacture shoes, costs about twice as much now as it did last year at this time.

And in China, where many of the shoes sold in America are produced, factories face rising costs because workers are organizing for improved workplace safety and higher wages and the government is enforcing stricter environmental regulations.

According to a report by specialty news service Internet Product Development Group, more than 2,300 shoe factories in one Chinese province closed during the first half of the year.

The news service, with bases in Prague, Czech Republic, and Washington, D.C., quoted factory owner Tim Hsu saying, "Shoe factories, clothing, toys, furniture, everyone is shutting down." And it could worsen.

A risk analyst from the firm Sovereign Advisers told the news service the problems in China haven't yet seeped through the supply chain in the form of higher costs.

"We expect a lag of two to three quarters before the real impact occurs," analyst Kevin O'Brien said. The global squeezes on supply and demand are already taking their toll in Las Vegas.

"I think we are in a period of time now where it is that much more dramatic," said Diane Stone, chief operating officer of the WSA Show and the Collections at WSA. "There isn't just one thing going on now."

But Stone says the 60-year-old WSA show is better positioned than most Las Vegas conventions to weather the current economic storm.

It moved to Las Vegas from Long Beach, Calif, 20 years ago and has been held at the Las Vegas Hilton and, now, the convention center and The Venetian in summer and Mandalay Bay and Sands Expo Center in winter.

With about 1,300 exhibiting companies, the event is widely known as the sole event for many retailers who want a one-stop shop to take in everything available on the market, an asset in tough times.

When people pare back, they tend to cut superfluous expenses first. Stone says that for many in the footwear industry, WSA is must-do event.

"In economic times like these, the shows that do best are the ones that are recognized industry leaders," she said. The show changed hands late last year and management is cutting back on fancy parties and big concerts by the likes of Rod Stewart and Stevie Wonder in order to put the focus on feet.

That helps people who attend get more business done for less money. "They are outrageously expensive to stage," Stone said of the concerts. "This is a business event. You want to invest in the right places."

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