By  on July 26, 2011

With European consumer confidence dampened by the region’s ongoingdebt woes, organizers of Paris’ leading trade shows are pulling out thestops to make their offerings more focused and creative.

Consolidationis the name of the game, following the acquisition of Sodes — thecompany in charge of Prêt à Porter Paris, Atmosphère’s, The Box,LivingRoom and now-defunct The Train — by Paris-based WSN Développement,which runs the Who’s Next and Premiere Classe shows.

Inaddition, Paris Capitale de la Création, or Paris Capital of Creativity,the collective that groups the French capital’s leading trade shows andevents, this season welcomes three new members — Mess Around, SixtyDays and Paris Design Week — bringing its total up to 22.

EtienneCochet, president of Paris Capitale de la Création and managingdirector of trade show organizer Safi, said all these new developmentswere aimed at making Paris a more competitive venue for trade shows.

“Idon’t see any growth in the size of the overall pie for consumer goods,but the effectiveness of French trade shows in the fashion and homeconsumer goods sector is clearly on a growth path when compared with thegeneral environment,” he said. “Now that all the French are on the samepage, that can only be a very good thing.”

Cochet, who alsoruns the Maison & Objet trade show, said the first edition of ParisDesign Week, scheduled to take place from Sept. 12 to 18, was a goodexample of how to energize buyers in a difficult economic climate.

Timedto also coincide with France’s Journées du Patrimoine, or HeritageDays, on Sept. 17 and 18, the week-long event represents an investmentof 500,000 euros, or $700,000 at current exchange.

“Bearing inmind that stores make 40 percent of their annual revenues betweenOctober and December, if we organize very high-impact promotional eventslike Paris Design Week in our sector at the beginning of the season, itcan only help boost sales,” he said.

In the clothing andapparel segments, the focus is more on streamlining the offer. Prêt àPorter Paris, for instance, will group ready-to-wear on one floor andaccessories on another, and is whittling down the total number ofsections.

“These streamlining efforts can only improve buyers’perception,” Cochet said. “We are not going to change the sales figuresof their stores, that’s for sure, but at least rationalizing the offerwhen they arrive at our trade shows to buy their products is a step inthe right direction.”

The fall editions of the trade shows willtake place in a context of slowing growth across the Eurozone.

The17-member single currency area saw gross domestic product (GDP) rise0.8 percent in the first quarter, thanks largely to a 1.5 percent risein Germany, but the pace of growth has slowed in the second quarter,said Chris Williamson, chief economist at financial information servicescompany Markit.

He expects Eurozone GDP to grow by 0.5 to 0.6percent in the second quarter, but with very sharp differences betweencore nations like Germany and France, and so-called peripheral nationslike Portugal, Spain, Italy and Ireland, which could see their economiescontract due to the impact of government austerity measures.

“Inthe second half of the year, it’s going to be a case of watching veryclosely to see whether the uncertainty caused by the problems in theperiphery cause consumer and business confidence to weaken further inthe core and cause a further slowdown,” Williamson said.

Henoted that in Spain, for instance, one in five working- age adults isunemployed. “People are going to be very cautious with what money theydo have, tending to buy essentials rather than luxuries, and tradingdown wherever possible to save money,” he said.

France is already showing signs of fatigue.

Retail salesfell for the first time in four months during June as customers stayedout of stores, even as retailers faced growing pressure on their marginsfrom rising input costs, according to the monthly Retail PMI survey forFrance produced by Markit and based on a panel of 300 retailers.

Thesummer sales, which kicked off on June 22, went off with a whimperrather than a bang. Sales of clothing and textiles fell 6 percent duringthe first two weeks of the sales, with footfall down 3 to 5 percentduring the period, said the French Institute of Fashion (IFM).

InJune as a whole, clothing sales rose 12 percent, with department storesrecording a 34 percent jump in sales. But independent multibrand storescontinued to lag, and their owners fear a sharp drop-off in sales onceJuly figures are tallied, owing to poor weather and the start of summerholidays, the IFM said.

Mindful that these independents arefacing increasing competition from fast-fashion chains, Prêt à PorterParis is putting the focus on what it has dubbed the “heart of themarket” — casual chic brands in the contemporary and midrange segment.

“Buyersneed to be reassured about the brands they are purchasing,” said MurielPiaser, exhibitions director for Prêt à Porter Paris.

“Today,buyers are looking for products that are both creative and high quality,at a reasonable price. They are scared of fast fashion,” she said. “Ifyou look at a buyer for a multibrand, or a catalogue retailer or abuying office, they need to find added value in the product they arebuying, and that is the role of the trade show today.”

Piasersaid the onus was on the show’s organizers to present a “realistic”vision of the types of products on offer, so while trend watcherAlexandra Senes will be highlighting spring-summer trends and artdirecting the fair’s fashion shows, two-thirds of the products on offerwill be what Piaser dubs “slow wear” — pieces that are on trend yet havea timeless element.

Eclat de Mode-Bijorhca, meanwhile, isbetting on specialization. Rather than spreading out into relatedcategories like accessories, it is putting increased focus on preciousjewelry with an expanded Gold by Eclat de Mode gold jewelry section.

“Weare fending off the economic gloom because when in doubt, people alwayshave a tendency to consult a specialist,” said Richard Martin, deputydirector and artistic director of the jewelry salon.

The tradeshow is expecting around 500 visitors this season, roughly equal to the490 at the same time last year, he said. “It’s been a long time since wehad so many exhibitors in September, whereas all the trade shows lastJanuary were pretty slow, at Porte de Versailles at least,” he said.

Despiteeconomic uncertainty, women continue to buy jewelry at all pricepoints, he said. “It’s the same as with clothes: These days, women weartheir Prada handbag with a pair of jeans from H&M,” Martin noted.

Popularitems range from slim precious jewelry by the likes of VanessaTugendhaft or Perle de Lune to the costume jewelry creations of PhilippeFerrandis, who will celebrate the 25th anniversary of his brand withfive limited edition necklaces inspired by the world’s continents.

Nonetheless,Martin noted that the strength of the euro against the U.S. dollar wasdissuading American buyers from attending the Paris trade shows. Andeconomists say even those from within the Eurozone are faced withdwindling spending power.

“Euroland retailers face a difficultyear. Households face a number of headwinds that will curb theirenthusiasm to hit the high street,” said Melanie Bowler, economist atMoody’s Analytics.

Those challenges include persistently highunemployment, fiscal tightening and the rising cost of essentials likehome heating, gasoline and food, at a time when wage growth isrestricted, she noted. “The combination of rising taxes and reducedwelfare spending suggest discretionary spending will be particularlyweak in the most fiscally troubled countries in the Eurozone.”

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