Gary Hauss has a new mission — one that aims to bring the footwear industry together under one roof.
After the veteran shoe retailer was forced to close his California chain of J. Stephens stores due to the strain of the pandemic, Hauss said he reached a personal low point. “Some days it was hard to get out of bed,” he told FN this week.
But Hauss — who is a longtime organizer of The Independent Retail Show — decided to pour his energies into the buying event.
In 2022, the footwear trade show will relocate to a larger space at the San Diego Convention Center and expand its roster of exhibitors for bi-annual events.
At least 122 brands have already signed on to participate in the San Diego edition of The IR Show, scheduled for Feb. 1-3. The roster includes a wide selection of names from the comfort space, including Birkenstock, Clarks, Aetrex, Rockport, Vionic and Dansko, as well as a number of men’s and outdoor labels such as Timberland, Florsheim, Keen and Chaco. However, for this and future shows, Hauss is working to attract even more fashion and women’s labels, as well as work brands.
He also is developing a lineup of educational opportunities, starting with a conversation between himself and David Kahan, CEO of Birkenstock Americas. “I’m going to interview David on stage on the first night of the show, but not just about his business. It’s going to be about really getting to know the man himself,” said Hauss.
Other events and amenities will include a cocktail party and a fundraising activation to benefit Two Ten Footwear Foundation. The IR Show also will provide subsidized lunches for attendees.
Hauss said he hopes to turn the event into “the new WSA.”
“I remember going to WSA [trade shows] 20 years ago, and they were just a lot of fun,” he recalled. “When you went, you knew you were walking into a big family reunion and everyone was going to be there.”
Retailers from at least 17 states have already registered to attend the February event. As the show’s name suggests, most are independent retailers — including Comfort One, Saxon Shoes, Tradehome Shoes, Orva and others — but Hauss wants to create a destination for both major chains and mom-and-pops. “For this to become what I hope it will, it has to encompass everyone,” he said.
The summer edition of the show is slated for Aug. 2-4.